Joel Vaughan was a high-ranking staffer during the heyday of the Christian Coalition and its inexorable decline into obscurity. He eventually left the organization and now serves as special assistant to Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, and has written a book called “The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition: The Inside Story.”
Recently, he appeared on a Christian radio program called “The Georgene Rice Show” to promote the book and provided a fascinating insider’s view on the group’s rise and decline following the departure of Ralph Reed.
But, Vaughan says, what ultimate doomed the Christian Coalition was Pat Roberston’s decision to abandon the impeachment effort against President Clinton:
Georgene: We know that the Christian Coalition was a bi-word to the media that tended toward the left, and that anything that was accomplished there was lauded as not positive. But let’s talk about the fall of the Christian Coalition and what ultimately left the organization in utter obscurity. Talk about the high point and then the slide downward.
Vaughan: There were three main things: finances, mission and staffing. The high point was after the 1994 elections, all through 1995 and leading up to 1996. But when Dole lost to Clinton in 1996, we immediately began experiencing a cash crunch. When it didn’t pick back up in 1997, we started to accumulate debt. Making matters worse, we were being hounded by the IRS and the Federal Elections Commission. And we were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on those defenses. In April, Reed announced he was leaving to go into consulting full time, and his successors, Hodel and Randy Tate, weren’t announced until June. And during that period, money went into the tank, and the debt increased. Therefore, the debt was unmanageable by the first two or three months of the new administration. After about a year, they had kind of gotten things back on an even keel. Hodel and Robertson both put in their own money to keep the Coalition afloat and to help meet payroll. Direct mail was getting back up. Things were on a good line until the Clinton impeachment in 1998 over his then alleged affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.
All the conservative groups were fighting hard to get Clinton impeached, and he was impeached, and his trial was set for January, 1999. Then Clinton made his State of the Union address right before the trial. He did such a good job. It was a true Clintonian performance. There is no one better before a camera. He doesn’t even need the teleprompters that our current President needs. He did such a good job that Robertson went on the 700 Club the next day and said Clinton did such a great job, and this impeachment thing is over, and as far as he was concerned, we should get on with something else. Well the Christian Coalition supporters across America didn’t agree. They thought we should keep fighting and keep working and, even if we were going to lose the impeachment trial, we should still hold Clinton’s feet to the fire and stay based on the matter of fighting for principal……Robertson thought it was more expedient to get on with a battle we could win……Finally, Hodel told Robertson that we needed to apologize to the grass roots. Pat didn’t feel like that was something he wanted to do…So Hodel decided to leave and return to Colorado where he could return to his private pursuits.
Robertson made a decision to bring in one of the state directors [Roberta Combs] from South Carolina to take over the organization. She did a good job running the Coalition in South Carolina, but bless her heart, she wasn’t ready to run a national organization. She was in over her head from day one. The staff didn’t want her there. She didn’t want any of the staff there. She questioned their loyalty. People started leaving in mass. She started firing a few people. Before you know it, the thing was just gone. By the end of the year, it was only a vapor.