Why Pat Robertson’s ‘endorsement’ of Mitt Romney matters

Gary C. Knapp AP Pat Robertson, right, the founder of Christian Broadcasting Network and the chancellor of Regent University, sits … Continued

Gary C. Knapp

AP

Pat Robertson, right, the founder of Christian Broadcasting Network and the chancellor of Regent University, sits with Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, before Romney delivers the commencement address to the 2007 graduating class of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., Saturday, May 5, 2007.

There are two disclaimers related to Mitt Romney’s campaign for president that should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt: the claim by leaders of the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign that it has no connection whatsoever to the presence of two Mormon candidates in the GOP primary race, and the recent assertion by Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, after singling out Romney both for his politics and as “an outstanding Christian,” that he is not endorsing any candidate.

The “I’m a Mormon Campaign” is straightforward: It’s a general public relations campaign to familiarize Americans with Mormons. Running in nine major media markets last year and recently re-launched in 12, the campaign points people to an official LDS Web site, which contains profiles of a diverse set of “real people.” Under the headline “Meet Mormons: Discover Mormons who share your personal experience,” you can search for Mormons with particular characteristics, such as gender, age ethnicity, and even “previous religion.” While the campaign and the Web site mention neither Mitt Romney nor Jon Huntsman, as far as it is successful, it will function to diminish the “otherness” factor for the two Mormons most in the national spotlight this year.

Robertson’s non-endorsement of Romney, for those who have ears to hear, trumpets two critical things to the Republican evangelical base: affinity and electability. At first glance, Robertson’s comments may seem like faint praise for a candidate who is currently the front-runner for the GOP nomination, and for one who unsuccessfully lobbied Robertson for an endorsement in 2008. But it could make an enormous difference for Romney, not only when he addresses the annual “Values Voter Summit” this weekend, but also on the longer campaign trail.

Most critically, by pronouncing Romney part of the Christian fold, Robertson signals that Romney’s faith is not so different from that of the white evangelical Protestants who form a strong core of the Republican base. The declaration that Romney is an “outstanding Christian” is a dramatic upgrade from Robertson’s more tepid comments in the last presidential campaign. In 2007, Robertson dubbed Romney an “outstanding American,” while his Christian Broadcasting Network Web site also declared-under the heading “How Do I Recognize a Cult?”-that “when it comes to spiritual matters, the Mormons are far from the truth.”

This Christian embrace should be a godsend for Romney, given that Americans generally want president’s with strong religious values, and that a significant portion of the electorate still holds reservations about the Mormon faith. In PRRI’s July PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey, nearly four-in-10 Americans (43 percent) perceived that Romney’s religious beliefs were different than their own. And in August, PRRI found that four-in-10 (41 percent) Americans say they do not consider the Mormon faith to be a Christian religion. Notably, among white evangelical Protestants, the heart of Robertson’s audience, that number rises to nearly six-in-10 (57 percent).

Second, Robertson’s sanctioning of Romney’s politics and faith signal faith in Romney’s electability. Robertson has often been more pragmatic than ideological in his past endorsements, eschewing for example Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor, in the 2008. Instead, Robertson generated bemused backlash from fellow conservatives who struggled to understand why the longtime religious right leader would back Rudy Giuliani, a twice-divorced Catholic former New York mayor who backed abortion and gay rights. But Robertson liked Giuliani’s conservative politics–particularly his commitment to appoint conservative judges and to protect Americans “from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists”–and he thought he could win.

Romney’s reception at this weekend’s “Values Voter Summit” will serve as a bellwether for how widely Robertson’s sentiments are shared. Romney will be going toe to toe with Rick Perry, who has, as I wrote last week, openly used sectarian rhetoric to appeal to white evangelical Protestants by emphasizing his own religious faith. Romney, on the other hand, has a much knottier challenge: convincing GOP primary voters that he is sufficiently conservative, while emphasizing that he shares their religious values. Given this challenge, notwithstanding the fact that Robertson’s star has fallen over the last decade, his non-endorsement could be exactly the kind of sanction for which Romney is looking.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated.

Robert P. Jones
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  • ccnl1

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country “ain’t” going to help a “pro-life” presidential candidate, i.e Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the “Immoral Majority” rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The “Immoral Majority” you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million “Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers” of aborted womb-babies” whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million “IM” voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for “pro-life” JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the “Stupid Majority”?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.)

  • JohnnyDale1

    Romney faces the same dilemma as all the Republican candidates. He either panders to the religious nutters and has a high chance of winning the nomination but losing the election; or he ignores them and concentrates on “real world” policies, thus improving his chances in a general election, but has far less chance of even getting there because he’ll lose the nomination.

    The only (very faint) hope is to pander to the idiots now, but then disavow them as soon as he gets the nomination – of course that’s a strategy that could only be used once!

  • persiflage

    This looks like a risky calculation to me. The Robertson endorsement could also be the end of Romney. Any kind of association with this simpering rightwing goofball known for his outrageous statements about God’s wrath is not going to look good to mainstream America, including an assortment of independents.

    On the other hand, who else does the GOP have to offer? It would appear that neutralizing the Mormon in Romney’s religious credentials just got a whole lot more important to republicans. Call me cynical, but I have a feeling the Robertson appearance with Romney was anything but spontaneous.

