When he ran for president in 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) denounced the views of Texas evangelical minister John Hagee as “crazy and unacceptable” and rejected his endorsement for the GOP nomination. But on Monday, former Vice President Mike Pence, who has presidential aspirations for 2024, will engage in a fireside chat with Hagee at his Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, where Pence is scheduled to appear as part of his book tour for his memoir, So Help Me God.
Hagee, now 82, had been popular with Republicans in the George W. Bush administration, but by the time McCain ran, the minister’s toxic rhetoric had become too much even for most Republicans. As I wrote a couple years ago:
Among other things, he has said that gays caused Hurricane Katrina, referred to the Catholic Church as the “great whore,” called Hitler a “half-breed” Jew, and said that Hitler was part of God’s plan to get the Jews back to Israel.
Hagee’s influence waned after the 2008 rejection by McCain, but he came back in full force with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. In person and through his organization, Christians United for Israel, Hagee pushed the new administration to go to war with Iran, which was part of his apocalyptic vision for the End Times and the restoration of Jesus Christ. Pence made a show of support by appearing at his events.
As I noted:
The election of Barack Obama consigned Hagee to his megachurch in San Antonio. But Trump has restored him to the corridors of power in Washington. Hagee endorsed Trump early in 2016. Once Trump was elected, Hagee met with the new president for two hours in 2017 to discuss moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Foreign policy experts feared the embassy relocation would destabilize the region and hamper peace talks, but Trump moved it anyway in May 2018. Israeli troops killed more than 50 people in the protests that followed.
Hagee attended the opening ceremony alongside notables such as Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner, and he gave the closing benediction. “Let every Islamic terrorist hear this message: Israel lives,” he announced. “Let it echo down the marble halls of the presidential palace in Iran: Israel lives.” He later told the Texas Observer that he was looking forward to Trump confronting Iran, explaining, “The sum of Iran’s evil is greater than the whole of its parts.”
When Christians United for Israel held its annual DC confab and lobbying day last summer, Trump sent no fewer than five top administration officials to address attendees, including Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence (both evangelicals themselves), then–national security adviser John Bolton, a special envoy to the Middle East, and the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Pence has been courting his evangelical base as he seems to be prepping for a presidential run. Hagee isn’t the only prominent, if questionable, figure in the movement he’s been cozy with lately. Last week, he appeared at the 13,000-member Baptist megachurch of Robert Jeffress, another controversial homophobic pastor who was among Trump’s biggest supporters, even defending him in the wake of the Access Hollywood scandal in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. Jeffress told Fox News that the real estate magnate’s words were “crude, offensive, and indefensible, but they’re not enough to make me vote for Hillary Clinton.” Jeffress has been denounced by many other Republicans, most notably Sen. Mitt Romney, for attacking people of other faiths and declaring that “Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.”
Pence seems undeterred by the troubling records of Hagee and Jeffress, and he seems to be actively attempting to lure them away from backing Trump again. In fact, Jeffress is now on the advisory board of Pence’s new nonprofit, Advancing American Freedom. Pence met with anti-abortion protesters on Friday in DC during the March for Life at the group’s headquarters, shoring up his bona fides with another part of the GOP base.
Great welcoming so many #ProLife patriots to the @AmericanFreedom Headquarters in DC today before the @March_for_Life! With your help, we will continue to push forward to save the precious lives of unborn and return the sanctity of life to the center of American law!🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/1lZhSPmwZl
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) January 20, 2023