VIRGINIA BEACH — Fresh off another victory in the Nevada caucuses, Republican front-runner Donald Trump returned to Virginia on Wednesday to sit down at Regent University with another television celebrity — religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, who founded the conservative Christian school.

In the hourlong appearance six days before Virginians vote on Super Tuesday, Trump said his first criterion for a Supreme Court justice is that the candidate be “pro-life.”

He also said that if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee he would likely pick a “political person” as a running mate in order to help him navigate government and push through legislation.

“I’m not thinking about it a lot — I’m thinking about getting the ball over the line,” he said.

Asked whether, as president, he would urge his attorney general to pursue an indictment of Hillary Clinton over her email practices while serving as secretary of state, Trump said: “I would instruct him to take a look at it.”

The billionaire businessman, who will hold a rally at Radford University on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s primary, has won three straight GOP contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

On March 1, Super Tuesday, Democrats and Republicans will vote in primaries in Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont. That day Alaska holds a Republican caucus and Colorado and American Samoa will hold Democratic caucuses.

Trump led among likely Republican primary voters in Virginia with 28 percent in a Feb. 16 poll released by Christopher Newport University.

Despite his lead in the polls, the CNU survey showed Trump with an unfavorable rating of 64 percent, the highest negative rating in Virginia for any Republican or Democratic candidate.

Trump, riding a crest of free TV time, is leading the GOP polls in Virginia without putting any money into television advertising in the state. As of Tuesday, only Clinton’s campaign and a super PAC backing Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., had reserved TV time in the state.

At Regent, Trump pointed out former Gov. Bob McDonnell in the audience and called him a “fantastic person.” The audience gave a loud round of applause for McDonnell, whose appeal of his corruption convictions could come before the Supreme Court in April.

McDonnell, who previously attended Regent’s campaign forums with former Florida Gov. Jeb. Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was one of the roughly 700 spectators on hand for the Trump visit. McDonnell holds a law degree and a master’s in public policy from CBN University, now Regent.

McDonnell declined to comment on the Trump appearance, telling a television reporter: “I’m just here being Bob.”

Trump spent the first 5 minutes of the event talking about his family. He introduced his sons Don Jr. and Eric.

“Everything he touches turns to gold,” said Eric Trump.

Then the GOP front-runner pivoted to why he believes he is resonating.

“The reason we’ve been doing well ... is that I talk about what we have to do for our country,” Trump said.

“Our country is in deep trouble,” he said referencing the nation’s $19 trillion debt.

“When it comes to business, I know what I am doing.”

Trump assailed U.S. trade relations with other countries. He joked that Ford, which is building a plant in Mexico, would have “illegals drive the cars across the border.”

Trump, who often shouts at his rallies, used his indoor voice at Regent. He spoke rapidly and in measured tones, barely stopping even when the audience seem inclined to respond with applause.

Trump made a play to evangelicals, referring to his book, “The Art of the Deal.” He returned to a line that he used at Liberty University in January, that the Bible is a better book, drawing applause from the audience.

Trump said Secretary of State John Kerry probably hasn’t read “The Art of the Deal,” and then quipped that Kerry probably hadn’t read the Bible.

Assessing the presidential contest, Trump said it “looks like (Sen.) Bernie (Sanders) is heading down now ... and Hillary is going to be protected from the email scandal.”

“She’s become like a marshmallow,” Trump said of Clinton’s relationship with President Barack Obama. Trump promised to bring up the topic of her emails “many times” during the general election.

After Trump delivered introductory remarks, Robertson joined him onstage and they sat together as the school’s founder posed questions.

Robertson asked Trump what he would look for in a Supreme Court nominee. Justice Antonin Scalia died Feb. 13, leaving the high court with four Democratic appointees and four Republican appointees.

“Pro-life,” Trump said without hesitation.

“I’ve always said that Justice (Clarence) Thomas doesn’t get enough credit. “Justice (Samuel A.) Alito is a terrific guy ... so in that realm,” Trump added.

Trump said that one of his key rivals, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had strongly backed Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who cast the key vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

“So Senator Cruz really gave us Obamacare,” Trump said.

The visits to Regent, like visits to Liberty, give Republican presidential hopefuls the opportunity to tap into a key religious right voting bloc in Virginia. Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., has endorsed Trump.

Trump surprised Cruz in South Carolina on Saturday by garnering more evangelicals’ votes than many expected, leaving Cruz to finish third in the Palmetto state.

Regent and Robertson extended invitations to all presidential candidates. Cruz is due on Friday, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson on Monday, the day before the Virginia primary.

Trump is “a natural leader,” said Virginia Beach resident Jan Arnold, who attended the event with twin sister Jill Jenkins and Jenkins’ twin sons, Tristan and Tanner, 19.

“He’s strong, he’s smart, he’s witty — I love that,” said Jill Jenkins, who also liked the idea that Trump would undo Obama’s executive orders on guns and immigration.

“We need to step up as a country, stop being politically correct ... and start winning again,” said Tristan Jenkins.

Tanner Jenkins said he thinks Trump has the momentum to grab the nomination and “take it all the way. He speaks his mind,” the twin brother said. “He’s not part of the establishment.”

Arnold said she and her sister have been waiting for Trump to run for years.

“We were Trump before Trump actually knew he was going to be Trump,” she said.

Trump’s message also resonated with retiree Dale Schultz, who spent more than 40 years working for the federal government as a fire marshal and wore a “Make America Great Again” hat to the forum.

Schultz, a part-time Elvis impersonator who is a native New Yorker, like Trump, likes the idea that Trump has changed the political game.

“He’s shaking the tree,” Schultz said. “I think maybe he can pull this whole (country) together and make it happen.”

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @RTDNolan

Recommended for you

Commenting is limited to Times-Dispatch subscribers. To sign up, click here.
If you’re already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.