WASHINGTON—Conservatives brought social issues back to the forefront on Friday as the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit commenced on Day 11 of the partial government shutdown.
“The government may be shut down, but the Values Voter Summit is open and we’re ready to do business,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), told the audience as he called for the removal of barricades set up on stage at Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel.
The FRC’s eighth annual three-day event started with consecutive speeches from five rising stars in the Republican Party: Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.)—several of whom were headed to the White House afterward to begin negotiations to end the current budget impasse.
Cruz received a rock star welcome from the crowd of about 2,000, just over two weeks after his 21-hour speech on the Senate floor played a key role in fueling GOP efforts to defund President Barack Obama’s healthcare law. Hecklers interrupted Cruz at least six times, prompting boos and shouts from the audience and a string of one-liners from Cruz.
“Is anybody left at the Organizing for America headquarters?” Cruz said, referring to the Democratic National Committee’s campaign project. “I’m actually glad the president’s whole political staff is here instead of actually doing mischief in the country.”
But the protestors weren’t challenging Cruz on Obamacare or the government shutdown: They were upset about Cruz’s hardline stance on immigration. Some wore shirts that said, “Keep families together.”
Virtually every speaker emphasized the importance of the family. Ben Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon who has become a popular conservative commentator, delivered his traditional pro-family message, tore into the Affordable Care Act as “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” and disputed the idea of a war on women.
“There is no war on them—the war is on their baby,” he said. “We have destroyed 55 million of them, and we have the nerve to call other societies of the past heathen.”
The FRC included Carson—who has never run for office—in its presidential straw poll, the results of which will be released Saturday. Perkins told me the decision to include Carson wasn’t because he’s certain to run for president, but because “people are hungry for leaders. That’s why Ted Cruz has become a de facto leader of the GOP.”
Rand Paul, as he did at last year’s Values Voter Summit, renewed his call for the United States to stop supporting countries that “fund persecution” or burn the American flag. He said the media describe the killing of Christians around the world as “sectarian” violence, but “the truth is a worldwide war on Christians is being waged by a fanatical element of Islam.”
Paul said radical Islam would only end when Islam begins policing itself, before expounding on recent reports of persecution around the world. He noted that 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai is Muslim, yet members of the Taliban still shot her in the head to make a point.
“Where is the rest of Islam?” Paul asked. “Why don’t they stand up and condemn this?”
Speakers spent little time talking about the government shutdown or the debt ceiling debate, which Perkins told me didn’t surprise him. He called the shutdown a symptom of the deeper problems in Washington, saying Obama has attacked every fundamental freedom and Republicans finally had to draw a line in the sand.
When speakers did address the shutdown, it was usually related to the Obama administration making the shutdown more painful than it has to be. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., spent most of her time telling stories of how she personally moved barricades to allow military veterans to visit memorials on the National Mall.
Listen to J.C. Derrick discuss the Values Voter Summit on The World and Everything in It: