The following appeared in 'Church + State', published monthly by Americans United for Sepa
The following appeared in "Church & State", published monthly by
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit
educational corporation dedicated to the constitutional principle
of church-state separation. they can be reached at 8120 Fenton
Street, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910; 301/589-3707.
The Christian Coalition: On The Road To Victory?
A Special Report From Inside The Pat Robertson Political Machine
by Frederick Clarkson
Frederick Clarkson is an investigative journalist based in
Washington, D.C., who frequently writes about the Religious Right.
When I slipped into the national leadership meeting of Pat
Robertson's Christian Coalition, I thought I knew what to expect.
I'd written many stories about the Religious Right. But I was
unprepared for what I saw, heard and felt inside Robertson's
Virginia Beach, Va., headquarters for two days in November during
the "Road to Victory" Conference and Strategy Briefing.
The historic Louisiana governor's race was reaching its climax.
Men and women crowded around televisions, awaiting the electoral
fate of neo-Nazi Republican David Duke. Although Pat Robertson
denounced racism and Naziism to reporters outside the conference,
inside there were open expressions of support for Duke, from the
ordinary membership to the leadership. (I saw only five blacks
out of 800 delegates.) For many there was grim disappointment at
I was also surprised to see a rapidly growing, technologically
sophisticated religio-political organization, built largely from
Robertson's 1988 presidential campaign. Christian Coalition
activists are working to take over the Republican Party from the
grassroots up, while electing right-to-life conservative Christian
Republicans to public office at all levels. They view George Bush
and "establishment" Republicans as their principal opponents and
believe themselves divinely appointed to take power and rule the
I also heard Coalition leaders gleefully describe--from the
podium--political activities that are clearly unethical, if not
Founded in October 1989, the Coalition now claims 150,000
members and 210 local chapters in 38 states. Many "members" are
just direct mail contributors. Nevertheless, it is quickly
becoming the major Religious Right political organization of the
Signaling the importance of the Robertson Republicans, the
keynote address was given by Vice President Dan Quayle. Quayle
had brushed aside requests that he cancel the speech because
Robertson's Founders Inn discriminates in hiring on the basis of
religion only born-again Christians are allowed to work at the
hotel. Ignoring the controversy, the vice president spoke at an
Inn banquet hall, a stone's throw from Robertson's Christian
Broadcasting Network (CBN) headquarters and a stroll to Regent
University, of which the religious broadcaster is chancellor.
Quayle said we were gathered that day because he, the president
and the Coalition have shared values of "faith, family, and
freedom" and that together we would defeat "the liberals" and re-
elect Bush. He said the first step is to "make 1992 the year of
pro-family values." Other party leaders speaking or present
included Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-
Mich.), Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Calif.) and Rep. William
Dannemeyer (R-Calif.), as well as Christian Right leaders Phyllis
Schlafly, Gary Bauer and Christian Reconstructionist author George
Much of the Virginia Beach conference consisted of "how to"
presentations on the mechanics of electoral and internal
Republican Party politics. One session was divided into regional
briefings on how to become delegates to the Republican National
Convention. There was a single caucus for how to become a
delegate to the Democratic Convention, but no one came.
At this gathering, I quickly learned, a denunciation of "the
liberals" usually referred to George Bush, California Gov. Pete
Wilson and the Republican National Committee. "The far left"
meant the Democratic Party.
One panel titled "Turning Out the Christian Vote in 1992"
presented two field-tested election tactics: voter identification
("voter ID") programs and "voters' guides."
"We don't have to worry about convincing a majority of
Americans to agree with us," declared Guy Rodgers, the Coalition's
national field director. "Most of them are staying home and
watching `Falcon Crest.'"
Even in a high turn-out presidential election year, Rodgers
explained, only 15 percent of the eligible voters determine the
outcome. Of all eligible adults, only about 60 percent are
actually registered. Only half of those cast ballots. "So," he
continued, "only 30 percent of the eligible voters actually vote.
