Republican political stars woo waning Christian conservatives; preach message of inclusiveness
Ralph Reed’s now annual Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington last week drew a surprisingly small audience of mostly Protestant evangelical political activists — but still attracted a bevy of Republican political stars.
The audience of fewer than 400 was a fraction of the thousands who once thronged Pat Robertson’s annual Christian Coalition “Road to the White House” when it reigned as the premier event for rallying religious conservatives in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Mr. Reed is a political consultant, one-time candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia and born-again Christian. Mr. Robertson, who was honored at an FFC banquet Friday evening, has international renown, in large part because of his long-running syndicated TV show, “The 700 Club,” where comments he has made over the years have been castigated by some fellow evangelicals.
He won the fame and the notoriety that Mr. Reed never came close to achieving.
In 1976, Mr. Robertson predicted that the world would end no later than November 1982, which turned out to be the second year of President Reagan’s first administration. He has linked destructive hurricanes to God’s displeasure with the acceptance of homosexuality in America.
“I really believe I’m hearing from the Lord it’s going to be like a blowout election [in favor of George W. Bush] in 2004,” he once said of an election that turned out to be one of the closest in U.S. history.
But Mr. Robertson’s renown and perceived influence over millions of Christian voters won him the courtship of virtually every major Republican presidential aspirant for a decade after he lost his own bid for the nomination in 1988.
The difference in audience drawing power between Mr. Reed’s organization and Mr. Robertson’s — over which Mr. Reed had presided as executive director — bears little correlation, however, with the current coalition’s attraction for politicians on the right.
What the CC and its successor, the FFC, still share is a gravitational pull on many of the best-known and most ambitious Republican politicians from across the country.
Still, smaller isn’t necessarily better when it comes to inclusiveness, former Christian Coalition leaders noted privately Saturday at the close of the three-day conference billed as “The Road to a Majority.”
Of the four Republicans thought to constitute the first tier of 2016 presidential nomination aspirants at this point — Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — two did not get to show off their wares to the general conference audience.
Second- and third-tier potential 2016 nomination seekers did appear, along with federal lawmakers with reputations of strongly held religious beliefs.
Always talked up as a possible presidential contender, Friday’s banquet keynoter Donald Trump took shots at 2000 Bush presidential campaign strategist Karl Rove, President Obama, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and even Mr. Rubio. The Celebrity Apprentice host also repeated his assertion (greeted with dead silence from the audience) that the rest of the world no longer respects the United States.
At the same banquet, about 300 guests rose in the middle of their dinner to hear an extended version of the National Anthem, with old and new verses. After sitting back down, some bemused guests hurriedly resumed eating — in case they might be called upon to rise once more for the Pledge of Allegiance.
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