Even the most ardent critics of Pat Robertson had to admit — grudgingly — that the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and host of the long-running "The 700 Club" was almost always warm and good-natured.
"Today, too many politicians are so grim, but Pat always delivered a positive Christian message," Virginia's former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore told Newsmax hours after the news Friday that Robertson died at age 93. "And while some didn't approve of the message he delivered on air and as a presidential candidate [in 1988], he stayed firm in his beliefs and remained good-natured."
When this reporter interviewed Robertson at Washington, D.C.'s Willard Hotel in 1987, the fledgling Republican presidential hopeful abjured discussion of cultural issues such as abortion and feminism and preferred instead to discuss economics and national security.
He spoke of increasing the strength and ability of the U.S. Army's elite Delta Force to deal with international terrorism and hostage situations. He also laid out an ambitious economic agenda that included ending most tax-funded subsidies for farm products.
Declaring that he backed a "freedom to farm" plan allowing rural America to grow and raise as much as it wanted, Robertson also said it was "unconscionable when we subsidize growing tobacco when we know the dangers of smoking. I've called for the end of tobacco subsidies — and I did so on the Tobacco Network in North Carolina!"
He was much more than a famous televangelist. The son of the late Democrat Sen. A. Willis Robertson of Virginia, he was a graduate of Washington and Lee University and Yale Law School, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a U.S. Marine Corps officer in the Korean War, and worked on Wall Street.
Robertson never held elective or appointive office himself but that didn't matter much. Like Ronald Reagan after 15 years of hosting two weekly anthology series and Donald Trump after 12 years as a reality show host, the Virginia preacher was a familiar fixture in millions of home from his years on a major network he initially launched from a small backwater station.
Robertson, in effect, was a participant and a developer in the politics of communications that is increasingly dominant today.
When he placed a close second to Kansas Sen. Bob Dole in the Iowa caucus and easily outpaced third-place finisher and Vice President George H.W. Bush, Robertson was suddenly viewed seriously as a possible Republican nominee for president.
Numerous conservative politicians not identified with the budding "Religious Right" weighed in for the clergyman-candidate: former New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thomson, Chicago Alderman Eddie Vrdolyak, and former state Sen. and gubernatorial candidate Joe Shell of California.
When the Michigan GOP convention chose a Bush-heavy delegation to the national convention, Robertson's allies — led by state Sen. Ed Fredericks — walked out, staged a rump convention, and sent their own delegation to the party conclave in New Orleans.
But it was not to be. Following his strong Iowa performance, Robertson finished last among five Republicans in the New Hampshire primary won by Bush and lost badly in South Carolina to the vice president who seemed the best vessel for a third term for outgoing President Ronald Reagan.
Pat Robertson remained on the air and in politics. He launched the Christian Coalition that, under operating head Ralph Reed, was for years a major force in mobilizing pro-family voters throughout the nation.
The former candidate's own charities gave multi-millions to feed the hungry in Africa and the Middle East.
Controversial and outspoken, Pat Robertson was inarguably a force in modern politics as he was on the pulpit and on camera. He won't be forgotten.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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