Over the past year, Tony Perkins -- president of the anti-LGBT hate group the Family Research Council -- has gone from adamantly supporting Ted Cruz to openly endorsing Republican nominee Donald Trump for president. This week, Trump will be the first GOP presidential nominee to headline Perkins’ Values Voter Summit. Here’s how the hate group leader came to embrace and endorse Trump as a “teachable” candidate, giving Perkins an opportunity to “shape” Trump into a nominee who embodies Perkins’ anti-LGBT extremism.
On September 9, Trump is slated to speak at the 11th Values Voter Summit (VVS) in Washington, D.C. Trump’s appearance marks the first time that a Republican presidential nominee has addressed the summit since it began in 2006. The VVS is hosted annually by the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as an anti-LGBT “hate group” due to its known propagation of extreme falsehoods about LGBT people as well as Perkins' own history of making inflammatory comments. Perkins has called pedophilia a “homosexual problem,” equated being gay with drug use and adultery, accused gay people of trying to “recruit” children, and compared gay rights advocates to terrorists.
In past years, the summit has been little more than a who’s who of anti-LGBT and anti-choice extremists, regularly featuring hateful and extreme rhetoric from politicians and conservative media figures. Trump agreed to address attendees at the extremist event nearly a year after he initially declined the opportunity to speak at the 2015 VVS. He eventually reversed that decision and addressed the 2015 summit along with seven other Republican presidential candidates. Since then, FRC president and VVS host Tony Perkins has gone from being the driving force behind evangelical support for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid to questioning Trump’s candidacy as a possible “huge problem” for Republicans to endorsing Trump in a speech at the Republican National Convention in June.
Over the last year, Perkins seems to have become convinced that Trump was “open” and “teachable” enough to make his candidacy a “pragmatic” opportunity for Perkins to “shape the outcome” of the election. And by all accounts, he has been successful. In his speech endorsing Trump at the Republican National Convention, Perkins highlighted the extremist, anti-LGBT positions cemented into Trump’s campaign: the slew of anti-LGBT potential Supreme Court nominees Trump has mentioned, VP pick Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and the most anti-LGBT Republican Party platform to date.
Here’s the timeline of how the far right’s most prominent anti-LGBT extremist came to support Donald Trump.
Fall 2015: Perkins Rallies Behind Cruz, While Still Giving Trump “A Lot More Credit Than Some Do”
In September 2015, Trump and Perkins appeared to have a spat when Trump initially declined to speak at FRC’s 2015 Values Voter Summit. Trump reversed his decision two days before the summit and delivered a speech met with boos from the evangelical audience, finishing in fifth place in VVS’s straw poll. In December, Perkins organized a secret meeting of influential evangelical leaders, where he successfully pushed for the group to endorse Ted Cruz for president. Later that month Perkins told The Washington Post that “it’s a mistake to write off Donald Trump.”
September 10, 2015. The Christian Post reported that Trump had declined to speak at FRC’s September 25-27 Values Voter Summit. Perkins said of Trump’s decision:
I think [Trump] is going to have to have conversations with evangelicals and talk about issues they care about. He hasn't really done that in a way that is convincing.
Could [Trump] make some progress with evangelicals? I think he could if he tried, but I don't really see that happening right now."
September 23, 2015. The Family Research Council issued a press release announcing that Trump had reversed his original decision to skip the 2015 VVS, and would now speak at the summit along with seven other Republican presidential candidates.
September 25-27, 2015. On September 25, Trump delivered a speech to the 2015 VVS, where he was greeted by boos for attacking Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and mocked by some conferencegoers for bringing his Bible as what appeared to be a prop to appeal to evangelicals. The following day, Cruz won the VVS straw poll for the third year in a row and Trump finished in a distant fifth place with 5 percent of the vote.
December 7, 2015. In a "major boost" for Cruz's presidential campaign, he won the endorsement of a secretive group of influential evangelical Christian leaders. The top national socially conservative activists convened at a private meeting organized by Perkins, who reportedly “push[ed] hard to form a supermajority” behind Cruz.
December 10, 2015. In an interview with The Washington Post, Perkins warned that “it’s a mistake to write off Donald Trump” and said that he gives Trump “more credit” than others do:
I give Donald Trump a lot more credit than some do. I don’t think he misspeaks as much as people think. I think in this age of political correctness, in which people refuse to speak with clarity, he is seen as very attractive. I think it’s a mistake to write off Donald Trump. He has tapped something that’s very real across the spectrum, including [among] Evangelicals.
December 21, 2015. Trump called in to Perkins’ radio show to discuss the importance of “religious freedom” and “saying ‘Merry Christmas.’” Perkins observed that Trump has “tapped into” the importance of celebrating Christmas, which is possibly why his poll numbers “continue to rise.”
Winter 2016: Perkins Publicly Endorses Cruz While Denouncing The “Fear” Motivating Evangelicals To Vote For Trump
On January 26, a week after Trump blamed Perkins for his “two Corinthians” gaffe, Perkins publicly endorsed Cruz on Fox News. After endorsing Cruz, Perkins gave several interviews disparaging Trump. In February, he denounced the “fear” motivating evangelicals to vote for Trump.
January 20, 2016. In an interview with CNN, Trump blamed Perkins for his “two Corinthians” gaffe during remarks at Liberty University, saying that Perkins had given him notes on what to say at Liberty (the Bible verse Trump referenced comes from the book known as Second Corinthians). Perkins said that the gaffe “shows that he’s not familiar with Bible,” adding that “Trump’s a very interesting guy.”
January 26, 2016. Perkins officially endorsed Ted Cruz during an interview on Fox News’ The Kelly File, calling Cruz the “best” candidate “prepared to lead this nation forward.”
