Reports of Robertson’s Marginalization Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

“I talk to a lot of evangelicals and the only person who takes Pat Robertson seriously is Tim Russert.” So claimed Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in a speech at a church in Westchester County, New York last week. Such pointed disavowals of Robertson by other religious-right leaders have occasionally followed the televangelists more absurd and incendiary comments – such as when he declared that Ariel Sharon’s debilitating stroke was God’s punishment for “dividing God’s land” and called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – so you might think that Cromartie was responding to recent allegations that Robertson threatened a bodybuilder involved in lawsuit over Robertson’s “Age-Defying Shake,” or perhaps to Robertson’s warning today about Muslim politicians “taking over” the U.S. But Cromartie was trying to make the point that the televangelist, sometimes referred to as a GOP “kingmaker,” is increasingly marginalized.

But it’s hard to believe that. According to its web site, Robertson’s “700 Club” is available “in 95 percent of the television markets across the United States, the program is carried on ABC Family Channel cable network, FamilyNet, Trinity Broadcasting Network, and numerous U.S. television stations and is seen daily by approximately one million viewers.” His Christian Broadcasting Network garnered $166 million in donations from March 2005 to March 2006, and he is the second most well known religious figure in America.

If one needs more evidence of Robertson’s continued influence, especially on U.S. politics, just look at the Republican presidential candidates lining up to curry his favor. Sam Brownback and now John McCain have taken to the CBN airwaves to convince Robertson’s viewers of their conservative credentials. And both Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are scheduled to speak at Robertson’s Regent University.

As John Green of the Pew Forum said, figures like Robertson “are moving off the stage, but they’re by no means inconsequential. … They still have good reputations, particularly with evangelicals who are politically active. There are candidates who want to be seen with these people.” As long as that’s true, it’s too early to declare Pat Robertson a political has-been.