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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Granderson: How can evangelicals like Johnson tolerate Trump?

By LZ Granderson
Published: April 22, 2024, 6:01am

At the 2016 Republican National Convention, when I told Donald Trump’s “God whisperer” Paula White that he referred to her as his pastor, she said she was his spiritual adviser — as if that were some sort of “get out of jail free” card for her. And yet White worked hard in our conversation to convince me that the foul-mouthed person on the campaign trail was godly.

Then came her turn to speak at the convention. Most of the seats were empty when White took the stage, which says a lot about the interest attendees had in the words of Trump’s spiritual adviser.

It was as if their minds were already made up.

This was after Trump referred to a book of the Bible as “Two Corinthians” in a speech at Liberty University, the private Christian college where Jerry Falwell Jr. was president before a sex scandal forced him to resign later that year. This was after Trump mocked a journalist’s disability. This was after he kicked off his campaign by bashing Mexico and Latinos before offering “and some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump had shown what kind of person he was, and somehow still had evangelical Christians’ support.

But he must have feared there would be some limit to their capacity for cognitive dissonance, because he did not want evangelical voters to find out about his 2006 affair with Stormy Daniels. He paid her money to stay quiet days before the election. I don’t know if that’s what White spiritually advised him to do, but she went on to serve Trump at the White House, so she must have made peace with the deceit.

Now it appears it’s House Speaker Mike Johnson’s turn to find some sort of balance between his personal faith and his professional interest. The recent joint news conference between Trump and Johnson will most likely help Johnson keep his job, but it does nothing to erase the fact he’s aligned with a thrice-married adulterer who mocked Jimmy Carter the day after Rosalynn Carter, his wife of 77 years, entered hospice.

The image of Johnson standing at the lectern — as Trump stood behind him like a jack-o’-lantern the day after Halloween — was frightening. Unnerving. It was not a show of strength; it was another sign of how far some white evangelicals are willing to drag their faith through the mud just to be next to power.

Christians believe in a thing called grace, and Lord knows I’ve benefited from a lot of it in life. But Trump doesn’t express remorse for his affair with Daniels or the hush money spent to trick his Christian supporters. He has been found liable for sexual abuse. He’s bragged about grabbing women by their private parts and kissing them without consent.

The fact that Trump could be forgiven is irrelevant if he hasn’t changed or stopped his abuses or given any indication of regret. What we have in Trump is not a story of redemption but a clear account of who he really is and always has been.

In February during a rally, he said this about his opponent Nikki Haley: “Where’s your husband? Oh, he’s away. He’s away. What happened to her husband? What happened to her husband? Where is he? He’s gone!”

It was no secret: Haley’s husband was deployed overseas with the South Carolina National Guard. But Trump just gambled that some in his audience didn’t know and that he could score cheap political points by smearing a service member.

You don’t have to act surprised. That’s the kind of person Trump has always been, regardless of whether he had a “God whisperer” on staff. This is the kind of person Johnson cozied up to in a desperate grab at keeping his job.

I’m not sure what the former president’s current spiritual adviser is whispering in his ear these days, but by now it’s clear he doesn’t need to listen to get reelected.

LZ Granderson is an op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.