Trump's evangelical allies hold off on 2024 endorsement
First Baptist Dallas senior pastor Robert Jeffress says he considers former President Trump a friend and calls him "the greatest president since Ronald Reagan," but he's holding off on endorsing Trump's recently announced 2024 run.
Why it matters: Jeffress was the first prominent evangelical leader to endorse Trump's 2016 run for president and he has been one of Trump's most staunch supporters.
The big picture: Jeffress, a regular contributor to Fox News, tells Axios that he has no regrets about supporting Trump in the last two presidential elections.
- But he says he's stopping short of endorsing any 2024 candidates until after the primaries.
- Jeffress says he believes the Republican primaries will be a "knife fight" and he wants no part of that battle, though he also noted that he expects Trump will win the Republican nomination.
Zoom out: Most other prominent evangelical leaders have also held off on endorsements.
- James Robison, president of the Christian group Life Outreach International and a former spiritual adviser to Trump, recently told a gathering in North Texas that the former president has a tendency to act "like a little elementary school child."
Catch up fast: Before the 2016 primaries, Jeffress campaigned with Trump in Iowa. Not long afterward, Trump received widespread support from other evangelical leaders, including his spiritual adviser Paula White and prominent televangelist the Rev. Franklin Graham.
- The choir at First Baptist Dallas has performed a hymn called "Make America Great Again."
- When the Trump administration moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Jeffress was there to give the official prayer.
- Trump drew a massive crowd to First Baptist Dallas on the Sunday before Christmas last year.
The intrigue: At least three other potential Republican candidates for president — Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Greg Abbott and former Vice President Mike Pence — have also appeared at First Baptist Dallas in the last few years.
- Earlier this month, Jeffress tweeted about Pence's new book, calling him "a great friend, a committed Christian, and a true American hero."
- After the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, Jeffress wrote that the Capitol attack was "unprecedented, as well as despicable and wrong."
The bottom line: Jeffress joined Trump's camp before the 2016 election because he believed Trump was the only Republican candidate capable of defeating Hillary Clinton, but he thinks several candidates are capable of beating any Democratic nominee in 2024, so he's shrewdly avoiding making enemies.
Go deeper: Read Mike's August 2019 Texas Monthly cover story about the surprising friendship Jeffress and Trump formed.
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