The gathering of social conservatives from across the country this weekend for the Values Voter Summit had no party scene and a somber tone. Gathered in a cavernous underground hotel ballroom in Washington D.C., all the young people were serious and well dressed. Many were home schooled and a disproportionate percentage were members of the Duggar family, the evangelical clan responsible for the reality television show “19 Kids and Counting.” While the rival Conservative Political Action Conference features wild parties and congressmen in hot tubs, the big rager at the Values Voter Summit apparently consisted of two friends hanging out in a hotel room taking a few swigs from a bottle of Jack Daniels.
The tone of the speakers matched that of the event. Despite an occasional appearance from the likes of former reality television star and prominent entertainer Sarah Palin, they were serious and often focused on foreign policy issues. David Dewhurst, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, warned that ISIS was in Juarez and ready to strike America, Rick Santorum talked about the ongoing 1,300 year long war between the West and radical Islam, and conservative activist Brigitte Gabriel did everything but warn attendees that ISIS was lurking outside ready to behead them.
Fear and anxiety percolated around the event on issues besides national security. At a panel on same sex marriage run by Frank Schubert, chief strategist for the National Organization for Marriage, activists were warned that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage that there “must be a loud and sustained outcry of protest that [the] decision is illegitimate." Discussing religious liberty, an Oregon baker fighting a court battle over refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian couple broke down into tears.
While it seemed almost every speaker at the even emphasized the old saw about the conservative movement being a three-legged stool built around social conservatives, financial conservatives and national defense conservatives, the latter two groups went almost entirely unrepresented. Jeb Bush and Chris Christie were pointedly not invited and, in the group’s presidential straw poll, Bush only received two votes. This left him one vote ahead of Christie, who was tied with Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, who were in last place.
The disconnect between attendees and other wings of the Republican Party seemed even more profound in hearing the despairing language used by speakers and attendees. While the GOP is resurgent nationally and poised to win a majority in the U.S. Senate as well as its most members of the House of Representatives since 1946, attendees seemed dispirited with national political trends. They felt alienated by a Romney campaign which they thought had ignored social issues and then blamed social conservatives for losing. They felt public opinion is trending against them on issues like gay marriage, and many speakers urged attendees not to give up hope that they had already lost the fight to protect traditional marriage.
Not all of those who attended were trying to be downers. Texas Senator Ted Cruz wove a refrain into his speech that “morning is coming.” This was not only a riff on Ronald Reagan’s 1984 theme of “Morning in America,” but also a reference to Psalm 30:5, “joy cometh in the morning.”
However, it didn’t take too much analysis to determine that for the Texas senator, that morning was coming in 2017 and the joy would be a Cruz presidency. The speech was certainly received well by a hooting and hollering crowd, which gave Cruz the victory in the event’s straw poll for the second year in a row. However, Cruz only received support from 25 percent of attendees, a huge drop from the 42 percent that he received in 2013 at the height of the government shutdown. Dr. Ben Carson, who did not attend, finished second.
But, for all of Cruz’s perorations that “morning is coming,” it was clear that social conservatives at the Values Voter Summit were hunkering down for a long, cold night.