As speakers blared the O’Jays song “For the Love of Money,” a triumphant Donald Trump waltzed up the stairs and waved to the cheering crowd.
“Money, money, money, money, money,” declares the song, which is the theme music for Trump’s “The Apprentice” TV show.
As he approached the podium, the twice-divorced businessman who built multiple casinos found himself the star at a gathering of conservative Christian activists from around the nation.
Founded by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, the second conference of the Faith & Freedom Coalition (FFC) drew about 1,000 people to hear various Republican presidential hopefuls, Republican congressional leaders and conservative political activists.
Yet, the chief draw for the event appeared to be Trump. For the last several weeks, Trump received top billing on the organization’s website as it promoted the event. Organizers said ticket sales for the event skyrocketed after he was added to the lineup.
Before his prime Friday evening slot on the agenda, Trump attended a private meet-and-greet with top donors of the FFC and other VIPs attending the event. Dozens of excited attendees flocked to the special session with Trump to hear him speak and take photos with him.
Between the VIP gathering, top billing and thunderous applause during standing ovations for his speech, it quickly became clear that Trump was the star of the Faith & Freedom Conference.
Trump started his speech by showing a picture of his confirmation class at First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, N.Y. He held up a copy of the picture as the image was also displayed on the large video screens – as if he needed to prove he had been in the class.
During his flirtation with a presidential run earlier this year, Trump focused primarily on demanding yet more evidence from President Barack Obama that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii.
After Obama released the long-form version of his birth certificate, Trump’s popularity in presidential polling collapsed and he soon dropped out to instead host another season of his reality TV show.
“Good, right?” Trump said after showing the photo of his confirmation class. “That doesn’t always play, but in this crowd it plays.”
Trump then quickly left any discussion of religion or religious topics and did not provide any evidence of religious behavior during his adult life.
In Trump’s speech that went well over time as he wandered from topic to topic, he criticized U.S. involvement in the Libyan bombings, “Obamacare,” Obama’s economic policies, the media, China and other issues.
“Nobody is protected like Barack Hussein Obama,” Trump said to applause as he criticized the media for being unfair.
Trump also again bragged about getting Obama to release the long-form version of his birth certificate but added he was not sure anyone knew what the form actually showed.
During the speech, Trump reiterated his belief that the United States should seize oil profits from Iraq to pay for the war. Trump’s plundering proposal, which included a choice four-letter word, garnered strong approval from the audience.
“In the old days we go to war, if we win we have the country, if we lose we get the hell out,” Trump declared as the audience laughed. “We should go in and take the oil [in Iraq] that we deserve. We won the war, we should take the oil.”
To loud applause, Trump said money from the oil should be given to families of soldiers killed or wounded in Iraq and used to reimburse the United States and allies for the cost of the war.
At the FFC event, Trump suggested he might jump back into the presidential race – even claiming inaccurately he had been leading when he dropped out of the race.
As he left the private VIP event and signed baseballs for autograph-hunters hoping to sell them on eBay, Trump answered a few questions from reporters about a presidential run.
Trump said, again, that he would have won both the primary and the general election. He also said, without explanation, that he would have garnered the support of conservative evangelical Christians.
Trump even took time during his speech to declare that U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) was lying in saying the lewd photo posted on his Twitter account did not come from him.
“Of course it was his picture, take a look at those skinny legs,” Trump said to laughter and applause.
Trump’s reference to the controversy was just one of several as numerous speakers at the event took time out of speaking about “faith and freedom” to make Weiner jokes.
“On the way over here I got a tweet that said that social and moral issues are no longer relevant to the national political debate – Congressman Anthony Weiner,” joked Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
Although Perkins enjoyed mocking Weiner for allegedly sending the photo, Perkins previously supported Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) for re-election even after a scandal involving prostitutes.
As Trump’s popularity at the FFC conference suggests, being Republican – rather than faithful – seemed to be the prerequisite for the event that included dozens of Republican politicians among the speakers.
Trump’s star power and harsh attacks on Obama seemed to allow many of the conservative evangelicals at the event to overlook his past moral failings.
S.E. Cupp, a conservative author who writes for Glenn Beck’s website, introduced Trump as “a father, a husband, a patriot and a proud American” and noted his many business enterprises without mentioning casinos. She also called him “an ardent defender” of “freedom, faith, family.”
“As conservatives, we have to appreciate someone like Donald Trump and his values, and be grateful that we have him on our side in whatever capacity we can get him,” Cupp added.
Trump was followed by political strategist and Fox News commentator Dick Morris. He was introduced by Reed, who in 1996 worked for the Christian Coalition as Morris worked for President Bill Clinton.
“[Morris] has since come over to the side of light,” Reed said about Morris’ conversion to the conservative cause.
Reed did not say anything about Morris having to leave the Clinton re-election campaign in 1996 after being caught with a prostitute.
Reed, who is seeking a political resurrection with the Faith & Freedom Coalition, left the Christian Coalition in 1997 to launch his own political consulting and lobbyist career.
Reed lost his bid to be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in Georgia in 2006 after the Jack Abramoff lobbying and fundraising scandal erupted.
Emails showed that Reed accepted secret, laundered payments from Indian casinos to help Abramoff lobby against efforts to start competing gambling ventures. Abramoff spent more than three years in prison for masterminding the effort.
Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty head Richard Land, who spoke at the FFC event and attended the private VIP meeting with Trump, defended Reed in a recent CNN story.
“Most evangelicals who know about it, view Ralph as a victim and that he was victimized by Abramoff like so many others,” said Land in the article shortly after bragging about how politically smart Reed is. “Conservatives don’t have any problem with people making money.”
As the sound of “money, money, money, money, money” once again filled the room, Trump shook hands with Reed and left the stage to yet another standing ovation.
The music cut away, however, before the lyrics shifted from the “money” refrain to how “the love of money” causes people to “steal,” “lie” and “cheat.”
“I know that money is the root of all evil,” the O’Jays say. “Don’t sell ya soul for the money – no no.”
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.