The Kingdom and the Clout Of Ralph Reed
The Christian Coalition took it on the chin when President Bush lost his reelection bid; now the group wields unprecedented power at all levels of politics
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''What I'm going to say is, 'Don't make the mistake of becoming just another special interest group in the Republican Party. Yes, you've become influential. Yes, you've become powerful. Don't now let that become for you that sort of intoxicating potion that allows you to become just like the chamber of commerce or the AFL-CIO, only you've got Christian in front of your name, because you have a much more important role to play in our society than that.''Skip to next paragraph
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The real story of the conference will not be the candidates or 1996, he says. It will be the ''burgeoning and resurgent social movement that has come of age and has matured to the point where it's respected and acknowledged by friend and foe alike as a permanent reality in American politics.''
Road to victory or nowhere?
This year's conference will be the coalition's fifth annual convention, and for the fifth straight year it is called ''Road to Victory.''
What does ''victory'' mean to the Christian Coalition? Certainly last November's elections were a tremendous win for Christian conservatives, who turned out in high numbers and who are credited with handing control of both houses of Congress to the Republicans for the first time in 40 years.
That victory won the Christian right a seat at the head table in Congress and tremendous influence on nearly every issue on the table - from the budget to abortion rights to welfare reform. After the House of Representatives raced through its Contract With America during the 104th Congress's first 100 days, it plunged in on the Christian Coalition's 10-point ''Contract With the American Family.'' House Speaker Newt Gingrich promised to push this contract with as much gusto as the first.
But for Reed, the idea of victory is notional, more metaphysical than political in its pursuit of societal perfection.
''We're not talking about victory in a political sense,'' he says. ''We're not talking about victory in the sense of electing a Republican Congress or even a Republican president or having more votes than liberals do on a particular thing.
''I think what we mean when we say 'road to victory' is a victory of values, and to us those values are respect for innocent human life, strengthening the traditional family, honoring the common-sense values of work and faith and fidelity and personal responsibility. To us, it means turning around the moral decay and the coarsening of the culture that has afflicted our country for the last 30 years.''
Reed is looking to presidential candidates to use their bully pulpit to decry America's crisis in values. When Republican front-runner Sen. Bob Dole, a traditional moderate whom the Christian right views as not ''right'' enough, delivered a speech blasting Hollywood values, Reed cheered. As well he might: Senator Dole solicited his input on an early draft.
Even if true victory does not come from political triumph, politics is certainly the Christian Coalition's raison d'etre. The coalition has had mixed success in its support of candidates. Iran-contra figure Oliver North, who was viewed as a creature of the Christian right, failed in his bid for the Senate.
Even in Mr. Robertson's own backyard, Virginia Beach, a slate of Christian conservatives failed to win election to the school board. Candidates seem to have greater success when they win the support of the Christian right without appearing to be a product of the Christian right, such as Virginia Gov. George Allen.
As a force in Republican political organization, the Christian Coalition's success is indisputable. John Green, a specialist on Christian conservatives at the University of Akron in Ohio, says the Christian right and its social-issue allies ''exercise substantial influence'' in between 25 and 30 state Republican Party organizations.