Trump aims to paint himself as the choice of evangelicals
© Greg Nash

Republican presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want NYT in the White House Veterans group backs lawsuits to halt Trump's use of military funding for border wall Schiff punches back after GOP censure resolution fails MORE on Friday sought to kick back at critics who have questioned his faith, waving his childhood Bible in front a crowd of social conservatives at a gathering in Washington.

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Seeking to diminish questions about his commitment to Christianity, Trump opened his address at the Values Voter Summit by holding up a Bible he said his mother gave him as a child.

“I had to bring it,” Trump said. “It brings back so many memories.”

The summitgoers here are not a natural constituency for the billionaire businessman. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump has had a rough October Hillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters MORE (R-Texas) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, two candidates with unquestioned evangelical bona fides, topped last year’s straw poll.

But Trump on Friday made a clear play for the Christian conservatives who will make up a majority of Iowa caucusgoers in February.

“Freedom of religion is so important,” Trump said, adding that when he’s elected president, Iran will release the Christian U.S. dissidents imprisoned there before he even takes office.

Trump also bemoaned the culture of political correctness he said is responsible for the shift away from department stores using “Merry Christmas” in their ads. He said that if elected president, the stores would no longer use the phrase “Happy Holidays.”

Trump has faced questions about how often he attends church. He has been criticized for saying he has never asked God for forgiveness and has been mocked by some of his rivals for deflecting a question meant to test his knowledge of the Bible, saying he wouldn’t reveal his favorite verse because it’s too personal.

Still, Trump leads the GOP field among evangelical conservatives, though he received a mixed reception at the summit on Friday.

The entire room stood upon Trump’s entrance, but only about half were cheering; the other half were snapping photos of the reality TV star.

Later, some in the crowd booed Trump for criticizing Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTurkey says soldier killed despite cease-fire in Syria White House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours Erdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn MORE (R-Fla.), who had received a warm reception earlier in the day.

“This clown Marco Rubio,” Trump said, provoking scattered shouts of dissent from the crowd.

But Trump soldiered on, blasting Rubio for supporting immigration reform and missing votes.

As he’s been able to do consistently on the campaign trail, Trump got the crowd back in his corner using humor, biting commentary and unwavering confidence that he could turn the country around.

Trump blasted Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-Ohio), who only hours earlier had announced he would resign from Congress.

He said BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE was not a conservative and didn’t fight for the principles of conservatism as Speaker. He called Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill “babies” for not sticking to their guns on critical issues.

“We want to see the job being done properly. We want people that are going to get it done,” Trump said. “I don’t understand these guys. They get elected and are full of vigor — they come down to these magnificent vaulted ceilings in Washington ... and become different people.”

Trump hewed closely to his standard stump speech, saying he’d build a military “so strong and so powerful that nobody will ever mess with us," mocking Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryRomney earns rants and raves for secret Twitter name Overnight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate John Kerry calls out lack of climate questions at debate MORE for breaking his leg in a bicycle accident and boasting about his polling numbers.

Trump blasted the media for writing that the race has tightened, saying the press is eager to advance the narrative that he’s on the decline.

“I’m killing everybody,” Trump said, holding up his Bible again. “This is key.”