Pat Robertson is always good as an internet punchline, as his recent comments about the Oklahoma tornadoes and male infidelity have shown. But what the jokes at his expense highlight is that Robertson is now famous for being nutty, not for being influential. At some point, the 83-year-old televangelist moved from being at the center of power to a fringe player. Despite the attention he still gets from a bemused media, he is a dinosaur.
Twenty five years ago, Robertson was a key player in GOP politics. He ran for president in 1988, and he wielded tremendous influence on the 1992 Republican convention. The political arm that Robertson created in the Christian Coalition flooded churches with voter guides, and its executive director Ralph Reed was hailed by the media as a brilliant political strategist. The Republican tsunami in the 1994 Congressional elections confirmed Robertson’s status as a power broker in GOP politics. Along with the Moral Majority’s Jerry Falwell, Robertson can take credit for politicizing evangelicals and demonstrating the power they can have at the ballot box.
But that was then. Evangelical influence in the GOP remains strong, but it’s not as powerful as it once was. His endorsement means nothing. Just ask Rudy Giuliani. The Christian Coalition is a shell of its former self, and Ralph Reed has been casting around for a comeback for years. The success of marriage equality on the ballot in 2012 proves that the religious right can’t turn out the vote the way it did just eight years ago. And young evangelicals are more likely to favor marriage equality than their elders.
All of which points to one inescapable fact: Pat Robertson has lost. Yes, he created a huge media empire that continues to promote the same offensive drivel that it has for decades. The law group Robertson formed, the American Center for Law and Justice, will continue to file harassing lawsuits (although a lot of its energy seems to go into profitable charities controlled by its head, Jay Sekulow). Robertson will always be a threat, even if it’s a shrinking one. But the days of Robertson the king maker are long gone. The media can help keep his name alive, but they can’t change the truth: Pat has outlived his time.