There were the IRS investigation and the business troubles, the divorces and the rumored affairs splashed across the tabloids. And always, there were the biased media that lay in wait, desperate to seize on any hint of internal dysfunction or family drama.
Donald Trump’s spiritual adviser paced the stage in black stilettos, railing against the unfairness of it all.
To her, this serves as evidence that the cussing, controversial Trump is ultimately a man of God.
And now, as Trump works to unify and energize the Republican base around his candidacy, White is aiming to line up endorsements, ready to offer stories of Trump’s kindnesses behind the scenes. She was central to establishing Trump’s evangelical advisory board, which includes several pillars of the traditionally powerful religious right, such as James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, Jr. And some members of the board, like Pastor Mark Burns, a vocal Trump surrogate, have developed a fierce loyalty to White.
“Pastor Paula had a hand and is having a hand in his faith walk,” said Burns of White’s relationship with Trump, calling her “the authority to say if he has a real authentic relationship with God.”
She has opened up at rallies for Trump, and last fall helped organize a gathering, mostly of fellow televangelists, at Trump Tower, where she offered Trump a prayer and a hug.
Now, she is in the process of assembling a bigger group of supportive leaders from across the country, according to her spokesman, Johnnie Moore, himself a Christian author and member of Trump’s advisory committee.
Dobson propelled White into the spotlight recently when he said, “I … hear that Paula White has known Trump for years and that she personally led him to Christ.”
“She’s not active in my world,” Nance said. “I don’t think she’s been active in the pro-life movement, to my knowledge. I’ve never worked with her.”
And in 2007, FEC records show, she donated $2,300 to Barack Obama (she also donated to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney). Asked about the donation, she said it was the price of attending an event to meet then-Sen. Obama, hosted by Winfrey. She has voted Republican “my entire adult life,” she added.
Trump, too, has donated to Democrats.
But if there are parallels between their personal experiences, stylistically, White and Trump have big differences. Where Trump is brash and unapologetic for his aggressive style, White, in a recent interview, was soft-spoken, apologizing for sounding sleep-deprived as she awaited the birth of a new grandchild. While Trump has managed to alienate substantial swaths of minority voters through his harsh rhetoric and hard-line views, White’s churches have drawn diverse attendees.
It’s on social media that Trump tends to make particularly controversial statements; White keeps her Twitter account focused on inspirational messages about God; and her Instagram bursts with motivational messages and images of herself with Cain (#hothubby is a favorite hashtag), along with the occasional picture of a pair of shoes. “Love the shoes my Baby @jonathancainmusic got me for my bday… Going to see him tonight — thinking about wearing them??” she posted recently, next to an image of strappy cream-colored sandals. “Hmmmm … Or save them for another special occasion. Decisions, decisions … #shoes #heels #love #giftfromhubby #beautiful #sexy #hot #grateful.”
“Paula White is not only a beautiful person both inside and out, she has a significant message to offer anyone who will tune in and pay attention,” Trump says in a statement on her website. “She has amazing insight and the ability to deliver that message clearly as well as powerfully.”
And she is finding her footing in the 2016 evangelical landscape. She played a role, behind the scenes, in assembling a thousand-person gathering of prominent Christian leaders in New York City last month to meet with Trump, and Trump gave her a shout-out, said Nance, who attended. Many leaders walked out of that gathering still unconvinced by Trump, but appreciative of the outreach.
And White has worked with plenty of leading evangelicals over the years. She secured for Trump a Bible signed by the Rev. Billy Graham, and, she noted in the interview, she worked with another leader, Gary Bauer, on a sendoff for Danny Ayalon, then Israeli ambassador to the U.S. (Bauer declined comment for the story through a spokeswoman, citing a family vacation.)
White insisted that she has enough both political and religious cachet with evangelical influencers to engage on Trump’s behalf.
“We all connect on the exact same things,” she said. “Jesus Christ is our lord and savior, we connect the same on [the] trinity, on redemption, on basic principles, the fundaments of our faith. When you get to that, there’s not too many places where you can go, ‘She’s a lot more different.’”