Donald Trump’s supporters are so devoted, they would vote for him even if he committed murder.

At least, that’s what he said to a packed auditorium at Dordt College in Iowa on Saturday, January 23. The Christian Reformed college of more than 1,400 students sits in a heavily Republican corner of this state that twice voted for President Obama.

“They say I have the most loyal people—did you ever see that?—where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters,” Trump said. “Okay? It's like incredible.”

The audience laughed, but later reactions were mixed.

“In no way do I, nor does the college, support such an odd and inappropriate comment,” Dordt president Erik Hoekstra said in a statement. [His full response is below.] “I have no concept of why Mr. Trump thought that was an apt example to highlight the loyalty of his followers.”

But that won’t stop the college from allowing candidates to speak—despite its small size, since August the school has hosted Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Lawrence Lessig, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Trump.

“Each time a candidate comes to campus, I have a certain sense of ‘cringe’ for what it says to our students—political speeches are always full of broad-brush promises about what the candidate will do,” Hoekstra wrote previously in an open statement to the college community. “There isn’t a candidate or party that can be 100 percent biblical or reformational—at least it seems that way to me. Opening our facilities to political candidates in no way implies an endorsement of their views.”

Hoekstra said he trusted both students and faculty to be discerning in the political process.

“Our students can handle such comments, and they are wise enough to discern what Christ-like leadership looks like,” he said. “I also trust our faculty and staff to walk with students through the important process of putting their faith into action in every area of life. I’ve talked with many students about the various candidate visits, including conversations with students today after Mr. Trump’s visit, and our students are all more discerning about how to vote in the upcoming caucus because of this first-hand access.”

One of those students was sophomore Brandon Fokkema, who said Trump “read the crowd really well.”

“His point was relevant and clear; however, I think he could have worded it better,” Fokkema said of the shooting comment. “It is one of the potential ‘risks’ of speaking without notes. Usually, Mr. Trump ends up saying things that resonate with people. However, this time I think that it could have been worded better.”

Fokkema said the statement didn’t change his positive view of Trump, but that “some people might have had a stronger reaction to it.” The #TrumpAtDordt hashtag on Twitter revealed significant consternation from students and other observers. 

Sophomore Lucas Vander Berg isn't a Trump fan, and didn't think the comment “reveals much more to us about his character.”

“His misunderstanding of how evangelicals think about candidates makes it hard for me to believe that his Christianity is anything more than a show,” Vander Berg told The Gospel Coalition. “He refuses to apologize, everybody who speaks out against him is a loser who has been failing for years, and he said that Christianity was under attack while failing to give much evidence other than 'We will be saying Merry Christmas again.'”

Steve Kelly, chairman of the Dordt College Republicans, said a survey of more than 60 of the club members showed an “overwhelmingly negative” reaction to Trump.

“Most students do not think that Donald Trump exemplifies the qualities of a Christian leader,” he said.

“I thought that the voter loyalty comment was an exaggeration that was meant to cause some laughter, which it did,” he said. “It would have been better if he used less violent vocabulary, but I wouldn’t expect Donald Trump to do that, considering his personality.”

According to Kelly, the survey asked students to rank their responses to Trump's appearance on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

  • I think more highly of Donald Trump now. (average: 2.28)
  • Donald Trump did a good job showing Christian values. (average: 2.05)
  • I am more likely to vote for Donald Trump now. (average: 1.82)
  • I learned a lot about Donald Trump's policies. (average: 2.54)
  • Donald Trump's policies will “Make America Great Again.” (average: 2.86)
  • Donald Trump represents the character of a Christian leader. (average: 1.82)
  • I trust Donald Trump. (average: 2.38)
  • I am glad that Donald Trump came to Dordt College. (average: 6.38)

Nearly 88 percent said they would not vote for Trump. About 6 percent said they would, and 6 percent were unsure.

Caeden Tinklenberg, vice chair of the Dordt College Republicans, doesn’t support Trump. But his response to the shooting comment was mild.

“It wasn’t really surprising,” the biology major said. “That hypothetical has been used before. The audience was split in its response. . . . I don't think this will be an edge that opponents can get at, but the insult that he just hurled on his own supporters is going to be hard for them to defend or explain.”

Tinklenberg thought Trump was “disorganized and scatterbrained” overall.

“I'm glad he came, though, because just like President Hoekstra said, students need to be awakened to what is going on around them and see the people who they vote to represent them,” he said.


Full statement from president Erik Hoekstra:

Prior to Mr. Trump’s visit to Dordt College, I wrote an open letter to explain Dordt College’s reasons and rationale behind inviting candidates of both parties to our campus.  I continue to stand behind the decision to allow our students and the broader community to have first-hand access to the American political process and capture the unique opportunities we have in Iowa as the first state to cast actual votes each presidential cycle.

In that statement, I said, “Each time a candidate comes to campus, I have a certain sense of ‘cringe’ for what it says to our students—political speeches are always full of broad-brush promises about what the candidate will do. There isn’t a candidate or party that can be 100 percent biblical or reformational—at least it seems that way to me. Opening our facilities to political candidates in no way implies an endorsement of their views.” I continue to stand by that statement. 

Today’s comment by Mr. Trump regarding the loyalty of his followers, namely that “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters” went far beyond a broad-brush promise about his policies or plans for our country. In no way do I, nor does the college, support such an odd and inappropriate comment. I have no concept of why Mr. Trump thought that was an apt example to highlight the loyalty of his followers.

However, we will continue to invite candidates to our campus. Our students can handle such comments, and they are wise enough to discern what Christ-like leadership looks like. I also trust our faculty and staff to walk with students through the important process of putting their faith into action in every area of life. I’ve talked with many students about the various candidate visits, including conversations with students today after Mr. Trump’s visit, and our students are all more discerning about how to vote in the upcoming caucus because of this first-hand access.

If people are wondering about Dordt College and our application of Scripture to everyday challenges, I’d say: “Come study with us. We won’t spoon feed you the answers to every question, but you’ll grow in your faith in Jesus Christ and be challenged to put real-world decisions into the context of Scripture—and we’ll walk with you through that process.”