Robertson and Giuliani: A Not-So-Odd Couple

Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani sends shock waves through religious right

Not long after Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003, Rudy Giuliani and Pat Robertson shared a flight back from Israel.

“We had a lot of time coming back from Israel to talk about our understanding of how important Israel is to the United States, how important they are in this whole vast effort that we’re involved in this terrorist war against us,” Giuliani recently told Radio Iowa. “We realized that we agreed on far many more things than we disagreed on.”

In a two-week span that saw several conservative Christian evangelical leaders finally climb down off the fence and begin spreading their endorsements across the field of Republican Party presidential candidates, it was the unexpected endorsement by one of Christian conservatism’s longtime leaders that garnered the most media attention.

When Pat Robertson, the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network and the man who created and helped make the Christian Coalition a political powerhouse in the Republican Party of the 1990s, recently endorsed former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, he accomplished at least two things: He enhanced Giuliani’s standing amongst those evangelicals still paying attention to Robertson — his CBN “700 Club” draws millions of nightly viewers — and he injected himself back into the political spotlight.

The world according to Pat

In an exclusive interview on the Fox News Channel’s Hannity & Colmes show, Pat Robertson maintained that one of the key reasons he is supporting Rudy Giuliani is “judges, judges, and judges.”

According to Robertson, Giuliani “has assured the American people that he’s going to appoint justices in the likeness of Scalia and John Roberts, et cetera… and I believe him.”

Robertson also acknowledged that his priorities have shifted over the past few years from such social issues as abortion and same-sex marriage to the “war on terror”.

“The priority of this election in my opinion is defence against Islamic terrorism. I think if the bad guys set off a nuke in one of our major cities, I think it’s going to overshadow everything else, and I’m concerned about protecting the American people,” he asserted.

Political treachery?

While you could almost hear a collective amen coming from the headquarters of various Democratic Party presidential hopefuls, religious right leaders were not nearly as sanguine; many of Robertson’s longtime colleagues felt blindsided and betrayed.

The far right Reconstructionists at the Chalcedon Blog — sponsored by the Chalcedon Foundation — characterised Robertson’s move as an act of political treachery.

“Here’s a man with a university supposedly dedicated to training Christians in cultural leadership and Robertson tramples over God’s law and the U.S. Constitution by endorsing the cross-dressing, pro-choice, three-time divorcee with mob ties,” Chris Ortiz wrote. “He did this when the most ardent constitutional defender and dedicated Christian, Ron Paul, is labouring to restore the American Republic. This is the clearest indication that Robertson is as much a part of the Establishment as any other Blue Blood. It’s time to turn off the 700 Club.”

The Campaign for Children and Families, which describes itself as “a leading West Coast pro-family organization,” issued a statement headlined, “Pat Robertson Has Lost His Mind? America’s Pro-Family Leaders Selling Out Pro-Family Values: Latest Hypocrisy is Pat Robertson’s Endorsement of Giuliani.”

Some conservative pundits claimed Robertson’s endorsement was more about Robertson than Giuliani. Hugh Hewitt, a law professor, broadcast journalist, and author of several books including A Mormon in the White House?: 110 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney, maintained that the televangelist “want[ed] to show Jim Dobson that Robertson still matters.”

Focus on the Family’s founder James Dobson, one of the most powerful of the old guard Religious Right leaders, has shaken things up politically by stating unequivocally that he would never vote for Giuliani under any circumstances. Dobson has also expressed dissatisfaction with other so-called front runners, including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Tennessee Senator and actor Fred Thompson.

How could Robertson, a still revered leader of the Religious Right endorse the thrice-married, abortion-supporting, pro-gay and anti-gun candidate?

It’s the terrorism stupid!

For Robertson, Election 2008 is not about the bread and butter social issues that have fueled the conservative Christian movement for more than two decades. Rather, it is about the “defense of our population against the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists,” Robertson told the National Press Club audience. “Our world faces deadly peril … and we need a leader with a bold vision who is not afraid to tackle the challenges ahead.”

It is unlikely that Ortiz’ rant or Hewitt’s charges will cause the lights to go dim at Robertson’s 700 Club headquarters anytime soon. Nevertheless, for many on the Christian Right a line has clearly been crossed.

“Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani reflects a tension that is currently roiling the Religious Right,” Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told me. “Is it better to back a candidate who looks like he can win even if you don’t agree with all of his positions or should you stand on principle with someone who has a much smaller chance of winning?”

Boston pointed out that Robertson is a “pragmatist” and believes most of all in backing someone that can win. “I believe the Supreme Court is the key issue motivating him. Robertson is aware that with just a few new appointments, the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade [the case that legalised abortion in 1973], begin dismantling the church-state wall and stop the advancement of gay rights,” Boston maintained.

“Robertson understands that it is the high court, not the president and not the Congress, that has the final word on many ‘culture war’ issues. Giuliani has promised to appoint justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and that’s good enough for Robertson.”