    Legitimizing Romney as a ‘real Christian’ via Pat Robertson is a double-edged sword. Billy Graham would have been a far better choice – but then, Robertson always was a glutton for the spotlight and maybe Graham has ‘a thing’ about Mormons. We’ll never know………

  • LOL1

    McCotter and Deland we were under investigations for our conduct in American prisons, but were redeemed and sent to Abu Ghraib. We are Mormons

    I molested children from Penn, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, and Wyoming and the church loved me so much, they kept placing me with families with children and in the children’s programs at church. I ruined countless lives my name is Brother Curtis and you can read about me in the “Sins of Brother Curtis” and I was redeemed many times by the Mormon Bishops and stake president so I could molest more children. I am Mormon.

    I approve of tortures. My name is Judge Jay Byee. I am Mormon.

    I let Monica Goodling take the fall for the AG firings, and Brigham Young University took my name off the alumni list so the press would not find it. I am Kyle Sampson. I am Mormon.

    We love to torture people and developed the enhanced torture programs, Mitt loves us. Our names are Mitchell and Jessen. We are Mormon.

    I am Tim Flannigan, and I am the torture memo lawyer no one mentioned. I am Mormon.

  • DCJ24

    patty boy can add his endorsement of romney to his multifarious violations of the ten commandments. better take that mote out of your eye, patty, it’s distorting your two faces.

  • law1

    Yep, ole Mitt’s a great Christian all right. In fact, Mitt’s out there right now looking to find a VP candidate as wonderful as Dick Cheney. From his past and present words, Robertson obviously thinks ole Dick Cheney is a pretty swell Christian too. Lying, stealing, killing, imprisoning and wiretapping without due process or just cause is fine with Pat so long as you don’t fornicate (particularly with people of the same sex). The question is — if Jesus were here — how well would only Pat measure up to His standards?? Kind of doubt he would fare too well. in fact, I think ole Pat, Dick and Mitt all have a few things to explain before they will every reach those pearly gates that Pat says he reveres so much.

  • di89

    Strictly speaking Morom theology regarding Christ is substantially different from the traditional Christian definition of the Trinity. This is why, for instance, the Catholic Church does not recognize Mormon baptisms whereas it does recognize Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.

    What Robertson is saying is, This guy is on the same page about social values, so I’m not going to make a fuss about his religion. Close enough for this purpose. Same reason his ilk will cozy up to the Catholics during election season even though their theology clearly believes we’re all going to hell. They want the votes for their political agenda and will take an bedfellows they can.

  • martha6

    Hey, Pat Robertson’s a practical guy. If your wife gets Alzheimer’s you can dump her, too. How far is that from the Newtster’s dumping his cancer-ridden wife when he found someone healthier? Robertson knows Romney’s more electable than Perry so what the hey? Billy Graham’s on his last legs so maybe ol’ Pat figures he’ll apply for that job.

    All this Christian kingmaker hypocrisy is nauseating!

  • CharlieDrew

    WHO GIVES A FIG ABOUT WHAT THIS OLD MONEY GRABBING PREACHER SAYS.

  • Shingo56

    Using Christ for your own personal political gain is not a good Christian that is evil!. They are modern day Judas Iscariots willing to sell Christ for 30 pieces of silver. Romney and all of the candidates not be seen for what they are: Decievers

  • Watcher1

    Isnt’ Pat Robertson the one that said Gays (abortionists, naked breasts) caused Katrina? Didn’t he say that Gay marriage was going to cause “Angel rape”. He blamed the 1989 SF earthquake on Gays as well, the guy is certifiably insane, anything to make a buck off of a disaster by claiming it as God’s hands against. . . well, anything he decides. Pat Robertson, clueless and filled with hate.

  • grinunbarrett

    The controversy concerning Mitt Romney and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in my humble opinion a ploy on the part of the religious right along with the non religious left to make the religion of over 6 million that was restored by Jesus Christ in the United States in the early 1800′s as unacceptable in main stream American. If one were to do some research real research that is by comparing the bible and the words of the early fathers of the church they would be shocked at what they would find. The teachings that the Evangelical movement say come from the Bible are in fact teachings that have evolved over a period of some 14 centuries beginning about the time of the first council in about 325 AD. I read on a Catholic website that The Catholic Church did not adopt those creeds officially, until the 17th century. The disagreement the Evangelicals and other Christians have with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pertain to the Godhead and the Trinity, along with latter-day revelation and the deification of humans. Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I know that my great Exemplar is Jesus Christ and I strive to follow His example knowing that He is the living Christ the Son of the Living God the Savior of all things in the heavens and on and in the earth. Based on the secular meaning of the word Christian I fit the mold of what the world calls Christians but I could care less whether those whom I consider uninformed think of me or call me. I can testify that I have been called to be a saint, based on the Bible, not in the Catholic sense but in the Biblical sense and as Long as My God who is Jesus Christ and His Father, know the thoughts and intents of my heart, that I am striving to be the saint they have called me to be I care not what they think. I believe that mitt Romney falls into that category as well and knows that he doesn’t have to wear that knowledge like a chip on his shoulder, but is committed to