As I noted last week, I’ll be going to Washington DC this week to cover the Values Voter Summit. I’ll eventually look to put together a long-form article next week, but I also wanted to take advantage of the League’s format to think out loud before and during the conference. If you have any questions, comments, or thoughts on this project please feel free to shout them out.
For those wondering why I’m bothering to fly 3,000 miles to observe a conference where I will be quite the fish out of water, it is because I see this year’s Summit as ground zero for the battle of the future of the Republican Party. The social conservative politicians, pundits and celebrities that regularly attend are the public face of today’s GOP; the 2,000-plus enthusiastic rank and file attendees represent its heart and soul. Moderate Republicans that want even a sniff of success on the national stage have to attend the VVS and convince the conference at large that their conservative credentials are indeed bona fide.
I very much want to talk with the people there to see how they are reconciling both their demand for apoplectic enthusiasm with this presidential election, and a GOP candidate that they clearly neither like nor trust. Whether Romney wins or loses, it is this internal Party dichotomy that fascinates me most this election. And if Romney does lose – amid a long, drawn out recession and lethargic job statistics – this schism will most likely be what does him in.
Mitt Romney isn’t the reflection of his Party – he’s its Rorschach test.
Since its first conference in 2006, the Values Voter Summit has attracted a veritable Who’s Who in conservative America: Romney himself is a regular, as is Paul Ryan, Glenn Beck, Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Laura Ingraham, John Beohner, Bill Bennett and Jim DeMint. Most of them are returning this year, along with an impressive list of B-List conservative celebrities: Former child-star Kirk Cameron – who has bucked the clichéd child-celebrity train-to-obscurity by embracing Christian conservative roles in limited-run and direct-to-video vehicles – has confirmed that he will be there. So has conservative weight-loss guru Todd Starnes. Steven Crowder, the FOX News Comedian and “founding-father rapper,” has already committed. (See clips from Steve’s 2011
VVS TeaCon) performance below!) And so has Dennis Prager, the farm-league radio show host and columnist known for being terrible in bed.
The conference is hosted by the Family Research Council, and is co-sponsored by five other social conservative organizations: The American Family Association, American Values, the Liberty Counsel, Liberty University, and the Heritage Foundation. Just how socially conservative are these organizations? Let’s take a look:
It’s hard to find a social conservative cause that the Family Research Council does not engage in at some level. Over the past several years they have championed prayer in school, abstinence training, teaching intelligent design in public school biology classes, and implementing a mandatory one-year waiting period for married couples with children looking to divorce. At the same time, they have worked to oppose abortion, stem cell research, Internet pornography, adult themes portrayed on television, and estate taxes. But they are probably best known for their opposition to homosexuality.
If you’re like most people, chances are you’re aware of the FRC as a voice against same sex marriage. Being against gay marriage, though currently in the minority, is still a fairly mainstream position in 2012 America. The FRC, however, goes far beyond being anti-gay marriage; it’s proudly anti-gay period, in a way that can best be described as extreme. Peter Sprigg, the Council’s Senior Researcher for Policy Studies, states that the government should enforce “criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.” In 2010 shortly after Congress passed Resolution 1064 condemning Uganda’s so-called Kill the Gays Bill, lobbying disclosure forms showed that the FRC had donated $25,000 to lobbyists in an attempt to block the resolution.
Almost all of the other co-sponsoring organizations espouse equally extreme viewpoints. Brian Fischer, the President of the American Family Association, maintains that non-Christian religions are “counterfeit,” and therefore are not protected by the first amendment. Though this argument was originally aimed at Muslims, Fischer expanded its scope to include Mormons just prior to last year’s VVS in a direct show of contempt for Romney, whom he followed as a conference speaker. Romney later fired back at Fischer, and for a while their squabbling was viewed as a microcosm of the battles between the GOP grass roots and its party elites. Each tends to cautiously avoid discussing the other too much these days, but it is probably not coincidental that although Paul Ryan and the American Family Association are back, Romney and Fischer – each regular VVS speakers – are noticeably absent this year.
American Values President Gary Bauer believes that the US Government is being infiltrated at its highest levels by the Muslim Brotherhood, and has been a vocal proponent of investigations to root them out. Along with Fischer and FRC’s Tony Perkins, Bauer was also credited with being the driving force behind the Romney campaign’s dismissal of national security advisor Richard Grenell for being gay.
In 2000 the Liberty Council, a non-profit public interest law firm, threatened to file a lawsuit against a Jacksonville public library for creating a youth reading promotion centered around a Harry Potter book, on the grounds that it inherently implied government support of the practice of witchcraft. (The library, in an attempt to avoid the suit, abandoned the reading promotion.) The Counsel also submitted a amicus curiae brief in support of a statute that criminalized homosexual behavior in Lawrence vs. Texas.
In 2009 Liberty University officially stripped Democrat students of their right to assemble or organize. When the student leader of the (admittedly small) campus chapter of the College Democrats made comments to the press, he was asked by school officials to publically apologize.
In fact, the famously right-wing organization the Heritage Foundation is the only one of the sponsoring organizations that is firmly conservative in a more mainstream fashion.
These are the people that Mitt Romney has been tasked with inspiring, and – not surprisingly – it’s been a tough road for him so far. These are the people that the Republican Party elite rode to impressive electoral wins in 2000, 2004 and 2010; and they may be the people that swallow those same leaders whole.
I’m very excited to talk to the real people at the Summit, instead of the right and left wing talking points. I’m anxious to see what they really think of Mitt, and to what degree they are prepared to embrace him. I want to see where they see common ground (if they see any at all) with a moderate agnostic like myself.
I am really looking forward to this.
 Actually, this last bit is open to some interpretation. In the series of columns that are perhaps his most well-known outside of his fan base, Prager gave nookie advice to America’s wives. Penned in-between his second and third marriage, the columns argue that wives need to submit when their husbands demand sex, even though they (women) are rarely in the mood for it. (One of the arguments he gives is that if a wife doesn’t just roll with it, the man will be forced to find sex outside the marriage bed.)
However, in the interest of fairness I should note that all of this advice is given in the third person voice, so it’s entirely possible that Dennis’s multiple failed marriages and his belief that women just don’t like to have sex are not related, and in no way reflect his nocturnal shortcomings. (Also, this is as good a time as any to note that I can now add Dennis to that long list of social conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Stanford, Larry Craig, Bill Frist and Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who are willing lecture the country on who should and shouldn’t be allowed into marriage despite being clearly awful at it themselves.)
After the contributions were revealed, the FRC issued a statement noting that while they did not approve of the death penalty for homosexuality, they believed the resolution’s wording condemning such communicated a tacit approval of homosexuality they found unacceptable, and that this language was the reason for lobbying against it. They did not note, however, why an organization that trumpets all of its anti-homosexual lobbying efforts via multiple press releases chose to try to keep these particular donations secret.
It should be noted that Fischer was roundly supported by the attendees, who were well aware of his highly reported remarks. Romney, on the other hand, collected only 4% of the VVS straw poll votes, losing out to all nine nominee choices save Huntsman, Gingrich and Undecided.
 After it looked to put their IRS status in jeopardy, the University walked this decision back. Student Democrats are now allowed to assemble; the University now opts not to officially recognize any political clubs.