The Robertson Effect?

Posted: Nov 08, 2007 12:00 AM
The Robertson Effect?

When Rudy Giuliani captured the endorsement of Christian Coalition founder and 700 Club host Pat Robertson Wednesday, many heads turned. Why did it happen? What does it mean?

Three explanations shot across e-mails and the airways: (1)Robertson can't bring himself to support a Mormon, even if Romney is much more conservative than Giuliani. (2)Robertson wants to show Jim Dobson that Robertson still matters. (3)Robertson really, really, really wants to win to keep the Supreme Court safe from Hillary.

Whatever the reason, the next question is whether or not GOP primary voters care what Pat Robertson thinks.

Here a call from a Christian publishing executive to yesterday's show matters. The exec coolly noted that when trying to sell books in the Christian market, the key "influencers" in terms of importance are (1)the Southern Baptist Convention, (2)James Dobson, (3)The Willow Creek network, (4)Rick Warren and his network of 450,000 pastors, and (5)Pat Robertson. With the top four on the sidelines, Robertson clearly has to help Giuliani in the primaries, right?

Well, it can't hurt, but neither do I think it helps very much.

Christian conservatives are an exceptionally active and aware demographic when it comes to politics. Those who were going to take a deep breath and support Giuliani wholeheartedly had already made that calculation. Those who could not see their way to a Giuliani vote have made that calculation on the basis of Giuliani's pro-abortion rights stance, and perhaps on the immigration issue. A Robertson endorsement won't help with these people. They have "hard" objections to Giuliani for which no argument really matters.

In this regard, the Christian conservative suspicion of Romney based either on his LDS faith (not so many people) or his conversion to pro-life policies (many more people) is a much softer sort of objection -- the sort of objection where an appeal to reason can and has mattered. This is why Paul Weyrich's endorsement of Romney mattered so much earlier in the week.

The fellow who matters most to Giuliani's campaign to win over values voters is Ted Olson, followed by Ted Olson, followed by Ted Olson. Christian conservatives know that John Paul Stevens is 87; Justice Ginsberg 74; Justices Scalia and Kennedy 71; Justice Breyer 69 and Justice Souter 68. Ted Olson is easily the most respected conservative lawyer in the United States and a big Rudy supporter. If Giuliani is going to bring large numbers of conservative activists to his banner, he needs to keep the change facing the Supreme Court front and center. Pat Robertson doesn't matter. The age of the six justices does.

Is there a down-side to a Robertson endorsement? Some callers to yesterday's program proclaimed that point in very vigorous terms. They don't like many episodes in Robertson's career, and many of these callers are themselves evangelicals. They don't like the Robertson brand, whether it’s the hurricane episode, the 9/11 interview of Jerry Falwell, or the business deals.

James Dobson may be deeply disliked by the left, but he has very, very few enemies within evangelical circles. This isn't the case with Robertson, and thus a Robertson endorsement is a much different bit of information for the public to digest.

But it does have one great benefit to Rudy: The MSM has never, ever come close to understanding the evangelical voter. MSM thinks of the group as a sort of carnival of gap-toothed, snake-handling, rural post box owning weed chewers. They will assume that Robertson is a general with many divisions, and representative of a much more significant following than he has. Robertson's endorsement will thus be reported as a breakthrough for Giuliani, and a reassurance to fence-sitters that the mayor's got the momentum they were hoping to see.

It is thus among non-evangelicals that the Robertson endorsement will be of greatest value to Rudy. In a two man race --and it is a two man race between Giuliani and Romney-- getting the fence sitters to break for you matters a great deal. Thus both men had good weeks in drawing key endorsements, and a close race among well-matched top tier contenders got even closer.