Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was not officially welcomed at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, but he was invited to speak at Friday morning’s prayer breakfast hosted by Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition, along with a couple Members of Congress.
Not everybody was happy that McDonnell was on the premises: activists from the National Taxpayers Union and the insanely anti-gay Public Advocate USA gave out anti-McDonnell flyers and stickers to people entering the breakfast. McDonnell’s sin against CPAC orthodoxy was his support for a transportation plan in Virginia that activists say violates a campaign pledge against raising taxes. Public Advocate also complained that by praising the General Assembly’s approval of a gay district court nominee, McDonnell “BROKE HIS PLEDGE TO SUPPORT TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE.”
Inside the prayer breakfast, McDonnell (like the Coalition’s Executive Director Gary Marx an alum of Pat Robertson’s Regent University) was introduced by Rep. Randy Forbes and warmly received. McDonnell gave a talk that was light on conservative red meat and focused on themes of faith and service, urging activists to pray for humility and wisdom. He did say it is the job of public officials to get things done according to “Judeo-Christian principles.” And he cited George Washington saying that the nation could not expect “the smiles of heaven” if it abandoned “eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself have ordained.”
Forbes, a leader of the congressional prayer caucus, said our nation’s problem is that God belongs on the throne, we’ve taken Him off, and we need to put Him back up there. Forbes resorted to a caricature common among Religious Right leaders, complaining about people he said were trying to change the concept of church-state separation to mean that no one in government can speak about their faith and no one in church can talk about the government.
Also speaking was Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who invoked a mural of the radical abolitionist John Brown that portrays him with a Bible in one hand, a rifle in the other, and the tornado of the civil war approaching. He called the HHS requirement for insurance coverage of contraception a “tremendous threat” and an attack of religious liberty. “What would John Brown be doing now?” he asked, suggesting that Brown would be on his knees in prayer but also on his feet demanding action from Congress. Huelskamp complained that his colleagues in Congress are not acting to protect religious liberty, and denounced their “deafening silence” on threats to marriage. Huelskamp has previously complained to Tony Perkins about “the folks on the left that would like to delete, exclude and repeal any religious liberties or any religious values throughout our entire government and our entire society.”
Rachel Campos-Duffy, a conservative activist, author, and Real World: San Francisco alum who is married to Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, talked about the dangers of churches and families having ceded territory to “an ever-expanding and insatiable government.” For example, Campos said, school breakfast programs for poor students give parents an excuse not to make breakfast for their own kids and just push them out the door rather than talking to them.
Ralph Reed didn’t make the breakfast, but Gary Marx delivered a version of Reed’s post-2012 “it’s not my fault” analysis. Marx ran through statistics on the millions of contacts the Faith & Freedom Coalition made with the 23.3 million evangelical and Catholic voters in its proprietary database, and he said five million more evangelicals voted in 2012 than in 2008, with 78 percent of them voting for Romney. He said the group is actively engaged in this year’s Virginia elections and pledged that 2014 will see the largest mid-term conservative turnout ever.
The breakfast opened with a prayer by Father John De Celles of St. Raymond Penafort Roman Catholic Church in Springfield, Virginia, and closed with a benediction from Rabbi Aryeh Spero of the Caucus for America, who called for a reaffirmation of our “national identity” as a “Judeo-Christian nation” and denounced those who threaten the country from within by trying to “dismantle” that heritage and usurp God’s will.
Footnote: Among the VIP attendees acknowledged from the podium was conservative mega-donor Foster Friess, who backed Rick Santorum’s presidential bid but who has more recently encouraged a more moderate approach to LGBT issues, which he has said is due to his familiarity with gay people, including his brother-in-law and his partner. There was no mention at the breakfast of news that broke last night about Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s about-face on marriage after his son came out to him.