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Clinton, Trump Kick Off General Election With Very Different Pitches To Their Bases

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority Conference in Washington on Friday.
Cliff Owen
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority Conference in Washington on Friday.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both delivered speeches in Washington on Friday aimed at firing up their political bases that they'll need to win come November.

But in a speech to a major evangelical confab, many Republicans still seemed skeptical of their presumptive nominee, while Democrats at a Planned Parenthood gathering were fired up about theirs.

Trump Tries To Reassure The Faithful

Trump addressed the Faith and Freedom Coalition's annual "Road to the Majority" conference — a group of social conservatives, many of whom remain skeptical of the authenticity of Trump's conversion to their side. He boasted that he had done well with "the evangelicals" and "religions generally speaking" in the primaries. While exit polls showed Trump did win over many self-described evangelical voters, he did much poorer with weekly churchgoers.

And talking about his own faith is something Trump has never been comfortable with — flubbing Bible verses and saying he's never asked God for forgiveness.

He largely eschewed talking about his own faith in Friday's speech. He began by bragging about his past speeches to the group and listing off preachers who were supporting his bid, which got a tepid response. Trump joked that he was Presbyterian, while many in the audience were not.

"I think there are three of you out there," he said.

The speech was more succinct and restrained than the free-flowing, wide-ranging speeches that have become the norm for Trump in this campaign. For the second time this week, he was reading from prepared remarks on a teleprompter.

The twice-divorced billionaire, who was once pro-abortion rights, told the crowd he was going to discuss "our shared values" on faith, marriage and life. His main argument to persuade these voters was that he would fill the federal bench with "highly, highly respected judges." He assured the audience that the judges "were all pro-life."

But it wasn't until he began attacking Clinton that the crowd seemed to really get behind him. "Hillary Clinton won't even say 'Radical Islam,'" Trump said. "She wants a 500 percent increase in refugees from Syria."

Then Trump was interrupted multiple times by Code Pink protesters.

"Amazing what goes on," Trump said, visibly holding back from harshly criticizing like in several large campaign rallies during the primary. He went on to say he had a "freedom of speech" and called them "very rude, but what are you going to do? ... Thank you, darling. ... very sad."

He ticked off Clinton's sins — her private email server, potential conflicts at the Clinton Foundation, her record as secretary of state, taking Wall Street money for speeches and that "she wants to raise your taxes bigly, folks. big-ly."

He argued that her economic policies would "plunge our inner cities into even deeper poverty, if that's possible."

And after a week in which he was chastised by many within his own party for singling out the presiding judge in a Trump University fraud case for his Hispanic heritage, which Trump said made him biased because of the Mexico border wall he wants to build, Trump told the gathering, "Freedom of any kind means no one should be judged by their race or their color or the color of their skin."

On the issues of religious freedom, though, Trump promised to "respect and defend Christian Americans."

"We will work together to rebuild and restore and lift up everyone," Trump said. "Not a certain group, everyone, the whole country we're going to lift up."

Trump has proposed a temporary ban on Muslims coming into the country given terrorism concerns — which many evangelical leaders have condemned, saying it runs counter to the religious freedoms the country was founded upon.

He expounded on that in his speech, saying that the U.S. still has to "temporarily stop this whole thing that's going on with refugees" fleeing Syria.

"We don't know where they come from, but we have to take a rest," Trump said. "We have to take a timeout. We have to use the money to take care of our poorest Americans and work with them, so they can come out of this horrible situation that they're in."

Trump closed off a morning of speeches by other politicians and faith leaders, and many still seemed uncomfortable with the idea of Trump as their nominee. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who ran against Trump in the primaries, didn't mention Trump once in her speech, which came before him, and instead talked about down-ballot contests.

Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Young Nance, whose group was one of the co-sponsors of the conference, told NPR's Morning Edition that she backs Trump over Clinton, but the question was just how hard she and other like-minded supporters would work to get him elected.

"He has my vote, but will I work to turn out our members? Are we going to put our babies in strollers and go door to door for him?" Nance wondered. "He's got to win our hearts to get us to do that."

Clinton Fires Up Supporters Of Planned Parenthood

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrives for a Planned Parenthood Action Fund membership event Friday in Washington.
Alex Brandon / AP
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrives for a Planned Parenthood Action Fund membership event Friday in Washington.

In sharp contrast to Trump, Clinton had won over the hearts of the crowd at Planned Parenthood Action Fund before she even stepped onstage. The group's president, Cecile Richards, introduced her as "our friend. She's a fighter. She's our leader, and she's going to be the next president of the United States."

The love was mutual — Clinton addressed the organization as "family" and thanked supporters for "being there for women no matter their race, sexual orientation or immigration status ... being there for every woman, in every state, who has to miss work, drive hundreds of miles sometimes ... to exercise her constitutional right to safe and legal abortion."

Planned Parenthood has faced controversy because it provides abortion services in some of its clinics. The Republican National Committee was sharply critical of Clinton's speech, saying, "Just days into the general election, Hillary Clinton is already touting a radical agenda" and said her support for the group "is totally out of line with many Americans' beliefs and denies our Founders' vision of an unalienable right to life for all."

Clinton praised the organization's work on providing birth control and breast-cancer screenings. And she called for greater federal funding for Planned Parenthood, something Republicans have tried to cut. Clinton also pledged to strengthen Obamacare — another controversial subject for conservatives — and called for increased funding for long-term birth control.

Clinton told the crowd that, as president, she would "always have your back." Calling women's access to reproductive health services "under attack," she made it very clear who she believes is perpetuating those attacks: Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Trump's "Make America Great Again" would actually mean "taking the country backward" on women's and reproductive health, she said — a line she used earlier in the week on more general issues.

"We are not going to let Donald Trump or anyone else turn back the clock," Clinton said. She also called out Trump's comments — which he later walked back — that women should be punished for having an abortion.

"Instead of working to continue the progress we've made, Republicans, led by Donald Trump, are working to reverse it," she charged. "Well, Donald, those days are over."

That was met with raucous cheers.

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Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
Amita Kelly is a Washington editor, where she works across beats and platforms to edit election, politics and policy news and features stories.