Ralph Reed: The Crash of the Choir-Boy Wonder

The Christian Coalition Rises From Robertson’s Political Ashes

The Christian Coalition was born out of Rev. Pat Robertson’s failed 1988 campaign for president.  Ralph Reed and Pat RobertsonThough Reed had volunteered for Jack Kemp’s campaign that year, he was seated next to Robertson at a Students for America dinner during the inaugural festivities for the eventual victor, President George H.W. Bush.  Robertson was reportedly so impressed with Reed that he offered him a job running his fledgling organization.  The scandalous fall of televangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, along with the decline of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority,” had left a vacuum that Robertson was eager to fill and he set out to do so by turning his campaign supporters and mailing list into a political grassroots powerhouse.[23]

Reed was initially hired as the “acting executive director” and was in charge of ensuring that the organization lived up to its mission to “reverse the moral decline and encroaching secularism in this country.”[24]  Reed plotted a course designed to create an organization that would have three million members, 350 chapters, and a $10 million budget by the 1992 election.[25] After receiving more than $60,000 in “seed money” from the National Republican Senatorial Committee,[26] the organization began modestly in a Virginia warehouse, and soon, through a Reed-orchestrated direct mail campaign blasting the National Endowment for the Arts for funding supposedly offensive works, quickly managed to raise more than $80,000.[27]

With this initial money, Reed focused on building a massive grassroots organization that trained activists across the country on how to draw crowds, hold rallies, and run political campaigns.[28]  As he was building the Coalition from the ground up, Reed pored over demographic surveys and hit upon the “faith, family, and freedom” platform he continued to use right up through his primary election defeat; a platform that targeted nervous suburbanites with children who were worried about the state of American schools, culture, and morals. Rather than presenting the Christian Coalition as just another right-wing organization seeking to impose its political agenda on America, Reed chose a “totally different kind of marketing”; one that advertised the Christian Coalition as an organization that would stand up for the political, moral, and religious values of average Americans.[29]

As the organization grew, Reed sought to navigate the fine line between catering to Robertson’s and the Coalition’s hard-core right-wing base and the less-radical baby-boomer conservatives he hoped to reach.  It would be a balance he would struggle to maintain throughout his time at the Christian Coalition. And even as he hoped to reach out to a wider audience, Reed could not let go of the combat mentality that drove his political work, as evidenced by his claims that much of the Coalition’s success was based on “stealth … It’s like guerilla warfare.  If you reveal your location, all it does is allow your opponent to improve his artillery bearings.  It’s better to move quietly, with stealth, under cover of night.”  Elsewhere he stated “I want to be invisible.  I do guerilla warfare.  I paint my face and travel at night.  You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag.”[30]

[23] Gang of Five, pp.208-210

[24] People For the American Way Action Fund, “The Christian Coalition: The Moral Majority of the 1990s,” September 1992

[25] Gang of Five, p.210

[26] Weekly Standard, “A Decade of Reed,” June 27, 2005

[27] Gang of Five, p.213

[28] Gang of Five, p.214-215

[29] Gang of Five, pp. 216-218

[30] People For the American Way Action Fund, “The Christian Coalition: The Moral Majority of the 1990s,” September 1992

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