GOP leaders recommit to far-right culture war

Earlier this year, Republican National Committee Reince Priebus accepted the fact that his party’s social conservatism had alienated many young voters, women, and moderates. The party would still adhere to its platform, Priebus said in March, “but it doesn’t mean that we divide and subtract people from our party…. I don’t believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics.”

At the time, this seemed quite sensible. Understanding the Republican Party’s unpopularity is a multi-faceted dynamic, but its economic failures and extremist tactics are only part of the larger problem. The GOP’s support for a far-right culture-war agenda – anti-contraception, anti-gay, anti-reproductive rights, anti-Planned Parenthood – has taken a toll, too.

This support has manifested itself in Republicans’ legislative priorities – the House GOP has been preoccupied this year with votes on abortion and birth control – but it’s not limited to Capitol Hill.

Marriage, abortion and religious liberty are the top cultural topics to be addressed at this weekend’s Values Voter Summit.

Conservative political issues will be a major part of the presentations, but the social-cultural issues “are what define us as an organization,” said retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin of the Family Research Council (FRC), a main sponsor of the annual conference, which is now in its eighth year.

Right Wing Watch highlighted some of the fringe extremists who’ll play prominent roles at the right-wing conference, but they key takeaway is simple: Republican leaders will join these fringe extremists as if they’re mainstream.

Looking over the list of confirmed speakers at the Values Voter Summit, we see several sitting Republican U.S. senators (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Tim Scott, and Marco Rubio), and many more sitting Republican U.S. House members (Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and Scott Turner of Texas).

The list of confirmed speakers also includes House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was on his party’s national presidential ticket less than a year ago.

And why are these guests important? Because it’s a reminder that no matter how much damage the Republican Party’s culture war does to the GOP’s reputation, they just can’t help themselves. The religious right movement may not be the powerhouse it once was – remember when the Christian Coalition was a major force in American politics? – but it still a significant part of the GOP base, even if it helps drive mainstream voters away.

Indeed, for Republicans eyeing national office, this has become something of a rite of passage – if you want to compete for the GOP’s presidential nomination, you’ll have to suck up to the party’s theocratic wing.

A group of longtime Christian conservative activists are holding a private meeting Thursday in Washington to hear informal presentations from two of the most talked-about potential Republican presidential candidates: Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The gathering is being held in conjunction with the Family Research Council’s Values Voters conference, an annual gathering of Christian conservatives in Washington, but it is not an official part of that event. Rather, it is being staged by a loosely-organized group of Republican leaders that call themselves “Conservatives of Faith.”

The hosts include Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, the former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, the conservative talk show host Janet Parshall and Richard Viguerie, the direct mail pioneer, along with a handful of others from the conservative movement. [Robert Fischer, a South Dakota-based conservative organizer] is the group’s chief organizer.

Meet the new Republican Party. When it comes to social conservatism, it’s entirely indistinguishable from the old Republican Party.

GOP leaders recommit to far-right culture war