NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump met with a group of black pastors for several hours Monday, calling the session an “amazing meeting” that went longer than planned because “we came up with lots of good ideas.”
But there was no wide-ranging endorsement from the group, some of whom had said they were surprised when the gathering was advertised as such by Trump’s Republican presidential campaign.
“We had a wonderful time in the meeting,” said Darrell Scott, the senior pastor of New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who helped to organize the meeting. “We made a lot of progress. It’s not the last one.”
After many of the religious leaders invited to the meet-and-greet objected over the weekend to its description as an endorsement event, Trump’s campaign decided to keep the meeting private and canceled a press conference afterward meant to announce the support of the pastors.
Instead, a few of the meeting’s participants met with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower, with the billionaire businessman and reality TV star uncharacteristically waiting patiently for his turn to speak.
“We actually didn’t think we were going to be having a press conference, but we all thought it was such a good meeting that we would do that,” Trump said. “And we have many, many endorsements that came out of the meeting.”
When asked, neither Trump nor Scott would not say how many of those who attended had now decided to back his campaign.
“Some committed. I don’t know the number,” Scott said. “The rest are praying about it. They said, ‘We have to go pray about it.’ They’ll come back and endorse at a future time.”
Trump has been courting the support of evangelical black clergy members as he works to broaden his appeal in a crowded Republican field.
Scott said more than 100 preachers from across the country attended the meeting, despite criticism in an open letter in Ebony magazine from more than 100 black religious leaders.
In the letter, the group wrote that “Trump’s racially inaccurate, insensitive and incendiary rhetoric should give those charged with the care of the spirits and souls of black people great pause.” They also expressed concern that the meeting Monday would “give Trump the appearance of legitimacy among those who follow your leadership and respect your position as clergy.”
Earlier this month, a black protester was roughed up by Trump supporters at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama. Trump said after the incident, “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
Trump also drew criticism recently for retweeting an image of inaccurate statistics that vastly overrepresented the number of whites killed by blacks, among other errors.
Trump said after Monday’s meeting that he would not change his tone as a candidate, which he said had taken him to “first position” in preference polls.
“The beautiful thing about the meeting is that they didn’t really ask me to change the tone,” Trump said. “I think they really want to see victory, because ultimately it is about, we want to win and we want to win together.”