Robertson spells it out: Politics, not Christianity, is the Coalition's mission

September 22, 1997|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- If there ever was any doubt about the political intentions of the Christian Coalition, it has surely been dispelled by the tape recording of Pat Robertson's blunt talk to the some of the group's leaders at a private breakfast in Atlanta the other day.

Mr. Robertson said the coalition could claim credit for electing the Republican Congress in 1994. He was clear about what he wanted in return. ''We just tell these guys, 'Look, we put you in power in 1994 and we want you to deliver. We're tired of temporizing. Don't give us all this stuff about you've got a different agenda. This is what we're going to do this year. And we're going to hold your feet to the fire while you do it.' ''

The next step, he made clear, is choosing and electing a Republican president in 2000. ''We've got to be knowledgeable,'' he told his allies. ''We're not a bunch of ingenues anymore. We're a seasoned group of warriors, and we have to know what we are dealing with. We can't be swayed just by rhetoric. We've got to understand we want somebody who shares our values, would be honest, honorable, responsible and capable of leading this nation.

''It's a big responsibility. I told Don Hodel [the new president of the coalition] when he joined us, 'My dear friend, I want to hold out to you the possibility of selecting the next president of the United States, because I think that's what we have in this organization.' ''

Nor did Mr. Robertson mince any words about the Democrats. ''I don't think there's any question that Ozone Al [Gore] is out of it. I mean, he's gone. We've got one that smoked but didn't inhale. Now we've got one that only made a few calls. It was only 70, and there was no controlling legal authority. I mean, please, he's going to be the butt of every joke on every talk show and every comedy show in America. Then you've got [Richard] Gephardt, who's probably worse, in the pocket of the labor unions.''

Mr. Robertson's candor -- he didn't realize the talk was being recorded -- raises both legal and political questions.

The former is whether the Christian Coalition can continue to enjoy the tax-exempt status it now holds as a religious organization -- a question already being examined by both the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission. The recording of Mr. Robertson's comments was made public by a group already challenging that status, Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

No actual endorsement

The coalition claims that Mr. Robertson's remarks were only his personal assessment and did not violate the tax law because he didn't endorse a specific candidate. But in urging the coalition to pattern itself after, among others, Tammany Hall, Mr. Robertson made it clear this is a Republican version of that once powerful Democratic political machine in New York.

Moderate Republicans -- the Bill Welds of the party -- reject the idea that the values of Christian fundamentalists must be politically controlling. How will conservative Republicans accept the claim of a veto over the choice of their nominee?

One obvious question is who might qualify and who clearly would not. Mr. Robertson himself ran for the nomination in 1988, but there has been no hint that he intends to do so again -- unless, of course, this was the real point of his remarks at the breakfast.

The leading choice of the fundamentalists among the dozen or more Republicans with an eye on 2000 is probably former Vice President Dan Quayle, whose emphasis on ''family values'' evoked warm support from the religious right. The 1996 vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp is clearly not acceptable. He may agree with the coalition on most social issues, but the fundamentalists suspect -- probably correctly -- that these are not his priority concerns.

The coalition's agenda supports constitutional amendments that would forbid abortion under any circumstances and that would approve prayer in the public schools. What the Robertson tape shows is that the group once again will insist on those positions in trying to control the choice of the next president.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover report from The Sun's Washington bureau.

Pub Date: 9/22/97

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