Values Voter Summit 2013: A Sanctuary for Cruz, Lee, and Bachmann

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 11 2013 9:39 AM

Values Voter Summit 2013: A Sanctuary for Cruz, Lee, and Bachmann

"Don't be the weird one!" said Gil Mertz, the avuncular regional director of the Family Research Council. "There's always a weird one who wants to hold an impromptu press conference."

Mertz, the emcee of the annual Values Voter Summit of social conservatives in D.C., was at that moment speaking behind barricades. Organizers had placed metal barricades in front of the stage, mimicking the fences placed by park rangers in front of the many national monuments closed during the government shutdown. In this room, there is no WSJ/NBC poll suggesting that the GOP is blamed for a shutdown. Putting up barricades to remind people that it's Obama's fault is not even weird.

"He has used those barricades to defend memorials from our veterans," said FRC president Tony Perkins. "He has used barricades to try to keep our voices down in America."

Utah Sen. Mike Lee, the Republican who might have done the most to commit the GOP to a "defund Obamacare" strategy, opened up the political speechmaking party of the day by agreeing with Perkins.

"The best argument for stopping Obamacare is the action of this president over the past 10 days," said Lee, the day's first political speaker. "The president is using the vast power of the American government to hurt the American people. Why? To win a political argument."

Just as interesting as that was the joke Lee used to lighten up the mood. He quoted Emo Phillips, the high-voiced 1980s stand-up comic, and told a story of two Christians meeting on a road and checking whether they shared a faith. Baptist? Check. Reformed Baptist? Check. Reformed Baptist Church of God? "I said, Die Heretic, and pushed him off a cliff!" said Lee-via-Phillips. The point: Conservatives couldn't call their fellow travelers "heretics." It just seemed a little off -- if this was Lee's belief, what was the whole "shutdown or you're a fake conservative" battle about?

Because it's October 2013, the #VVS13 attendee will have access to a straw poll ballot picking his preferred presidential nominee in 2016. The nominees:

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann
Governor Jeb Bush
Governor Sam Brownback
Congressman Eric Cantor
Dr. Ben Carson
Governor Chris Christie
Senator Ted Cruz
Speaker Newt Gingrich
Governor Mike Huckabee
Governor Bobby Jindal
Senator Mike Lee
Governor Susana Martinez
Senator Rand Paul
Governor Mike Pence
Governor Rick Perry
Congressman Paul Ryan
Senator Marco Rubio
Senator Rick Santorum
Governor Scott Walker

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.