As Trump Launches New Presidential Bid, Will Former Faith Advisers Back Him?

By Jack Jenkins
trump presidential bid
Former President Donald Trump gestures after announcing he is running for president for the third time as he speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

When Donald Trump launched his 2020 reelection bid in Orlando, Florida, three years ago, the event was riddled with faith-speak. Both Trump and then-Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly referenced God, arguing the Almighty had blessed America. Trump’s closest evangelical adviser, Florida pastor Paula White-Cain, opened up the event with a passionate invocation in which she insisted the “hand of God” would work for Trump.

But when Trump announced yet another White House bid from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Tuesday, he did so with a speech devoid of overt religious references. It was unclear if the event included an invocation, and while some of Trump’s stalwart evangelical supporters were seen milling about the resort’s carpeted floors Tuesday evening — namely, conservative commentator Eric Metaxas, pastor Mark Burns and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell — many of the former president’s longtime religious defenders were nowhere to be seen.

Instead, most have remained silent about his new campaign, while others have hinted at allegiances to other potential 2024 presidential contenders such as Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, one of Trump’s most stalwart religious supporters, who preached a sermon to Trump on his Inauguration Day titled “When God Chooses a Leader,” signaled the former president may not be his candidate in the primary.

“Donald Trump was a great president, and if he becomes the GOP nominee in 2024 I will happily support him,” said Jeffress in a statement.

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Hours before Trump’s speech on Tuesday, Jeffress encouraged his Twitter followers to buy Pence’s new book, “So Help Me God,” and described the former vice president as “a great friend, a committed Christian, and a true American hero.”

In his daily podcast “The Briefing,” Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Trump critic in 2016 turned Trump supporter in 2020, briefly mused on Trump’s reelection bid but said, with the late hour of the announcement, “it is sufficient to say he made the announcement in what was described as a rambling one-hour speech.”

“By the way, the last candidate to have served as president, lost an election and come back to win another election was Grover Cleveland. Well over a century ago,” Mohler added.

Another of Trump’s former evangelical advisers, Tony Suarez, the chief operating officer of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, encouraged fellow conservatives to rally around Trump’s latest bid but stopped short of declaring his ascendancy inevitable.

“Tonight’s announcement was the worst kept secret in recent memory. If recent history had taught us anything it’s that there’s no such thing as a ‘sure thing,’” Suarez, who recently praised DeSantis, said in a text message. “That said, I expect President Trump to be our nominee. Now is not the time for conservatives to be divided. We need a unified front to take back the White House and Senate.”

Burns, a South Carolina pastor and an early devotee of Trump, posted a video of himself in the Mar-a-Lago crowd. “I believe that we will bring God back to the center of American politics and American culture,” he said. “We’re about to continue to Make America Great Again. … All of America who loves freedom, who loves smaller government, who loves God, who wants to make sure faith is at the center of our nation, they are here tonight in Mar-a-Lago.”

It was unclear whether White-Cain attended Trump’s announcement. She was silent about his announcement on Twitter, despite running a national faith advisory board seen as an effort to reinvigorate Trump’s conservative Christian base.

Meanwhile, influential conservative voices such as Princeton University professor and legal scholar Robert George have declared their support for DeSantis.

“This seems like just the right moment to announce my endorsement of Ron DeSantis of Florida for President,” George tweeted on Tuesday evening.

Jack Jenkins is an award-winning journalist and national reporter for the Religion News Service.

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15 thoughts on “As Trump Launches New Presidential Bid, Will Former Faith Advisers Back Him?”

  1. It depends on whether any other candidate will give them the same access to the halls of power. But since the right-wing evangelical voting bloc is still going to be the deciding factor when it comes to who is the next Republican candidate for the White House, I suspect there will be, so if Trump sputters (which appears likely to happen this time given his mountain of legal woes and lack of coattails) the person who panders the most to the religious right will find their leaders flocking to them.

    DeSantis is certainly pulling out all the stops, tapping into all the “hate the libs” energy with his political stunts.