Therefore, only 15 percent of the eligible voters determine the
"In low turn-out elections," he concluded, "city council, state
legislature, county commissions--the percentage of the eligible
voters who determines who wins can be as low as 6 or 7 percent."
The Coalition's imaginative executive director, Ralph Reed,
describes the group's voter mobilization program as if it were a
covert military operation: "I want to be invisible," he told one
reporter. "I do guerilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at
night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You
don't know until election night."
By this standard, election night in November was a body bag
bonanza for the Robertson Right as they took seven seats for State
Senate and House of Delegates from the Virginia Beach area. One
recent Regent University graduate defeated a 20-year incumbent
Describing the group's voter ID program, Reed explained that
volunteers would telephone into pre-selected precincts and say
"I'm taking an informal survey" for the Christian Coalition.
Then, four quick questions: Did you vote for Dukakis or Bush?
Are you a Republican or a Democrat?
"If they answered, `Dukakis, Democrat' that was the end of the
survey," laughed Reed. "We didn't even write them down. We don't
want to communicate with them. We don't even want them to know
there's an election going on. I'm serious. We don't want them to
The third question, if respondents got that far, was do you
favor restrictions on abortion? And finally, what is the most
important issue facing Virginia Beach?
The Coalition used the data to create a computer file on each
voter, with survey answers coded according to 43 "issue burdens."
The ID'd voters would then mysteriously receive a letter from the
Coalition's candidate: Computer-generated, laser-printed and
individually tailored to one's "issue burden"--crime, education,
traffic, etc. If the voter happened to be pro-choice, the letter
wouldn't mention abortion. "I'll take the votes of the pro-
abortion Republicans" to get anti-abortion Republicans in, Reed
admitted. In fact, Reed said only 28 percent of his targeted
voters identified themselves as anti-abortion.
This signals a significant shift from the grandiose Christian
Right notion of a "moral majority." The Robertson forces are a
self-conscious minority seeking power through smart utilization of
political campaign technology and the institutions of democracy.
Reed said one Democrat attempted to make an issue of Pat
Robertson's contributions to political candidates. "But people
didn't care if Pat Robertson had given money to anyone," Reed
gloated. "They wanted better roads, etc. . . . We knew it. He
didn't. We won. He lost. It's that simple."
Amidst the braggadocio about clever tactics, a "Christian"
variety of dirty politics sometimes showed. On the morning of the
Virginia Beach election, Reed personally went to the largest
precinct and told voters he was with an "independent, outside
organization" unconnected to either campaign, doing exit polling
for "later broadcast." The Republican was losing, so Coalition
activists called everyone on their precinct list and got their
candidate down to the polling place to greet voters. Ultimately,
Reed tried to explain how the Coalition could do such partisan
work. He explained: "We also control the Second District
Republican Party. So many of our people who were doing this voter
ID were also (Republican) precinct captains. . . . So if they
shared some of this voter ID information . . . we really didn't
care." Personifying this political incestuousness is Pat
Robertson's son Gordon, who is secretary treasurer of the
Coalition and also Republican chairman in Virginia's Second
The other wing of the Coalition's strategy for 1992 is the use
of "voter guides"--which are usually biased comparisons of
candidate views or records. The Christian Coalition of Florida
distributed 1.5 million of them in 1990, primarily by shipping
them in batches of about 300 to 4,000 churches selected from a
purchased list of 11,000. (Coalition activists also obtained
church membership lists and cross-referenced them against lists of
registered Republicans as part of a voter ID project in central
During the Virginia Beach gathering, Ralph Reed told an inside
story from the 1990 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina. Helms
called Pat Robertson a week before the election to ask for help.
Reed reported, "I had access to the internal tracking, and I know
[Helms] was down by 8 points. So Pat called me up and said,
`We've got to kick into action.' Bottom line is . . . five days
later we put three quarters of a million voters' guides in
churches across the state of North Carolina and Jesse Helms was
re-elected by 100,000 votes out of 2.2 million cast." "We" said
Reed, also made over 30,000 phone calls.