February 24, 2016. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Perkins denounced the “fear” he believed was motivating evangelicals to vote for Trump, saying, “We cannot be driven by fear. … When we are driven by fear, we make mistakes.”
Spring 2016: Perkins Is “Very Concerned” About What Might Happen With Trump As The Nominee
In March, Perkins called Trump’s conduct “antithetical to evangelical teaching” and said that, while Trump might have identified “the problems” in society, he did not have “the solution.” Perkins continued to publicly support Cruz until he dropped out of the race on May 3. After Cruz ended his presidential bid, Perkins joined a small group of evangelical leaders who planned a private meeting with Trump to “reconcile” his candidacy.
March 11, 2016. In an interview with C-SPAN’s Newsmakers, Perkins said that although he “like[d] some of the things Donald Trump is saying,” Trump’s conduct was “antithetical to evangelical teaching.” Perkins declared that he would not “fall in line” to support a candidate just because the candidate was a Republican, and said that he was “very concerned” about what may happen in the general election with Trump as the Republican presidential nominee (emphasis added):
I like some of the things that Donald Trump is saying. I agree with some of the things that he says. I don’t necessarily agree with his policy prescriptions. I think he has identified the problem. I don’t think that he has the solution.
I mean, if we came to that point, it would require sitting down with Donald Trump to see what his pathway forward was in terms of the Supreme Court, who would be vetting judicial nominees, who would be his running mates, who would be involved in his cabinet, what type of policies would he advocate? I am not a lackey for the Republican Party. Just because it’s a Republican candidate, I'm not going to fall in line. It has to be someone who is committed to the core values that we represent at the Family Research Council.
I think that becomes a real problem for Donald Trump if he is a nominee in a general election because I have no doubt that if he were to get the nomination that we would hear several months worth of explaining of his past positions, of his casinos, strip clubs, all these other things that would be used to really suppress evangelical turnout in the general elections. I think it is a huge problem for the Republicans.
March 31, 2016. In a statement from the lobbying arm of FRC responding to Trump’s comments that there needed to be “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, Perkins called Trump “ill informed in this vital issue” and said that Trump’s statements “suggest he should spend more time with pro-life conservatives to gain a better appreciation of what their goals and objectives really are.”
May 17, 2016. In an interview with CNN, Perkins said it was “incumbent upon Trump to reach out with tangible steps to quell anxiety in the movement if he is to ensure a strong GOP turnout in November,” though Trump “has not done anything that would make people change their minds.”
May 20, 2016. Time magazine reported that Perkins was part of a small group of evangelical leaders planning a private meeting on June 21 with Trump to reconcile concerns about Trump’s candidacy.
Summer 2016: Perkins Organizes Evangelical Support For Trump, Then Formally Endorses Trump At Republican National Convention
After Trump met with evangelical leaders, Perkins said that they're “not quite there” in supporting Trump. But two days after that, Perkins announced that he will vote for Trump in November, adding “it is not something that I relish.” A month later at the Republican National Convention, Perkins delivered a speech formally endorsing Trump, citing Trump’s potential judicial nominees, VP pick, and the Republican Party platform as evidence that Trump was “committed to upholding and protecting the first freedom.” On August 11, Perkins announced that Trump was slated to be the first GOP presidential nominee to ever speak at the Values Voter Summit.
June 21, 2016. After meeting with evangelical leaders, Trump announced the creation of “Evangelical Executive Advisory Board” for his campaign. Perkins, who largely organized the event, said that evangelicals were “not quite there” on supporting Trump.
June 23, 2016. On his Washington Watch radio show, Perkins said he would be voting for Trump because “it’s really the only one of the two options we have” and admitted he did not “relish” the vote. Perkins reasoned that the decision to vote for Trump was “pragmatic” because “we don’t know what Donald Trump will do, but we can shape the outcome”:
I mean I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, I’m going to vote for Donald Trump, because it’s really the only one of the two options we have. Now, will I actively support him and work for him? I don’t know. That’s yet to be decided. There’s several factors to look at. But I think we need to be very careful going into this election.
We don’t know what Donald Trump will do, but we can shape the outcome.
This is not something that I relish, that I am excited about. But from a pragmatic point I think there’s opportunity. Let me just say this, about Donald Trump and what I seem. He does seem to be open, teachable. Has he made past mistakes? Without question. And I’m not going to try to rationalize them. Has he made choices I disagree with? Absolutely, without question. But, how is he going to go forward? That’s the whole thing about evangelical Christianity.
July 12, 2016. Perkins successfully pushed the Republican Party’s platform committee to add language supporting so-called “conversion” or "reparative therapy,” a harmful and discredited treatment that attempts to “cure” children of being LGBT, to the party platform.
From his judicial nominees to his running mate, to the Party platform and the policies it promotes, Donald Trump has committed to upholding and protecting the first freedom and therefore our ability as citizens to unite our nation once again under God.
August 11, 2016. Perkins released a statement announcing that Trump would be addressing the 11th Values Voter Summit on September 9, noting that this “is the first time a Republican nominee for president has addressed the Values Voter Summit since its inception in 2006” (emphasis added):
We are therefore very encouraged that Donald Trump has accepted our invitation to address the Values Voter Summit and make his case directly to conservative activists from across the country. The fact that he is the first Republican nominee to attend since the Summit's inception in 2006, demonstrates his understanding of the importance of values voters in the general election and his desire to work with them in addressing the critical issues facing our nation.
August 20, 2016. In the wake of devastating flooding in Louisiana, CNN Reporter Ashley Killough tweeted that Trump had donated $100,000 to the Greenwell Spring Baptist Church in Greenwell Springs, LA. Perkins, whose home was severely damaged by the flooding, is currently serving as interim minister of the church.