  2. Does Trump even need them anymore?

    Let’s be honest, many Christians in Trump’s base are more loyal to Trump than they are to their own pastor or local church (if they even have one). If any of these pastors dared to cross Trump, the inevitable chaos could wreak havoc in the church.

    1. Many are more loyal to Trump than to Jesus Christ. I wonder if they think John the Baptist owed Herod an apology.

  3. Those “faith leaders” kept telling us over and over that Trump was our King Cyrus or King David, God’s man, the most biblical President ever. If they were telling the truth, they would be supporting him right now. My bet is on their being grifting opportunists saying whatever had to be said to grab attention and donations. Such is the state of American evangelical Christianity.

  4. When asked if he has ever asked God for forgiveness for anything, this is what Trump said: “I am not sure I have.”

    “Christians” need to stop declaring a blatantly non-Christian man as a Christian and causing the name of Christ to be blasphemed. It’s purely that simple.

  5. What I have been hearing from evangelicals and evangelicals leaders for the last seven years is that they like Trump’s policies (e.g. pulling out of NATO), but do not like Trump’s character.

    So in 2024 character will now be important ?!?!….ha ha ha ha ….. what a joke. Trump will be nominated again by evangelicals. Then during the general election all the courageous evangelical leaders will again say to vote for Trump or it will be the end of Western civilization……..

  6. From the Washington Post

    “He used us to win the White House. We had to close our mouths and eyes when he said things that horrified us. I cannot do that anymore.””
    Mike Evans

    If Mr. Trump can’t stop his little petty issues, how does he expect people to stop major issues?”
    James Robison

  7. I admit that in the past, I have felt and said some negative things about Mike Pence. I have come around to see though that he is a true Christian who is willing to live (and almost died) for the sake of living by his principles, which include upholding his oath to defend the Constitution. On 1/6/2020 he displayed such great wisdom and courage that can give us all cause to respect him, whether we agree with his politics or not.

    1. Beth,

      Pence has stated in interviews that Trump asked him to “break the law.”

      But he will not say that same thing under oath in the investigation of Jan 6.

      If he truly was a courageous Christian, he would be running forward to tell the truth he knows.

      1. I agree Greg. I saw what a weak man he was, but gave him the benefit of the doubt after January 6th. But now that he refuses to testify I no longer trust him, If he has nothing to hide he should have no reason not to.

    2. You are absolutely right Greg. And how I would love to see him to fully live up to his principles and tell the real truth about the Trump presidency.

  8. On Herschel Walker… this makes me very sad.

    ‘He displays this lack of qualification every time he opens his mouth and utters another one of his absurdities. But to the Republicans — led by the racist Donald Trump of course — who selected him and continue to prop up his campaign, none of this subpar behavior matters, and in fact they seem quite amused by it.
    You can see it in the knowing grins of the Republican senators who appear with him on TV, propping him up like a ventriloquist next to their dummy, in the faces of the hosts on Fox News who clearly understand this is a buffoon, and in the faces of the almost uniformly white conservatives who attend his campaign events.’
    ‘This isn’t why generations of Black people faced down death, beatings, and beyond. This is not why they marched. Not for this kind of display. It spits in the face of legions of Black people who have worked in this country often understanding that they have to be twice as good, sometimes three times as good, as their white counterparts.’

    —-Oliver Willis

    Have you no sense of decency?
    —Joseph Welch, special counsel for the U.S. Army, lashes out at Senator Joseph McCarthy

  9. Looks like the don will have to up his ‘shooting someone on 5th Ave’ shtick in order to beat this guy.
    “When you stand up for what’s right, when you show people you’re willing to fight for them, they will walk over broken glass barefoot to come vote for you, and that’s exactly what they did for me in record numbers,” the Republican governor said to a standing ovation. “We’ve got a lot more to do, and I have only begun to fight.”
    Two questions for Governor DeSantis.
    Did they do this on the 8th day and was it televised?

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