Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster whose Christian Coalition has emerged as a highly influential force in Republican Party politics, said yesterday that religious conservatives would begin working as early as 1997 to shape the message of the next Republican presidential campaign.
Robertson said the group would try to take control from what he called inside-the-Beltway Republican operatives, whom he denounced as incompetent and uninterested in moral issues.
"We're not going to sit by as good soldiers and take whatever is given us," Robertson said in an interview.
Referring to Bob Dole's unsuccessful campaign, he added: "We were not consulted on this campaign. We were peripheral."
As the Christian Coalition president and host of the daily "700 Club" show on his Family Channel, Robertson has become influential in national Republican circles.
Eight years ago, he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination, finishing second in the Iowa caucuses and, in the process, laying the groundwork for creating the coalition as a national organization two years later.
Wednesday he gave full voice to a frustration among prominent religious conservatives that threatens to erupt in the wake of Dole's loss: that while Republican leaders seem happy to reap the benefits of the group's grass-roots organizing, they prefer to soften talk about socially conservative issues, like opposition to abortion.
Robertson criticized what he called "Reagan-era operatives who did not believe that anything but money issues are important." While refusing to name individuals, he accused such Republicans of undermining Dole's campaign, and President George Bush's re-election effort in 1992, by refusing to take the moral concerns of conservatives seriously.
"I'm not going to participate any longer in a failed effort by these same operatives," he said. "I think they're incompetent. I think they missed the mood of the American people."
Robertson predicted an organized effort, beginning next year and involving recently elected conservative Republican senators and representatives to lay out issues on which to wage the next presidential campaign. The group would eventually settle on a candidate, too, he said.
"I think the conservatives in the Republican Party are going to have to coalesce very early and basically select a candidate," Robertson said, adding that they should "pick someone who's ** electable."
He said that he would probably convene a meeting next year, well before the Christian Coalition's annual convention in Washington, which is typically in September.
Pub Date: 11/07/96