Unlike Florida, the North Carolina Coalition activists tried to
insert voter guides into church bulletins on the Sunday before the
election. Where that failed, they leafletted at carefully chosen
spots just outside church parking lots. "The press had no idea
what we were doing," added CC's Southern Regional Director Judy
Haynes, "and they still don't know what we did. But it worked."
The Coalition is expecting a similar impact in North Carolina
in 1992. Haynes organized a meeting last October, and according
to Reed, "All five Senate candidates, announced and unannounced,
came to meet with our key county coordinators." All were
Republicans, of course; Sen. Terry Sanford, the Democratic
incumbent, is the target.
The Christian Coalition claims it is an "issues-oriented"
organization of "Evangelicals, pro-family Catholics and their
allies" working to "reverse the moral decline in America and
reaffirm our godly heritage." But at the November meeting there
was little talk about issues. This conference was devoted to
electoral politics, the mechanics of taking over the Republican
Party and Coalition chapter development.
Former Reagan White House Domestic Policy chief (and now head
of James Dobson's Family Research Council) Gary Bauer said,
"Obviously this conference is about the 1992 elections." And the
reason this and other elections are important, he added, is
because "we are engaged in a social, political and cultural civil
Three members of the Republican National Committee explained
the hows and whys of becoming an RNC member. One Coalition leader
told me that he expects a conservative Christian majority on the
RNC in the next few years.
Several speakers stressed that it is time to stop thinking like
outsiders and begin to be insiders interested in power and
governance. This dynamic was played out in an interesting way
when sympathetic staff from the Republican House and Senate
campaign committees addressed the gathering.
The party is supposed to be neutral in party primaries--
especially when there is a Republican incumbent. However, Curt
Anderson of the National Republican Senatorial Committee warned
against "pro-family" candidates splitting the vote in GOP
primaries where moderate Republicans are also running. In
California, where Democrat Alan Cranston is retiring, a Republican
primary fight is under way. Said Anderson, "It is really
important that we understand who's pro-life and who's pro-family
and who's conservative in that primary" between TV commentator
Bruce Herschenson and U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell. "Anybody who has
the resources . . . better pay attention to that primary,"
Anderson insisted, "and help out Mr. Herschenson."
Observed Ralph Reed, "I wanna tell ya, I deal with Curt
Anderson on a daily basis, and . . . he shares your values and he
shares your outlook. . . . He's really our best friend at the
Said Anderson, "I have never considered myself a party-first
guy"--an attitude which he believes has "no integrity."
Meanwhile, the complicity between the Republican Party,
individual candidates and the Christian Coalition may be creating
violations of the Coalition's tax status. As a 501(c)(4)
organization under the Internal Revenue Service Code, the
Coalition is non-profit and tax-exempt, although donations to it
are not deductible by contributors. It can do things like lobby
on legislation, produce voter guides and wage other political
IRS regulations about candidate endorsements are somewhat
ambiguous, but they clearly forbid a 501(c)(4) organization to
have partisan politics as its primary undertaking. One IRS of
official told "Church & State" that partisan politicking may not
exceed 49 percent of the group's endeavors. If my experience at
the Virginia Beach meeting is any indication, partisan political
activities clearly constitute almost all of the Christian
Playing fast and loose with the IRS rules got a similar
Robertson group in trouble a few years ago. According to 1987
reports by "The Washington Post" and syndicated columnist Michael
McManus, Robertson poured some $8.5 million from his Christian
Broadcasting Network into a group called The Freedom Council
during the 1980s. The Council ostensibly sought to mobilize
"Christians" into politics. However, several former Council
executives now admit that it fronted for Robertson's electoral
"The Post" reported that among many actions of dubious
legality, Robertson "used the tax-exempt Freedom Council--funded
by millions of dollars from CBN--to help elect his supporters in
Michigan's GOP convention delegate selection process." As McManus
wrote in 1987, "It is illegal for a non-profit organization like
CBN to give money for the direct or indirect benefit of a person
running for political office."
