As we reported in the last Freedom Writer, Pat Robertson's political unit, the Christian Coalition, has embarked on an ambitious plan to take over the Republican Party from the inside, and to elect thousands of Christian right activists to office at all levels. Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, paraphrasing Mark Twain (who would be outraged by this invocation of his name), declared, "The premature reports of the death of the religious right are false."
The Coalition held a meeting titled Road to Victory conference and strategy briefing on November 15-16, 1991, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. While the conference was largely a technical seminar on low-cost, and low-profile, electoral tactics, it is important to understand what many Coalition members believe about what they are doing.
In order to do this, we should, as the Coalition members do, look to the founder - Robertson himself, who gave a terrifyingly paranoid assessment of contemporary politics. His usual avuncularity gave way to a dark side unseen on the "700 Club." "It's going to be a spiritual battle," he declared. "There will be Satanic forces.... We are not going to be coming up just against human beings, to beat them in elections. We're going to be coming up against spiritual warfare. And if we're not aware of what we're fighting, we will lose."
Robertson predicted that America will be taken over by United Nations en route to a one world government. "The elites have turned against themselves," he continued in his red-faced harangue, "and have tried to destroy the very society from which they drew their nurture. The academic elites turned on their own society. And the government elites turned on their own society. And into the void," he concluded to wild applause, "steps an organization called the Christian Coalition!"
There were other dark moments as well. During the conference, the historic Louisiana governor's race was reaching its climax. Men and women crowded around televisions, awaiting the electoral fate of neo-Nazi Republican David Duke. While Robertson denounced racism and Naziism to reporters outside the conference, inside there were open expressions of support for Duke.
There were few Blacks (I counted five) among the 800 delegates. And many conferees were disappointed at Duke's defeat. One longtime Robertson associate, Rev. Billy McCormack, director of the Louisiana Christian Coalition, is a Duke ally. Although political buttons supporting TV commentator Pat Buchanan's Republican primary challenge to President Bush were already appearing, the Coalition's emphasis is not on presidential, but state and local politics.
The Coalition is growing rapidly as it experiments with church-based political tactics designed to surprise — or "come in under the radar" of their opponents in both parties. They adopt the rhetoric, psychology, and secretiveness of "B" movie covert operations — as if "establishment Republicans" and the Democratic Party are actually agents of Satan and "the Christians" can some way, some how, put one past the Evil One, with a bag of political tricks. Ralph Reed told a Virginia Beach newspaper: "I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know its over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night."
Reed and the Christian Coalition staged some stunning upsets in recent elections in and around Virginia Beach, Virginia — winning seven of nine races for the State House and State Senate. "We don't have to worry about convincing a majority of Americans to agree with us," declared Guy Rodgers, the Coalition's national field director. "Most of them are staying home and watching 'Falcon Crest.'"
Rodgers then laid out a set of facts like it was the political road map for the Christian Right. According to Rodgers, even in a high turn-out presidential election year, only 15% of the eligible voters determine the outcome. Of all eligible adults, he said, only half are registered to vote. Of those, only half vote. "So," he continued, "only 30% of the eligible voters actually vote. Therefore, only 15% of the eligible voters determine the outcome." In conclusion, he said, "In low turn-out elections — city council, state legislature, county commissions — the percentage of eligible voters who determine who wins can be as low as six or seven percent."
Thus, there were a number of "how to" sessions on the mechanics of electoral and internal Republican Party politics. One panel entitled "Turning Out the Christian Vote in 1992," presented two field-tested tactics which together form a model "under the radar operation." They are voter identification ("voter ID") and "voters guides."
Reed explained that in their model voter ID program, volunteers would telephone into pre-selected precincts and say "I'm taking an informal survey" for the Christian Coalition. Then, four quick questions: "Did you vote for Dukakis or Bush? Are you a Republican or a Democrat?" "If they answered 'Dukakis, Democrat.' That was the end of the survey," laughed Reed. "We didn't even write them down. We don't want to communicate with them. We don't even want them to know there's an election going on. [audience laughter] I'm serious. We don't want them to know."
The third question, if they got that far, was, "Do you favor restrictions on abortion?" And finally, "What is the most important issue facing Virginia Beach?" Then a computer file on each voter was created — with survey answers coded according to "43 issue burdens." The ID'd voters would then receive a letter from the Coalition's (Republican) candidate — computer generated, laser printed and tailored to one's "issue burden," i.e., crime, education, abortion, gun control, etc. If the voter happened to be pro-choice, the letter wouldn't mention abortion. "I'll take the votes of the pro-abortion Republicans" to get anti-abortion Republicans into office, Reed admitted. In fact, Reed said only 28% of his targeted voters were "pro-life."
This is a shift from the grandiose notion of a "moral majority," to a self-conscious minority seeking power through smart utilization of political campaign technology, and the institution of democracy. The other wing of the Coalition's strategy for 1992 is the use of "voter guides" — simple (though highly biased) comparisons of candidate views or records. The Coalition distributed 100,000 of them in the Virginia Beach legislative races. Similarly, the North Carolina Coalition distributed 750,000 half-page size voter guides on the Sunday before the Tuesday election on behalf of Sen. Jesse Helms in his 1990 race. Some were used as church bulletin inserts — others, as leaflets outside church parking lots. The Coalition takes credit for Helms' come-from-behind reelection victory. "The press had no idea what we were doing," said Coalition southern regional director Judy Haynes, "and they still don't know what we did. But it worked."
The Coalition is not nearly as well organized elsewhere, as in Virginia Beach, Robertson's home turf. It is neither a juggernaut, nor the passing Green Beret fantasy of Ralph Reed. At 800, the conference had about twice the expected turnout and there is a lot of momentum going into 1992. Signaling the importance of the Robertson Right in the Republican party, Vice President Dan Quayle was the keynote speaker at the conference. Although most of the conference delegates distrust Bush and his "New World Order," Quayle was warmly received. Quayle said that he, the President and the Coalition have shared values of "faith, family and freedom," and that 1992 would be "the year of pro-family values." This, he said, will lead to the defeat of "the liberals" and the re-election of George Bush. Whatever happens this election year, it is certain that the Christian Coalition will be playing an important role. Keep your radar tuned low.