President Donald Trump told a group of evangelical leaders that November's midterm elections are a "referendum on your religion," and that Republican losses could be extremely costly, according to a recording reviewed by NBC News.
Trump made the comments at a Monday night dinner at the White House after press had left the event, and the remarks were recorded by someone in attendance, according to CNN.
"It's not a question of like or dislike, it's a question that they will overturn everything that we've done and they will do it quickly and violently," Trump said. "And violently. There is violence. The level of hatred, the level of anger is very unbelievable."
Why did he say that?
Trump was imploring the evangelical audience to vote and campaign on behalf of Republican candidates leading into midterms, saying that if Democrats gain more influence in Congress they will reverse the progress that has been made.
"Part of it is because of some of the things I've done for you and for me and for my family, but I've done them," Trump said. This Nov. 6 election is very much a referendum on not only me, it's a referendum on your religion, it's a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment.
"You're one election away from losing everything that you've got," Trump said.
'Greatest leader for Christianity'
Trump repeated a comment he said was made by Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, that pushes back on some of the questions evangelical leaders face about supporting Trump in the face of alleged moral failings.
"I had the great Robert Jeffress back there," Trump said. "Hello, Robert. Who said about me: He may not be the perfect human being, but he is the greatest leader for Christianity. Hopefully I've proven that to be a fact in terms of the second part. Not the first part."
Trump earned 81 percent of the white evangelical vote in 2016, and according to the Boston Globe, had a 77 percent approval rating among evangelicals as of late July.