When the IRS began investigating The Freedom Council, Robertson
shut it down. Five years later, the IRS is still investigating.
Many veterans of The Freedom Council and the Robertson campaign
are active in The Christian Coalition. Among these is the Rev.
Billy McCormack, one of Robertson's closest political associates
and the Coalition's state director in Louisiana. One of the first
people Robertson recruited for the Council, McCormack served as a
regional coordinator. He played a similar role in the Robertson
McCormack introduced Robertson at the Christian Coalition's
closing banquet in November. He said that in the two centuries
since Washington and Jefferson, "The forces of evil have
coalesced. They've formed a mighty tide of approaching
destruction. Providentially, God has raised up (another) man from
Virginia to lead America in the re-discovery of its soul."
McCormack also epitomizes the Coalition's hidden Duke
dimension. A Duke for Governor campaign spokesman claimed their
candidate had the support of the Coalition's Louisiana affiliate.
State leader McCormack declined to comment at the time, but
informed sources have told me he was prevented from making a
formal endorsement only by last-minute arm-twisting by other
Thus, it is important to note that, according to a "New York
Times" poll, Duke received seven out of ten votes cast by white
evangelicals in the Louisiana governor's race. Now that Duke is
running in the Republican presidential primaries, newly uncloseted
Duke supporters may emerge from the Coalition.
Robertson himself, usually smilingly avuncular, displayed a
terrifying, paranoid and messianic vision of current and future
events during a banquet speech that was greeted with cheers and
standing ovations from the assorted Christian Coalition activists.
Attacking "humanism" as communism's "sister," he claimed that
America is under assault from its own leaders.
"When the failed monstrosity of Russia . . . went down, so did
the so-called elites of the United States," he declared. "They
just don't know it yet."
A financial collapse in the Soviet Union that will affect the
rest of the world is imminent, Robertson said, "And while this is
going on, we are hearing noises about a New World Order." He
claimed that the "United Nations is going to rule the world . . .
We're to cede the sovereignty of America to this organization.
One world currency. One world army. One world court system, very
possibly. And it can happen overnight.
"The elites," Robertson said, "have turned against themselves
and have tried to destroy the very society from which they drew
their nurture. The academic elites, the money elites and the
government elites, turned on their own society. And into that
void steps an organization called the Christian Coalition."
Robertson envisions the Coalition arrayed against "Satanic
forces," saying, "We are not coming up against just human beings
to beat them in elections. We're going to be coming up against
spiritual warfare. And if we're not aware of what we're fighting,
we will lose."
Robertson credited McCormack with calling on him to form the
Coalition from the Robertson forces' preceding ventures, lest the
time and money they had invested, "be for naught." Remarked
Robertson, "He said there are people by the hundreds of thousands
around the country who are waiting to rally to leadership. And I
said, did, it was clear that what he said was right."
What does all this mean? The Christian Coalition provides a
militantly sectarian--only Christians of the "right" sort are
welcome--political vehicle for Robertson and his allies. It also
provides a convenient, if unstable, umbrella group for a strange
range of opinion. It is home not only to strains of back-to-the-
Bible social conservatism but also free enterprise (even
libertarian) economics and a kind of nativist fascism.
The Coalition is held together by agreement on a few issues,
charismatic leaders like Robertson and Reed, an inclusive
grassroots strategy and periodic denunciations of "The Evil One,"
who, of course, is represented by the group's enemies, from "Teddy
Kennedy" to George Bush.
Despite the Coalition's strengths, it is a volatile mix that is
certain to make 1992 much more interesting, and disturbing, than
the conventional wisdom is ready to believe.
ko.yan.nis.qatsi (from the Hopi Language) n. 1. crazy life. 2. life
in turmoil. 3. life out of balance. 4. life disintegrating.
5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank