The organizers of the Values Voter Summit are hoping that the event will be a catalyst for the Religious Right to coalesce around one champion, and Republican hopefuls are happy to oblige—“all nine major Republican candidates accepted” their invitation, boasted the MC. (Sorry, Alan Keyes!) The first morning of the conference was loaded with four presidential candidates, each vying for the favor of the religious-right activists gathered here.
John McCain preceded his speech with a campaign ad highlighting his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and he returned to the theme a number of times. According to McCain, the U.S. “confronts challenges to its founding values, particularly the sanctity of life, at home and abroad,” by which he referred to abortion and terrorism, and he sought to make this link the theme of his appeal. He boasted of his record as the “only candidate [who has been] pro-life his entire career,” which he said proved his “courage to defend unborn children,” and promised to “appoint strict constructionist judges who won’t legislate from the bench.”
Sam Brownback, rumored to be close to announcing his withdrawal from the race, did not ask for votes; instead, he hammered on the wedge issues. Comparing his charge to that of British abolitionist William Wilberforce, Brownback said that God had given him two tasks: “the end of abortion and the renewing of American culture.” Calling Roe v. Wade “a legal fiction built on lies,” he said that “in every abortion there are two victims: One’s wounded and one’s dead.” Decrying children born out of wedlock in cities such as Washington, D.C., he put the blame on the “vast social experiment” of same-sex marriage, the “early results” of which are “catastrophic.”
Brownback also roused the crowd by saying that “separation of church and state does not mean the removal of faith from the public square”—implying that there was some threat that politicians and others in the national debate would stop referencing God or their religious beliefs. However, his example of the “responsible role for faith” was faith-based prison programs, presumably such as the prison evangelism effort in Iowa that lost its taxpayer funding late last year.
But the candidate who could really move the crowd to a near-Jerry Springer level of intensity was Tom Tancredo, who spurred the first hooting and hollering when he mentioned the president’s veto of SCHIP, the children’s health insurance program he called the “camel’s nose under the tend of socialized medicine.” After establishing his right-wing bona fides, Tancredo honed in on his signature issue, mocking other Republicans’ positions on immigration. “Ask them if they’re willing to deport the millions who are here illegally,” he taunted, or whether they agree with him that Miami is turning into a “Third World country.” Everything we believe is “under attack from jihadism abroad and multiculturalism at home,” he warned, shouting, “This is our flag—Pick it up! This is our country—Take it back!”
Rounding out the morning’s presidential hopefuls, Fred Thompson made a somewhat dour impression, seeming to struggle with the emphasis necessary to create applause lines. “From time to time, citizens step forth to serve their country, in various ways …” he said as a rambling introduction to his political resume. But the audience, sprinkled with sign-wielding Fred partisans, eagerly jumped on any red-meat utterance, especially on judges: from those who “have taken it upon themselves to take something that has been the same since the dawn of civilization .. and turned it on its head,” to his desire to pursue fights with the Senate if a nomination is rejected: “You oughta send another ‘un just like it, and fight all over.”