IRVING, Tex. — A televangelist who served as a spiritual adviser to Donald Trump says the former president has the tendency to act “like a little elementary schoolchild” and suggests that Trump’s focus on minor spats was preventing progress on larger goals.
“If Mr. Trump can’t stop his little petty issues, how does he expect people to stop major issues?” James Robison, the president of the Christian group Life Outreach International, said Wednesday night at a meeting of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers (NACL), a conservative political group that focuses on social issues.
Members of the NACL pledge to advocate for antiabortion policies and to “uphold the sanctity of marriage as a sacred union exclusively between one man and one woman,” among other commitments. Robison was receiving an award from the group Wednesday night when he made his remarks.
His audience included dozens of Republican state legislators from across the country gathered in a hotel ballroom. At first they listened attentively as Robison began his address, nodding and showing support with a frequent “yes” and “amen.”
Several minutes into his speech, Robison brought up Trump, recalling how the then-presidential nominee had courted his endorsement. In Robison’s retelling, Republican Ben Carson had told Trump that Robison would only endorse him if they spoke for an hour. Trump protested, saying he didn’t speak to anyone for more than 15 minutes.
The two ended up speaking for an hour and a half, Robison said.
After that, “the man started calling me on his cellphone, and then he started asking me to call him,” Robison said Wednesday, referring to Trump. He claimed that for five years Trump “took every single call I made,” sometimes two or three a day. Robison said that on those calls he would preach to Trump, who reportedly marveled that Robison never wanted anything in return. Trump, however, didn’t necessarily take Robison’s advice.
“He heard, [but] he didn’t always heed,” Robison continued.
The televangelist then started criticizing Trump, prompting the crowd to grow quiet.
“Everything you wanted him to hear — every single thing you ever prayed for him to hear — came through these lips right straight into his face,” Robison told the crowd Wednesday, his voice growing lower and louder. “And with the same force you’ve heard me talking to you, I spoke it to him.”
By now, Robison was shouting, practically spitting his words out as he recalled what he said he told Trump.
“ ‘Sir, you act like a little elementary schoolchild and you shoot yourself in the foot every morning you get up and open your mouth! The more you keep your mouth closed, the more successful you’re gonna be!’ ” Robison said.
The crowd remained still. Some lawmakers in the ballroom exchanged glances, appearing unsure of how to respond. Robison joked that those in the audience must be thinking that approach didn’t work very well. A few people chuckled awkwardly.
Robison continued: “It’s time for us to get together and pray and stop trying to destroy each other, and I make that loud and clearly heard to Mr. Trump! We’ve got to quit amputating each other, slicing each other, and come together in supernatural unity that Jesus Christ prayed for!”
The sharp words from Robison, who after the 2016 election called Trump “a supernatural answer to prayer,” came just a day after Trump announced he would run for reelection in 2024. His campaign announcement has been met with a relatively muted response from Republicans and public figures who used to be his most fervent supporters, including from the evangelical church.
A representative for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Unlike his predecessors, Trump did not establish a diverse faith advisory board whose meetings were considered public. Instead he had a loosely-knit, informal but fully evangelical “advisory board.” It included dozens of changing members, and the group would hold meetings with top policy officials and prayer sessions with Trump.
Many were members of the old-guard of mainstream evangelicalism, mixed in for the first time with independent charismatic individual figures like Paula White, the head of the group. Many have been quiet about their support for Trump since late in his term.
In an essay sent to The Washington Post earlier this month, Mike Evans, a former member of the evangelical advisory board, said he would not vote for Trump again and recalled how he once left a Trump rally “in tears because I saw Bible believers glorifying Donald Trump like he was an idol.”
“All of us knew that Trump had character flaws, but we considered our relationship with him transactional,” wrote Evans, a Texas author and Christian Zionist who raises money for outreach and support in Israel. “We wanted Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. We wanted his support of our biblical values. We all wanted his support for the State of Israel. Donald Trump indeed kept and exceeded his promises to us.”
However, Evans said Trump had done damage by turning “the pulpit that we preach from” into a political platform.
“Donald Trump can’t save America. He can’t even save himself. He used us to win the White House. We had to close our mouths and eyes when he said things that horrified us,” Evans wrote. “I cannot do that anymore.”
In the run-up to the 2024 elections, the NACL plans to launch a separate 501(c) (4) organization, which would allow them to financially back candidates in the presidential election, according to Jason Rapert, a Republican state senator from Arkansas and the president of the NACL.
Rapert said he’s not sure whom the organization will support for the Republican presidential nomination. While he supported Trump in 2020, he said, he is eager to hear from all the candidates who decide to run.
“We welcome everyone,” he said. “Trump, [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis and others are welcome to come and address us.”
Asked about Robison’s criticism of Trump, Rapert said that “every person running for office needs to listen to who they’re representing” and strive to “keep things civil.”
At the same time, he added, he is extremely grateful for Trump’s efforts to appoint Supreme Court justices who oppose abortion rights — which led to the fall of Roe.
“He’s the most pro-life president effectively in my lifetime because he actually carried it out,” Rapert said. “We have been very, very vocal in our support for that.”
Wang and Boorstein reported from Washington.