Following the failure of the GOP to recapture the White House in the last presidential election, rebranding was a word that got knocked around a lot within party circles and in the media. In order to shore up the hemorrhaging support of women, ethnic and racial minorities, and young voters, it was agreed that the GOP platform would have to embrace less alienating positions on a variety of policy issues.
Now on the eve of midterm elections almost two years later, it’s become clear that Republican officials aren’t sticking to the plan. This weekend, conservative lawmakers including Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul, and Gov. Bobby Jindal are slated to participate in what has become a rite of passage for presidential hopefuls of the GOP: courting the support of the Religious Right at the Family Research Council’s (FRC) annual Values Voter Summit.
Lurching in the opposite direction from the rest of the country, Republican officials are aligning themselves with extremist fringe groups that actively seek to put LGBT people back in the closet, quash access to legal abortion, and restrict the free exercise rights of non-Christian religious minorities. The FRC — as well as other primary sponsors of the event including the American Family Association, Liberty Counsel and American Values — has been instrumental in encouraging the GOP’s continued rightward march and carries a great deal of influence over evangelical Tea Party voters who form the core of the far right, a group that presidential contenders in the party increasingly feel the need to cater to.
A look at a few of the speakers scheduled to share the stage with leading Republican figures shows how grievously out of step the party is with the values of the American people AFTER THE JUMP…
One of the favored targets of the Religious Right has been the LGBT community. Tony Perkins, president of the FRC and a former Republican legislator, has attacked LGBT rights advocates by painting the equality movement as a “holocaust” against Christians, warning that those opposed to equality could soon be put into “boxcars.”
Mat Staver, of the anti-gay legal group Liberty Counsel, called the legalization of same-sex marriage “the beginning of the end of Western Civilization.” And similarly, Gary Bauer, president of American Values and a one-time Republican presidential hopeful, declared that A&E’s suspension of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson for homophobic and racist remarks was another example of progressives waging a “jihad against America’s cultural norms.”
Along with a heavy dose of homophobia, another staple of the Religious Right rhetorical circus is uncompromising contempt for the Obama administration and its policy initiatives. Sandy Rios, who hosts a daily program on the American Family Association’s radio network, has argued that the president was born outside the country and cited a chain email to insist that one of Obama’s first priorities as president was to resettle thousands of Palestinian refugees in the U.S. and provide them with food stamps.
Another example of the xenophobia, Islamophobia and Obamaphobia that characterize right-wing rhetoric is found in Todd Starnes, an author and Fox News commentator who recently blamed the president for “orchestrating” the protests in Ferguson, Mo. and asserted that Obama refused to take action against ISIS to “accommodat[e] the Islamic faith at the expense of all other faiths.”
Many of the divisive Religious Right narratives are tied to the fear that Christianity is somehow threatened by the encroachment of LGBT equality, reproductive rights, the separation of church and state or rights for religious minorities. FRC vice president Jerry Boykin has blamed the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre on the presence of secularism in American society and called for a suspension of religious freedoms for American Muslims, advocating for “no mosques in America.”
Other Values Voter Summit speakers include twin brothers Jason and David Benham, who became a cause celebre for the Religious Right this year when an HGTV show they were slated to star in was cancelled following revelations of their anti-gay, anti-choice and anti-Muslim activism. The two have been lauded by right-wing activists for expressing their unvarnished opinions, which have included calling an Islamic community center a “den of iniquity” and referring to Muslims as “the enemy” attacking America.
These statements are just the tip of the iceberg in demonstrating the bigotry that engulfs the Religious Right and that is always present at the Values Voter Summit. The presence of GOP presidential hopefuls at events like the Values Voter Summit makes clear that they have no qualms about sharing a stage with extremists. Whether participation at the summit is cold political calculation or a glimpse at some of their core convictions, it appears that we can count on the next Republican candidate for president to do the bidding of those who seek to restrict the rights of others, enshrine their narrow views into law, and hold our country back.
Drew Courtney is the director of communications at People For the American Way.