A featured guest in Virginia

A FEATURED GUEST IN VIRGINIA…. This week, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson told his national television audience that Haiti is “cursed” because the country “swore a pact to the devil” in order to rid itself of “Napoleon the third, or whatever.” It generated widespread revulsion among reasonable people everywhere.

But it also generated a legitimate question, especially among conservatives, “Pat who?” To hear many on the right tell it, the crazed televangelist may have been relevant in the past — Robertson defeated sitting V.P. H.W. Bush in the Iowa caucuses two decades ago — but to argue that Virginia’s radical cleric still has any significance in the contemporary conservative movement is a mistake.

At least, that’s the argument. There is evidence to the contrary.

For those wondering if controversial Rev. Pat Robertson would be in attendance at today’s Inauguration of [Virginia] Gov. Bob McDonnell, we’ve got an answer: Yes, indeed. Here he is at the first event of the day, a prayer breakfast held this morning at the Richmond Marriott, being greeted by Dr. Steve Long of Richmond.

However, according to McDonnell’s aides, Robertson has not been given the honor of an invitation to sit behind McDonnell on the portico of the Capitol during the swearing-in. Despite McDonnell’s long time friendship with the Virginia Beach televanglist, this marks a departure from the Inauguration of Virginia’s last Republican governor, when Robertson was seated not far behind incoming Gov. Jim Gilmore. He also attended the inauguration of Gov. George Allen in 1994.

McDonnell has known Robertson for more than 20 years, since the incoming governor attended the law school founded by the minister.

Under the circumstances, one might have expected the new governor and his aides to ask Robertson to stay home, rather than make an appearance at the prayer breakfast. But the new governor and the radical TV preacher are obviously close.

I don’t want to exaggerate matters. Robertson’s power and influence in Republican circles has clearly waned since the heyday of the Christian Coalition. But as his appearance at a McDonnell inaugural event yesterday shows, the televangelist is still a relevant figure — a fact further bolstered by Republicans’ willingness to appear on the “700 Club,” and seek out Robertson’s political support. What’s more, George W. Bush, who only left office a year ago, appeared at two Robertson-hosted Christian Coalition events and the then-president even met with Robertson in early 2003 to discuss the war in Iraq.

For most of the country, this crazed TV preacher should be excluded from polite company. The Republican Party of the 21st century disagrees.