The Missionary Positions of Nikki Haley’s Idol: Pastor John Hagee

He has said gay pride caused Hurricane Katrina and that God sent Hitler to create Israel. Haley put him center stage.

Mother Jones illustration; John Hagee Ministries; KOINCH

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John Hagee’s been around. And around. And around.

The pastor has been a prominent figure in GOP presidential races for years, with his support sought after by candidates from the Bushes (H. and W.) to Trump—and now Nikki Haley. As the founder of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas (established in 1966), Hagee made a name for himself not only as a televangelist but also for his offensive rhetoric, including blaming gay people for Hurricane Katrina, claiming that God sent Hitler to create Israel, and suggesting that women are only good for childbearing and motherhood. (Among other things.)

Although he has yet to endorse a specific candidate in this cycle, former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley prominently featured Hagee in her presidential campaign launch event in Charleston, South Carolina, the day after Valentine’s Day. “Pastor Hagee, I still say I want to be you when I grow up,” Haley said following his opening prayer.

Hagee’s appearance is kind of a big deal. It marks his return to yet another political cycle—after being rejected by John McCain and even Sarah Palin. But it’s also among the first punches Haley threw Trump’s way in the burgeoning 2024 primary race.

Hagee is the founder of Christians United for Israel, one of the largest pro-Israel organizations in the US, and he has been able to use this position to gain access to former president Donald Trump’s Oval Office, becoming a key figure in the decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite some foreign policy experts recommending against it. Trump and Hagee go back: Hagee endorsed Trump early in 2016, and then Trump went on to win the presidency with a big lift from the pastor’s key demo: Evangelicals.

So it’s no surprise that Hagee’s re-emergence might be getting under you-know-who’s skin, given his influence in the evangelical community. Right after Haley’s event, the former president sent out one of his infamous email blasts, calling out Haley on a variety of issues, including her well-documented statements of support for a Trump 2024 run.

But it also reveals that for all of Haley’s talk about being a more moderate option for suburban women and independent voters, she isn’t afraid to put extremist voices, once pushed to the fringe of the GOP, smack-bang in the center of her appeal to voters.

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