Does Pat Robertson Matter?

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson talks during an interview at the Christian Broadcasting Network Oct. 14, 2003, in Virgina Beach, Va. Robertson's "age-defying" diet shake is causing quite a stir. At least one evangelical watchdog group has claimed that Robertson is abusing his nonprofit status and Phil Busch, 41, a bodybuilder, fitness trainer and motivational speaker from Dallas, is exploring legal action. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Mort Fryman)
This column was written by Byron York.
A number of conservatives and Republicans have criticized televangelist Pat Robertson for suggesting that the U.S. government assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. "What an offense that this man was a serious candidate for the presidency," wrote NR's Richard Brookhiser, referring to Robertson's 1988 run for the Republican nomination, in which Robertson defeated eventual nominee George H. W. Bush in the Iowa caucuses. "He was our Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton."

"It's ludicrous, ridiculous, irresponsible," said former Sen. Bob Dole, who ran against Robertson in that 1988 race. "I mean, whenever somebody makes such a stupid statement as Pat Robertson made, it's probably going to benefit, in this case, Chavez."

"It was an incredibly stupid statement and has no reflection on reality," added Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. And conservative radio host Blanquita Cullum said, "I think what he did is a terrible thing. I think it's a disgrace. And there's no way I can support what he said. I don't think any rational person can support that."

The condemnations made clear that Robertson's comments had absolutely no support anywhere. But they did not address another question: Just how influential is Robertson in today's politics?

The answer from many conservatives, especially those in Washington and New York, would be quick and clear: Robertson has virtually no influence at all. "I don't know anybody in the religiously conservative world who takes their nods from Pat," said one conservative who closely tracks the world of faith and politics. "He's just sort of had his day. Plus, you combine about three or four crackpot comments a year, and even your own constituents say you're nuts. He's worn out his welcome, even with his own people."