Frederick Clarkson, author, journalist, longtime observer of the religious right and a co-founder of Talk2Action, told me that while Robertson “has always been a polarizing figure, he has always been a pragmatist, a go-with-the-winner [type]. People forget that he endorsed Bob Dole over Pat Buchanan in 1996. He also endorsed George W. Bush in 2000, at a time when Bush was clearly the establishment candidate — choosing him over the far more ideologically reliable fellow Christian Right leader Gary Bauer and former Vice President Dan Quayle.”

According to Clarkson, several “leaders of the religious right are shifting their emphasis from domestic issues to foreign affairs and anti-Islamic demagoguery — and an approach to global evangelism that will often track with U.S. foreign policy and global hot spots.”

Robertson’s endorsement could open the door for other religious right leaders to back Giuliani, Clarkson said. “For Robertson, his well timed endorsement of Giuliani made him politically relevant again — just when it seemed he might be ready to fade quietly away from public life.”

“Giuliani has positioned himself as the most hawkish candidate on foreign policy especially on the Middle East,” Jane Hunter, co-director of JewsOnFirst.org told me. “Robertson’s Christian Zionism is a good fit with Giuliani’s hawkishness.”

“Although Robertson has made a fool of himself with a series of oddball statements, that hasn’t scared off Giuliani from accepting his endorsement, which could bring Giuliani more access to Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. We can expect both of them to make common cause on conflating the war on terrorism with a war on ‘Islamo-Fascism.'”

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column, "Conservative Watch," documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Melinda Pillsbury-Foster said on November 22nd, 2007 at 9:06am #

    This should have come as no surprise and has little to do with a chummy airplane ride. Robertson is an old friend of Karl Rove’s and along with Ralph Reed and such as Abramoff PLANNED to politicization of what was then, the early to mid 70s, the low end evangelical churches. It paid off in restructuring the GOP and driving out the most politically aware women.

  2. Bob Erickson said on November 22nd, 2007 at 9:48am #

    What they have in common is that they are both fascists.

  3. Deadbeat said on November 22nd, 2007 at 1:13pm #

    For Robertson, Election 2008 is not about the bread and butter social issues that have fueled the conservative Christian movement for more than two decades. Rather, it is about the “defense of our population against the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists,” Robertson told the National Press Club audience. “Our world faces deadly peril … and we need a leader with a bold vision who is not afraid to tackle the challenges ahead.”

    Yet more evidence why Zionism much be confronted head on. By being afraid of a Jewish “backlash” and by blindly following Chomsky, the left has been silent too long on confronting this extremely racist ideology. What these “neo-Zionist” has hope was for the ridiculous and racist “two-state” solution that would have permitted Israel to obtain 80% of Palestine leaving the indigenous people living in 20% of the land and in squalor.

    These so called “leftist” remained silent as epithet like “terrorist” was linked and stereotyped a whole group people. These so called “leftist” are the ones who now want to convince citizens that the war in Iraq is about oil rather then the furthering of Zionism. This racist ideology needs to be confronted and dismantled.

  4. John Hatch said on November 22nd, 2007 at 4:20pm #

    Come to think of it, perhaps Pat and Rudy represent the perfect religious/political duo for these troubled times, the perfect elixir for what ails America:

    Ruthless, reckless, and half insane.
    Together they equal half a brain.

    Really, can it get any crazier in the good ol’ US? Don’t answer that!

  5. Michael Kenny said on November 23rd, 2007 at 8:34am #

    The odd thing about Giuliani is that he seems to be doing everything possible to alienate Catholics! Pro-choice, one wife short of being a Muslim, not churchgoing, surrounds himself with a legion of the damned of discredited Jewish warmongers and now Robertson. One of those fundamentalist Protestants who thinks the Pope is the anti-Christ and that all Catholics are predestined to go to Hell! With the bishops more or less advising Catholics not to vote for pro-choice candidates, the conservatives in the Church will probably stay at home.

  6. Jeremy said on November 26th, 2007 at 10:06pm #

    If it’s all about judges judges judges, why does he think a pro abortion candidate is going to appoint an anti-abortion judge? OK? And the nuclear threat scenario..common give me a break. The American people don’t buy your scare tactics Pat Robertson and your neo-con war mongoring. You can’t have a “War on Terror”, “War on Drugs”, “War on Illegal Immigrants” telling us these threats are real when you done nothing about the open borders. When you patch the leaky borders, you patch your leaky story. Please let me give up all my civil liberties so that you can make me feel safe.

  7. Robin Morris said on November 29th, 2007 at 8:44pm #

    Robertson is user, look how rich he is, he has made millions exploiting his church to make his money.

    His endorsement of Rudy will not bring my vote for Rudy, who is willing to use Sept. 11 for his wonderful leadership. He did nothing but exploit the Sept. 11
    people died and they do not care.

    Rudy is using the those who died to build his crown of lies.

    Rudy and Robertson is the devil