Benen, Steve, Church & State
A decade after creating a Religious Right political machine, TV preacher Pat Robertson walks away from the Christian Coalition
TV preacher Pat Robertson, who created a Religious Right political machine with the Christian Coalition throughout the 1990s, walked away from the group on Dec. 5.
Robertson issued a written statement resigning as president and saying he would focus his post-Coalition attention on ministerial work.
"We are seeing an outpouring of revival power in the United States that exceeds anything that I have known in my lifetime," Robertson said. "With the few years left to me of active service, I must focus on those things that will bring forth the greatest spiritual benefit."
Robertson's interest in American spirituality may have been a factor in his decision to leave the Coalition, but it certainly was not the only reason. The steady decline in the Christian Coalition's budget, membership and influence in recent years no doubt contributed to Robertson's motivation to leave the group he created in 1989 from lists of supporters of his failed run for the Republican nomination for president.
In fact, critics of the Christian Coalition said Robertson's announcement represents the likely demise of the group.
"The Christian Coalition has been a sinking ship for several years, and now the captain's jumped overboard," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "Without Robertson's money and political clout, it's only a matter of time before the organization collapses outright."
As recently as six years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine Robertson fleeing a floundering Christian Coalition. In the mid-1990s, when the group's financial and political strength was at its height, the Coalition enjoyed a budget of $25 million and boasted of nearly 2 million members and supporters. At the time, conservative political candidates looking to generate grassroots support had little choice but to woo Coalition members and cozy up to Robertson. Looking back over the last two presidential elections, major GOP hopefuls for the 1996 and 2000 GOP presidential nominations including George W. Bush, Bob Dole, John Ashcroft, Steve Forbes, Orrin Hatch, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes made at least one appearance at the Coalition's "Road to Victory" conferences.
While the Coalition was still in its early years, Robertson personally spelled out a 10-year vision for the group. Robertson said he wanted to build a political machine that would help "pro-family" candidates -- a Religious Right euphemism for Republicans -- control Congress and the White House, which, by and large, happened.
Even in his statement announcing his resignation, Robertson boasted of the Coalition's political successes helping Republicans, despite years of rhetoric insisting his group was non-partisan.
"Without us, I do not believe that George Bush would be sitting in the White House or that Republicans would be in control of the United States House of Representatives," Robertson said.
Robertson's sudden and unexpected departure, however, comes at a difficult time for the Coalition. Nearly all observers agree that over the last several years, the Coalition has become a shadow of its former self.
Its $25 million budget has fallen to about $3 million, according to a report in The Washington Times. Politically powerful staffers, such as Ralph Reed, have fled the group, while other high-profile employees, like Don Hodel and Randy Tate, have been forced out. Interest in the Coalition's national conferences shrank dramatically, to the point that the 2001 event was cancelled, the first such cancellation in the group's history. Even at the local level, Coalition officials were embarrassed by a 1999 New York Times report that highlighted the fact that the number of active state chapters had fallen from 48 to seven. …