Pat's Partisan Ploy

By Boston, Rob | Church & State, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Pat's Partisan Ploy


Boston, Rob, Church & State


TV Preacher Robertson Has Given His Blessing To GOP Presidential Front Runner George W. Bush, But Will His Increasingly Troubled Christian Coalition Flock Say Amen?

As far as TV preacher Pat Robertson is concerned, pastors who reject political activity in their churches aren't just wrong, they're following the advice of a Nazi.

"The idea that churches should stay out of politics comes from Hitler," Robertson told members and supporters of his Christian Coalition Oct. 1 in Washington, D.C. "Hitler said the same thing: `You must prepare people for Heaven. Leave the government to me.' I want to send word to the politicians. We're not going to leave the government to them."

Asserting that the Christian Coalition is "expanding" and that chapter growth is "exploding," Robertson rejected recent claims that his group is on the ropes. "The Christian Coalition is going to be bigger and more powerful than ever," he vowed. "The Christian Coalition at the beginning of the new millennium has come to the kingdom for a time such as this."

Elsewhere in his kickoff address to the organization's 1999 "Road to Victory" Conference, Robertson said defiantly, "We are back! If we aren't in the field in this coming election, the Republicans are going to lose. I don't think there's any question about it. We will be the margin of victory in the key races."

Robertson, top Coalition leaders and thousands of group members met in the nation's capital Oct. 1-2 for the organization's 10th annual conference. On the surface, Robertson and his lieutenants worked hard to project the image of a powerful, well oiled political machine with a far-reaching grassroots presence.

By some measures, they were successful. Clearly, top Republicans still view the Coalition as a powerhouse and dare not slight the organization. Over the two-day event, attendees heard speeches by every serious GOP presidential contender except U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who claimed to have had a scheduling conflict, and Pat Buchanan, who is mulling a third-party bid.

But reality kept poking through Robertson's Potemkin Village, and a look below the carefully constructed facade revealed an organization in considerable turmoil. The turnout this year was down sharply. The past few "Road to Victory" events have attracted 4,000 or more attendees and booked the Washington Hilton Hotel solid. This year, the hotel had enough spare rooms to host two other major events at the same time, and the Coalition's official estimate of 3,500 attendees seemed exaggerated. It looked more like 2,000 to 2,500 at its peak (including a considerable number of teenagers who were bused in from local Christian schools and an international delegation of several dozen people.)

During the main sessions, entire wings of the ballroom sat empty. Some speakers drew sparse crowds at best. By the time Randy Tate, the former CC executive director turned chief Washington lobbyist, spoke at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, the ballroom crowd had dwindled to fewer than 400.

In state caucus and "breakout" sessions that took place on Saturday afternoon, Coalition leaders and activists grumbled about limited resources, low pay and laid-off staff. At one session on political organizing, a man demanded to know when New York was going to get a Coalition director.

During the Pennsylvania caucus, a CC staffer said bluntly, "We're trying to get new life and vitality in the organization" and added that the state affiliate had laid off its entire five-person staff in Harrisburg, leaving it with one part-time employee who had just scraped up enough money to buy a computer. The speaker said the Pennsylvania chapter had tried to work with chapters in Maryland and West Virginia but that both had collapsed.

At the Michigan caucus, several attendees complained that nothing was happening since the state chapter fell apart due to internal divisions. …

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