Donald Trump’s Fissure With Evangelicals Opens the Door for Mike Pence – Vanity Fair

Mike Pence has yet to publicly declare a 2024 presidential run, but that hasn’t stopped the former veep, a self-described Christian, from quietly courting evangelical leaders who could put him in the crosshairs of public scrutiny.

Pence is scheduled to appear Sunday at San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church for a fireside chat with John Hagee, the church’s founding pastor who has made sexist, antisemitic, Islamophobic, and otherwise offensive remarks—including a 2015 sermon reportedly declaring that “women are only meant to be mothers and bear children” and an infamous 2006 interview in which he hailed Hurricane Katrina as “the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans” and gay pride parades. (Hagee later tried to walk back the Hurricane Katrina comment.)

Such sordid remarks have done little to dim Hagee’s political influence in the calculus of Republicans eyeing the White House. An early supporter of George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, Hagee has remained active in GOP primary jockeying for decades. It should also be hardly entirely surprising that Pence, in particular, has a relationship with Hagee, especially when the two hold somewhat similar religious beliefs.

Hagee is a firm adherent of dispensationalism, a strain of end-times beliefs that asserts Jesus’s return will be triggered by the state of Israel regaining its biblical borders. Suffice it to say, Pence’s public flirtation with Christian Zionism has not gone that far. But he has called the founding of modern Israel a biblical “prophecy literally came to pass”—and in 2019, Pence personally thanked Hagee, the founder of the largest Christian Zionist group in the world, for advocating on the state’s behalf.

Despite extolling Israel as being vital to the Second Coming, the pastor also has made antisemitic remarks, raising more questions about what Pence is willing to ignore in service of his political aspirations. In the late 1990s, the pastor said that God “allowed” the Holocaust to occur because he sought to have Jews “come back to the land of Israel.” Hagee has also described antisemitism as God’s righteous wrath toward the Jewish people for failing to convert to Christianity. “Their own rebellion had birthed the seed of antisemitism that would arise and bring destruction to them for centuries to come,” he said, according to a Columbia Journalism Review piece from 2008. Worse still, Hagee resorted to antisemitic race science while theorizing about Hitler’s lineage, writing in his book Jerusalem Countdown that the Nazi leader was born from a line of abominable “half-breed Jews.”

Hagee is not the only prominent evangelical leader Pence will have met with this month: Last weekend, he appeared at First Baptist Dallas, an influential megachurch led by Robert Jeffress, who was a member of Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board. Jeffress’s problematic record of comments is also noteworthy: The pastor has, for instance, called homosexuality “filthy.”

Pence’s church drop-ins come amid a growing rift between Trump and evangelical leaders who supported him in 2016 and 2020 but now want a fresh face, as I wrote last month. The former president this week accused evangelicals of “disloyalty,” arguing that he accomplished enough in his first term to earn their support next year. “Nobody has ever done more for right to life than Donald Trump,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody. Meanwhile, Pence, whose new, shadow candidacy memoir is titled So Help Me God, can sell himself as a born-again, ideologically driven evangelical—a brand he’s been cultivating for decades that stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s more political relationship with leaders on the religious right. 

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