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White has said she's a lifelong Republican, but – like Trump – she's hedged her bets over the years. In addition to contributions to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, in 2007 she donated $2,300 to Barack Obama, which, she told Politico, was the cost of meeting the candidate at a gathering hosted by Oprah Winfrey. A decade before the Trump campaign, White was hosting a highly rated show on nine Christian television networks and satellite systems, as well as BET. She has also appeared as a guest life coach on The Tyra Banks Show.
"You know you're on to something new and significant when the most popular woman preacher on the Black Entertainment Network is a white woman," Ebony magazine wrote when White first burst onto the scene in the early 2000s. Her show, Paula White Today, was eclectic – sometimes religious, sometimes not. One episode was titled "Millionaire God's Way."
This was the television show that first brought White to Trump's attention. White told the Christian Post on July 8, 2016, that Trump called her and said she was "fantastic ... After watching my television show," she said, "he tracked me down. He literally called me out of the blue, and I was amazed by how he remembered my sermon, almost word for word."
There is little mystery as to what first attracted Donald Trump to Paula White in 2002. While possibly not "a 10" by Trump's beauty pageant and supermodel standards, White's physical appearance is still central to her appeal – even at 50 – so she works hard to maintain it. Over the years the televangelist has not been shy about displaying her toned, fit body on exercise segments on her various TV programs, or in increasingly form-fitting outfits. She likes to tell revivals, "I work my hips and lips." One follower on her Facebook page referred to her as a "smokin' Barbie." The hundreds of personal profile photos she has posted of herself resemble glamour headshots, giving the page a vaguely creepy, narcissistic vibe.
The meeting between Trump and White was the beginning of a beautiful – and mutually beneficial – friendship. In 2008, Trump was a guest on her show, promoting his latest book and sharing his insights on how to get rich. White's website features this Trump encomium: "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. She has amazing insight and the ability to deliver that message clearly as well as powerfully." Trump thought so highly of White that in 2015 he invited her to attend the finale of The Apprentice and pray with the cast and crew.
So after Trump announced his run for president, White sprang into action.
In September 2015, Trump invited White and about 20 other evangelical leaders to meet privately with the candidate at Trump Tower, where she has owned a $3.5 million apartment for the past decade. It was White's first active foray into politics, and a critical move, since other evangelical leaders were already lining up behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a lifelong evangelical and the son of a preacher. The Trump Tower group huddled around the candidate and laid hands on him, a moment captured on YouTube. White, the only woman in the group, had pride of place next to the candidate, with one hand on his stomach and the other on his arm. Trump, eyes closed, lower lip extended, patted White's hand. Before the group could break up, she seized the Pentecostal headliner slot of closer.
"Father, we just secure him right now by the blood of Jesus," she prayed. "We thank you that no weapon formed against him would prosper, and any tongue that rises against him would be condemned, according to the word of God. ... Even as we lay hands on him right now, let your hand be laid upon him. Let him have a greater encounter with you, a greater encounter with the spirit of God. I secure him, I secure his children, I secure his calling and his mantle, in Jesus' name." When she finished, Trump embraced her and kissed her on the cheek.
White's efforts on Trump's behalf have not been confined to the religious world. In March, she spoke to an overflow crowd at a Trump rally at the University of Central Florida arena. "I believe that God will raise up a man for such a time as this," she said. The attacks made on him notwithstanding, she said that Trump was "a man who had more integrity than most people that I have encountered." She added that he had contributed to various ministries, that he is "a compassionate man, a man who is very strong to his core."
Since then, White helped put together Trump's evangelical advisory board, a group of 26 conservative leaders, and, in June, she was instrumental in organizing another Trump Tower gathering, this one of a thousand conservative evangelical figures. At the session, White was one of the few leaders Trump acknowledged from the podium. After the meeting, Trump called White, and asked, "Paula, they know I will fight for them, right?" She assured him that they did. "They all left saying they trust him, and these are all leaders in the Evangelical community who are admired and trusted themselves," she said later. In a rare interview with Politico, White said, "I can absolutely tell you that Mr. Trump has a relationship with God. He is a Christian, he accepts Jesus as his Lord and savior."
But not everyone in the evangelical world welcomes Trump's embrace of Paula White.
"Paula White is a charlatan and recognized as a heretic by every orthodox Christian, of whatever tribe," wrote Russell Moore, chairman of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's policy arm, in a widely quoted tweet. Nationally syndicated Christian radio host Steve Deace joined others in declaring White a heretic, primarily for her embrace of the prosperity gospel. In late June, Deace addressed the rumor that White had led Trump to Christ. If true, Deace said, "someone needs to lead her to Christ first," an attack he renewed on an Oct. 7 broadcast.