Pat Robertson's Controversial 1988 Bid For President

Televangelist Pat Robertson, credited with the rise of the religious right in American politics, sought the 1988 nomination for president in the Republican Party. But in part, his candidacy was derailed by allegations that he lied about the nature of his service in the Korean War. According to those claims — detailed in a letter written by one-time California representative Paul N. McCloskey, a Republican who served with Robertson in Korea — Robertson relied on the influence of his father, A. Willis Robertson, a former senator, to avoid combat duty, The Washington Post reports.

McCloskey's view was supported by similar allegations from Paul W. Brosman, who also briefly served with Robertson in the 1950s, according to the AP. Meanwhile, according to the broadcaster's own website, his First Marine Division was "in combat," among other claims contested by McCloskey, Brosman, and others who served with the future religious leader. Robertson dropped his libel suit against McCloskey regarding the letter, but his campaign never recovered. Robertson died on Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Virginia. He was 93 (via The New York Times).

He also referred to Korean War combat in his book

In addition to his own website, where Pat Robertson claimed to have won battle stars for "action against the enemy," he wrote about his time in Korea — which he called "combat service" — in his autobiography "Shout It From the Housetops," The New York Times reports. According to official Marine records examined by the outlet, Robertson was in the First Marine Division but served as an "assistant adjutant" at headquarters, defined as something like an administrative assistant (via Marines). 

According to Robertson, he was prepared to provide evidence he saw combat, and the attack on his record from former Representative Paul N. McCloskey and others who served with him was a coordinated effort from liberals and communists to keep him out of the White House. ”It is important that I demonstrate the falsehoods of these stories. Otherwise, if I am elected president, how could I as commander in chief ever order a young American into combat if the record is not absolutely clear that I never shirked military duty," Robertson said (per The New York Times).

On Robertson's decision to drop the libel suit against McCloskey and others before it went to court, the former California representative said (via The Washington Post), "He made a wise decision to surrender before a jury could rule that he is a liar."

Robertson allegedly boasted about his father's influence

In his letter, Paul N. McCloskey said Pat Robertson spoke openly of using his father's influence to avoid combat and said his father had "pulled some strings in Washington to keep him out of combat duty.” According to The New York Times, John Gearhart — who also served with Robertson in Korea and never saw combat — said he and Robertson were pulled off their Korea-bound troop ship "because of the good fortune of Pat's influence." According to the AP, a Robertson barracks mate, Paul W. Brosman, alleged the future Southern Baptist minister mistreated and sexually harassed women during their time in the service together.

Brosman also characterized Robertson's preferential treatment because of his father as common knowledge. Based on hearsay, Brosman said (via the AP), "The senator had used his pull to get the son taken out ... so as to avoid having to go to Korea and probably be in combat. Presumably to keep it from looking so obviously like special treatment, they pulled out about three or four other guys too, along with the son." In 1988, after a strong start, Robertson's campaign for the White House failed to gain traction. After he dropped out, Robertson threw his support behind Vice President George H.W. Bush, who won the presidency.

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