Every year since 2006, social conservatives have gathered to listen to speeches, take workshops, vote in a straw poll, and commiserate about the collapse of American morality at a Family Research Council–sponsored event known as the Values Voter Summit. In the midst of a heated presidential primary season, activists who shell out $100 for a ticket will be graced by appearances from all the major Republican candidates (as well as high-ranking GOP senators and representatives, well-known members of the conservative media, and a smattering of other conservative folk heroes such as former Lieutenant General Benjamin Nixon) at the Omni Shoreham in Washington, D.C. this weekend. For candidates who want to ingratiate themselves to social conservatives — and all of them do — this is the place to do it.
The activists here see the upcoming election, as Family Research Council president Tony Perkins put it in his opening remarks, as a “contest of values.” And while the crowd here is certainly concerned about gays, abortion, and the like, the biggest round of applause so far this morning came in response to a line about Israel. “We have, and we always should, stand by Israel,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor proclaimed to a long, and loud, standing ovation. (We wonder if anyone here realizes that the weekendlong summit was scheduled to coincide with Yom Kippur, the most sacred Jewish holiday, precluding most religious Jews from attending.) And economic issues are hardly a peripheral concern. Speaker of the House John Boehner received his two biggest rounds of applause when he called for a balanced budget amendment and when he boasted of killing earmarks.
If you’re picturing an audience decked out in colonial tea party outfits and draped in American-flag sweatsuits, you’re way off. You couldn’t tell this crowd apart from one gathered for a typical business conference. Except for that one guy sitting up front wearing a puffy shirt and a tri-corner hat. Instead of applauding, he lifts his hat and gently waves it around in the air. The Family Research Council suspects that the members of the media covering the event are going to try to hone in on guys like him. Gil Mertz, an FRC executive serving as the M.C. of today’s session, warned the members of the audience that journalists would be looking to find someone crazy to quote and feature in their videos. “Don’t be the weird one,” he implored, half-jokingly.*
*This quote originally and incorrectly read “Don’t be the crazy one.”