Donald Trump to Get Closed-Door Audition with Top Social Conservatives

Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham and Jim Gilmore invited as well.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech outlining his vision for tax reform at his skyscraper on Fifth Avenue in New York City, September 28, 2015.
Andrew Burton AFP/Getty
Tim Alberta
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Tim Alberta
Oct. 1, 2015, 5 a.m.

Don­ald Trump will ad­dress a private gath­er­ing of prom­in­ent so­cial con­ser­vat­ives later this month out­side Wash­ing­ton, sources say, part of an on­go­ing at­tempt by the Re­pub­lic­an front-run­ner to demon­strate his kin­ship with a key con­stitu­ency in next year’s pres­id­en­tial nom­in­at­ing con­test.

Trump will give the fi­nal speech at a “pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate for­um” the week­end of Oc­to­ber 16-17 dur­ing a con­fer­ence of the Coun­cil for Na­tion­al Policy, a se­cret­ive um­brella or­gan­iz­a­tion that brings to­geth­er lead­ers and act­iv­ists from across the con­ser­vat­ive move­ment. The en­tire gath­er­ing, in­clud­ing the for­um, is closed to the me­dia. Only CNP’s mem­ber­ship, es­tim­ated at between 250 to 300, is al­lowed to at­tend.

Tony Per­kins, the group’s pres­id­ent—who serves more vis­ibly as pres­id­ent of the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil—will mod­er­ate a Q&A ses­sion on stage with each of the can­did­ates in­di­vidu­ally fol­low­ing their al­lot­ted speak­ing time of 30 minutes. Trump will speak late in the af­ter­noon Sat­urday, Oc­to­ber 17—be­fore a Cath­ol­ic mass on site that even­ing and a Sunday wor­ship ser­vice for mem­bers the next morn­ing.

The CNP con­fer­ence will be held at the Ritz-Carlson in Tyso­ns Corner, Vir­gin­ia, and ac­cord­ing to a pro­gram ob­tained by Na­tion­al Journ­al, will fea­ture speeches from five oth­er can­did­ates: Rand Paul, Ben Car­son, Rick San­tor­um, Lind­sey Gra­ham, and Jim Gilmore. Scott Walk­er was sched­uled to speak un­til he un­ex­pec­tedly quit the race last week.

The for­um rep­res­ents fur­ther op­por­tun­ity for Trump to in­gra­ti­ate him­self with the evan­gel­ic­al world.

Since dis­pla­cing Walk­er atop the Iowa polls in late Ju­ly, the real-es­tate mogul has en­deavored with vary­ing suc­cess to demon­strate his con­nec­tion with re­li­gious voters there and na­tion­wide. Trump has taken to call­ing him­self a Chris­ti­an on the stump, though in Ju­ly, he turned heads by re­fer­ring to com­mu­nion as “my little crack­er.” He also has de­clined to cite a fa­vor­ite Scrip­ture verse. But last week, he bran­dished a Bible at the Val­ues Voters Sum­mit in Wash­ing­ton, and on Monday, Trump “met and prayed with about 40 re­li­gious lead­ers and pas­tors in his Trump Tower of­fice,” ac­cord­ing to the Chris­ti­an Broad­cast­ing Net­work.

The CNP gath­er­ing won’t fo­cus strictly on so­cial is­sues, however. Mem­bers of the or­gan­iz­a­tion rep­res­ent all three “legs” of the con­ser­vat­ive stool—so­cial, fisc­al, and na­tion­al se­cur­ity—and have con­vened meet­ings with many of the pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates over the past year in an at­tempt to de­term­ine wheth­er there is a con­sensus choice for the con­ser­vat­ive move­ment to rally be­hind in 2016.

This con­fer­ence, in fact, will rep­res­ent a second set of try­outs for Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial hope­fuls. CNP’s first can­did­ate for­um, back in May, fea­tured an­oth­er heat of six can­did­ates ad­dress­ing the or­gan­iz­a­tion: Ted Cruz, Marco Ru­bio, Mike Hucka­bee, Rick Perry, Bobby Jin­dal, and Carly Fior­ina.

Cruz, ac­cord­ing to many at­tendees, was the clear win­ner of that event. He was also the only can­did­ate who ad­dressed what they called “the ele­phant in the room”—the idea that prom­in­ent con­ser­vat­ives in at­tend­ance are hop­ing to identi­fy one can­did­ate to co­alesce their move­ment be­hind, con­vinced that do­ing so rep­res­ents their best and only chance of de­feat­ing the es­tab­lish­ment in next year’s primary.

Cruz made a dir­ect pitch for the move­ment’s sup­port, and while it’s un­clear if a mass-co­ordin­ated en­dorse­ment is im­min­ent or even pos­sible, many act­iv­ist lead­ers are ex­pec­ted to an­nounce their sup­port for the Texas sen­at­or’s can­did­acy in the months ahead.

Al­though Trump con­tin­ues to lead the polls on his strength with tea-party voters, he has not es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ships with in­flu­en­tial act­iv­ists at the na­tion­al level. Be­cause of that, he is highly un­likely to win sup­port from the con­ser­vat­ive move­ment’s lead­er­ship—people like Per­kins, Ken Cuc­cinelli of the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, Dav­id McIn­tosh of the Club for Growth, and Becky Norton Dun­lop, a Her­it­age Found­a­tion vice pres­id­ent who chairs the Con­ser­vat­ive Ac­tion Pro­ject.

Non­ethe­less, CNP or­gan­izers—who spoke on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity due to the group’s off-the-re­cord rules—say they’re eager to wel­come Trump and ex­am­ine his flu­ency on their pet is­sues.

Much of that ex­amin­ing will be done by Per­kins dur­ing his Q&A peri­od. When Per­kins ques­tioned can­did­ates at the May event, he asked all of them to name a “move­ment con­ser­vat­ive” who ad­vises them or is part of their in­ner circle. Such a ques­tion could prove vex­ing for Trump, or­gan­izers say.

To that end, mem­bers are buzz­ing about an­oth­er as­pect of Trump’s ap­pear­ance this month. As at pre­vi­ous meet­ings, pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates are in­tro­duced on stage by a CNP mem­ber who vouches for their con­ser­vat­ive bona fides. This has nev­er been an is­sue for Trump’s rivals. But as of now, event or­gan­izers say they have no idea who will in­tro­duce the GOP front-run­ner.

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