When Donald Trump uses his Twitter account to promote a supporter’s book release, it’s worth pausing to note exactly who it is the president is trying to help. The L.A. Times reported on Friday night:
President Trump promoted a book written by Robert Jeffress, an evangelical megachurch pastor and Fox News contributor who was also a strong Trump backer during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In a tweet sent Friday, Trump praised “A Place Called Heaven: 10 Surprising Truths About Your Eternal Home,” and called Jeffress “a wonderful man.”… Trump’s tweet came less than an hour after Jeffress appeared on Fox Business Network’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” to discuss criticism of Trump leveled by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).
In other words, this looks like a dynamic in which Jeffress defended Trump, so Trump promoted Jeffress’ book.
But beyond this clumsy reciprocation, there’s the question of why the president cozies up to someone like Jeffress in the first place.
Let’s circle back to some of our previous coverage. As regular readers may recall, Jeffress, a far-right mega-church leader in Texas, first rose to national political prominence during the 2012 presidential campaign, when he partnered with then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) candidacy and had some unkind words for rival Mitt Romney.
Specifically, Jeffress targeted Romney’s faith, saying the Republican was “a member of a cult.”
A controversy soon followed, and much of the country learned of Jeffress’ record of over-the-top extremism on issues throughout the so-called “culture war,” with the Texas pastor having lashed out at everyone from gays to Mormons to Catholics (he’s described Roman Catholicism as a “cult-like pagan religion,” which represents “the genius of Satan.”)
As recently as two years ago, Jeffress insisted that Christians in the United States are persecuted in ways comparable to Germany’s treatment of Jews before the Holocaust.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) once said to associate with Robert Jeffress was “beneath the office of president of the United States.”
Trump, however, doesn’t seem to care. Despite the warnings and the record, the president has cozied up to Jeffress as a key ally, including the right-wing pastor in Trump’s inaugural festivities, and even welcoming him into the Oval Office.
In July, Team Trump threw together an impromptu White House evangelical prayer meeting, in which Jeffress was a featured guest.
To be sure, many American presidents have sought counsel from prominent religious leaders of the day, but those figures have traditionally come from mainstream faith communities, not fringe radicals. The alliance between Donald Trump – a secular, thrice-married casino owner, who’s never shown any meaningful interest in matters related to faith – and Robert Jeffress is a match made somewhere unpleasant.