By, Chris Cillizza
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Pat Robertson, one of the most influential figures in the social conservative movement, announced his support for Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid this morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. [Watch the video at link below]
Robertson's endorsement of Giuliani is a significant blow to Mitt Romney, who has worked hard to court
evangelical leaders. Above, Robertson speaks to the Christian Coalition in 1999. (File photo: James A.
Parcell - The Washington Post)
Robertson's support was coveted by several of the leading Republican candidates and provides Giuliani with a major boost as the former New York City mayor seeks to convince social conservatives that, despite his positions supporting abortion rights and gay rights, he is an acceptable choice as the GOP nominee.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) picked up the endorsement of Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas conservative and favorite of evangelical Christians, who recently dropped out of the GOP presidential field. The endorsement could provide a needed boost to McCain's campaign, especially in Iowa. Brownback called McCain "the best pro-life candidate to beat Hillary Clinton."Following Robertson's formal announcement at the Press Club, the Fix had a chance to sit down with the reverend and Giuliani to further explore their relationship.
Robertson and Giuliani have crossed paths several times during the course of their careers but they were able to get to know one another better on a flight home from Israel in 2003.
While Robertson has been heavily courted by a number of presidential candidates -- most notably Mitt Romney -- in recent months, he decided to cast his lot with Giuliani in order to counter a movement among some evangelicals to support a third party candidate if the former New York City Mayor becomes the Republican nominee.
"I thought it was important for me to make it clear that Rudy Giuliani is more than acceptable to people of faith," said Robertson. "Given the fractured nature of the process, I thought it was time to solidify around one candidate."
He insisted that while some on the "fringe" of the social conservative movement may see Giuliani as an unacceptable nominee, the "core know better."
Robertson said although he and Giuliani disagree on social issues, those disagreements "pale into insignificance" when measured against the import of the fight against global terrorism and radical Islam. "We need a man who sees clearly how to deal with that issue," said Robertson.
For his part, Giuliani cited Robertson as simply the latest evidence that he shares large swaths of common ground with people of faith -- emphasizing his work to rid Times Square of pornography and his promise to appoint strict constructionists to the federal bench if elected president.
"If they look at my record they are going to a lot more areas of agreement than disagreement," asserted Giuliani, noting that some of his opponents -- who he chose not to name -- have their own weaknesses on issues important to social conservatives.
The endorsement will definitely slow Romney's momentum with social conservatives. Romney had recently secured the backing of conservative stalwarts Paul Weyrich and Bob Jones III -- endorsements that seemed to strengthen his bid to become the electable conservative alternative to Giuliani. Romney had made no secret of his desire for Robertson's endorsement and has to be disappointed this morning.
Robertson is widely viewed as one of the pillars of the religious right. He founded the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Christian Coalition and Regent University in Virginia Beach. Robertson ran for president in 1988, finishing a surprising second in the Iowa caucuses before losing steam in later states. In recent years, Robertson has drawn considerable controversy for comments made about homosexuality.
In May our colleauge Alan Cooperman described Robertson as a member of "an older generation of evangelical leaders" that includes the Rev. Billy Graham, psychologist James C. Dobson and the Rev. D. James Kennedy, who are "ailing or nearing retirement," and who are seeing their movement "tugged in different directions" by a new crop of activists.