Why Trump’s endorsement of Mark Burns’ GOP candidacy matters

In September 2016, shortly before Donald Trump was elected, the then-candidate spoke to Michael Cohen — at the time, his lawyer and fixer — about buying the silence of one of his former mistresses. A transcript of their conversation later emerged, and it showed a handful of references to someone named Mark Burns.

For much of the country, Burns’ name was, and is, probably unfamiliar, but in 2016, Team Trump saw him as a key political ally: As a prominent Christian televangelist in South Carolina, Burns positioned himself a leading cheerleader for the then-Republican nominee. Indeed, the Cohen recording suggested that Trump thought he could use the pastor for political cover if voters heard about the candidate’s sex scandals.

Nearly eight years later, Burns is running for Congress — and yesterday, he received the former president’s endorsement. Trump published this message to his social media platform yesterday:

“Pastor Mark Burns just filed to run for Congress in South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District. There are many great Conservatives exploring a run for that seat, but Mark Burns has been with me from the very beginning of our Movement to Make America Great Again. … Pastor Mark Burns is an America First Fighter, and has my Complete and Total Endorsement — He is a Good Man, a Hard Worker, and will not let you down!”

It’s an open-seat contest — incumbent Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan isn’t seeking another term — with a crowded GOP field, though Trump’s endorsement is likely to give Burns an advantage over his intraparty rivals.

If this story sounds at all familiar, it might be because Burns ran for Congress in 2018 in a different South Carolina district. The Christian pastor, who was caught padding his resume, struggled badly and finished in eighth place in a GOP primary. He ran and lost again in 2022.

This year, however, Burns is trying once more — in a different district — and with the presumptive Republican nominee in his corner, he’s likely optimistic about his changes.

All of which suggests it’s worth taking a moment to note some of the reasons the televangelist is a unique kind of congressional candidate.

Right Wing Watch, for example, reported in the fall that Burns’ has a “history of using violent rhetoric especially against LGBTQ-supporting parents and teachers,” and “once declared that the LGBTQ agenda represents ‘a national security threat’ and therefore anyone who promotes it is guilty of treason and should be executed.”

This is the same Burns who also suggested that Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell committed “treason.”

Soon after, Burns spoke at a right-wing event and said, “I’m coming here to declare war on every demonic, demon-possessed Democrat that comes from the gates of Hell!”

Coming soon to Capitol Hill?