Some establishment Republicans are up in arms about Donald Trump’s hosting of a presidential debate. Former Bush spokesperson Ari Fleischer has compared it to a “circus.” Karl Rove has called on RNC chair Rence Preibus to put a halt to the spectacle, a call Preibus has rejected as out of his bailiwick. “I mean, I don’t make those decisions,” he said. A more timid reaction one might only expect from a cowed parishioner of a prosperity preacher.
Donald Trump, it seems, is the GOP’s televangelist for 2012. In the past, Republican presidential hopefuls have kissed the rings of the nation’s most high-profile televangelists, groveling for votes from their television studios to their megachurches, the fruits of their insidious demands for their congregants’ money with a promise that God will make them rich in return. Trump, like the televangelists, is a publicity hog with an empathy problem: I’m rich, and you could be too if you weren’t such a loser (or, in the case of the televangelists, a non-believer).
Trump, of course, believes only in himself as a deity; the televangelists, while loudly proclaiming their faith in the divine, really consider themselves to be God’s anointed ones too. Don’t question them—their authority to demand your obedience, their authority to demand you turn give them your money—or you will hear this bit of scripture: “Touch not mine anointed ones, and do my prophets no harm.” (Psalm 105:15).
Gingrich has already paid a well-publicized visit to the church of John Hagee. That was while his campaign was in the tank but too long ago (March) to be seen as the divine bullet his campaign needed. That came by way of Herman Cain (also of the church of narcissism) and now Gingrich hopes the church of Trump will catapult him to the top of the fend-for-yourself heap.
The televangelist pilgrimage is hardly new. Mike Huckabee is now himself a televangelist of sorts, having learned at the feet of televangelist James Robison, who wants a Christian president, particularly one who would revise the tax code “so we can rejoice together because it would stimulate economic growth.” (Huckabee’s hosted debate, though, this past weekend, was more of a snooze than a circus.) In 2008 Huckabee got a fundraising boost from Kenneth Copeland, Word of Faith megastar. Copeland, at the time under investigation by the Senate Finance Committee for misuse of tax-deductible donor funds, claimed Huckabee was on his side because, in Huckabee’s words, Copeland was “trying to get prosperity to the people and they’re [Congress is] trying to take it away from ’em.” Such efforts to win the hearts of televangelists (and by extension, their audiences) date back to the early days of the first George H.W. Bush presidential campaign. His advisor Doug Wead compiled an exhaustive list of religious leaders, including prominent televangelists, that the presidential hopeful should meet with in private. For the public spectacle, Wead interviewed his boss on camera and arranged for it to air on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, giving the Episcopalian from Connecticut an opportunity to proclaim his faith in his savior. (Jesus, that is.)
In an odd twist—but surely not the oddest thing to happen this cycle—Wead now works for Ron Paul, whose campaign dismissed the Trump debate as “beneath the office of the Presidency and flies in the face of that office’s history and dignity.”
Televangelists have offered presidential candidates many circuses, from Huckabee’s appearances on Copeland’s program, to Rick Perry’s prayer rally last August, to John McCain’s short-lived dalliances with Hagee and Rod Parsley. Trump’s indulgence is just the latest iteration of the same veneration of greed glorified by self-appointed gods.