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Pat Robertson dies at 93, leaves behind a striking far-right legacy

TV preacher Pat Robertson changed American politics, but not for the better.


For many years, TV preacher Pat Robertson’s name was synonymous with the religious right political movement. Today, as NBC News reported, he died at age 93.

Pat Robertson, the conservative evangelist and media mogul who galvanized the modern Christian right, cultivated a massive national following and regularly drew criticism for his incendiary political statements, died Thursday, according to his official broadcasting network.

To know anything about Robertson is to recall his decades’ worth of hateful rhetoric toward, well, pretty much anyone who didn’t look, act and think as he did. My friend Rob Boston at Americans United for Separation of Church and State summarized the televangelist’s record in striking fashion this morning:

He repeatedly attacked non-Christian faiths, once calling Hinduism a “cult” that is “in touch with Satan and demon spirits.” In 1991, he penned The New World Order, a book anchored in antisemitic conspiracy theories. He once signed a fundraising letter asserting that feminism teaches women to “leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.” In 1991, he asserted that you don’t have to be nice to Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and others because they reflect “the spirit of the Antichrist.” In 1990, he asserted that being gay is “a pathology. It is a sickness, and it needs to be treated” and went on to assert, “Many of those people involved with Adolf Hitler were satanists, many of them were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together.”

Reading this brutal summary, it’s tempting to think someone who said and believed such things would be kept at arm’s length by major American political parties, elected officials and candidates who sought the public’s trust.

But as Robertson exits the stage, that’s what stands out most for me about his adult life: The TV preacher’s radicalism didn’t prevent him from becoming, at least for a time, one of the most powerful and influential figures in conservative politics.

In recent years, several presidential candidates, after coming up short, have talked about taking their political infrastructure — mailing lists, donors, operatives, etc. — and creating powerhouse organizations. Only one failed candidate actually managed to pull it off in a meaningful way.

Robertson ran a competitive race for the GOP nomination in 1988 — he finished second in the Iowa caucuses, outpacing the sitting vice president — and soon after, he managed to parlay the partisan effort into a veritable empire. He created the Christian Coalition, which in the 1990s was a group that Republicans were eager to pander to — and afraid to cross. He created the American Center for Law and Justice, which has advanced the religious right’s agenda in the courts.

Robertson also created the Christian Broadcasting Network. He founded Regent University. He headlined “Road to Victory” conferences. He hosted “The 700 Club” television program.

Robertson, in other words, took full advantage of the available opportunities, led an ugly movement, and became a political giant who helped fundamentally alter the direction of the Republican Party for a generation while sparking culture wars that much of the country is still fighting.

The televangelist changed American politics, but not for the better.

CORRECTION (June 8, 2023, 1:54 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this post misspelled the late TV preacher's surname in the headline. He is Pat Robertson, not Roberson.