Robertson's reality-based sin against Bush

Published October 21, 2004 2:14PM (EDT)

We aren't the only ones who took notice of evangelical Christian leader Pat Robertson's bizarre endorsement of President Bush Tuesday night on CNN, when he told Paula Zahn that ahead of the Iraq invasion last year Bush emphatically assured him, "We're not going to have any casualties."

According to the New York Times today, Kerry campaign spokesman Mike McCurry asked the White House on Wednesday to clarify whether or not Robertson was telling the truth. "I think given the prominence of Reverend Robertson's remarks today, it would be important for the president to indicate whether in fact he told Pat Robertson that he didn't believe there'd be casualties in Iraq," McCurry said at a campaign stop in Waterloo, Iowa.

Bush officials, according to the Times, refuted the account in lockstep -- essentially labeling Robertson a liar.

"White House officials denied that Mr. Bush had ever uttered the remark. Karl Rove, Karen Hughes and Scott McClellan all told reporters in Eau Claire, Wis., that Mr. Robertson was mistaken. 'Of course the president never made such a comment,' said Mr. McClellan, the White House press secretary. 'The president both publicly and privately was preparing the American people for the possibility of a military conflict and the possibility that sacrifices may be necessary.'

"Mr. Rove, the president's chief political adviser, said he had attended the Nashville meeting and had not heard such a remark. 'I was right there,' Mr. Rove said."

Bush got some additional backup from a different evangelical leader, who painted Robertson as persona non grata:

"'I think he speaks for an ever diminishing group of evangelicals on most issues,' said Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Mr. Robertson, who has frequently recounted what he says God has told him on matters of public interest, is out of step with most evangelicals in his doubts about the war, Dr. Land said."

Fact or fiction, Robertson's eyebrow-raising comments regarding Bush's blind faith in the war seem to indicate a new connection with the reality-based community. Indeed, with regard to the presidential race, the televangelist apparently has also made a switch from dialing the man upstairs to dialing into the poll numbers:

"In the CNN interview, Mr. Robertson reversed himself on one prophecy. On his '700 Club' television program in January, he declared that Mr. Bush would win re-election 'in a walk,' and added, 'I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be a blowout election in 2004.'

"On Tuesday, however, he conceded, 'I thought it was going to be a blowout, but I think it's razor thin now.'"

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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