Ted Cruz, U.S. senator from Texas, addresses the Values Voter Summit on September 26, 2014.
On Friday and Saturday, conservative politicians and activists descended upon Washington, D.C.'s Omni Shoreham Hotel, for the Values Voter Summit—a conference in which the religious right comes together to talk about what its members deem to be our nation’s real problems, like the ostensible persecution of Christians by the Obama administration, ISIL fighters said to be crouching on our Southern border and, of course, how to ensure that Republicans start winning national elections again without betraying the social-conservative cause.
For those vying for the GOP presidential nomination, the annual event convened by FRC Action, the political arm of the Family Research Council, is often seen as a command performance. This year’s featured speakers included United States Senators Ted Cruz of Texas (who won the Values Voter presidential straw poll) and Rand Paul of Kentucky, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. All are regarded as likely contenders for the nomination. Noticeably absent were Texas Governor Rick Perry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, who are also said to be considering presidential runs.
It’s no secret that Republicans are losing national elections mainly because their reliable electorate of older white men and white married women is shrinking, and the party’s outreach to other demographic groups such as millennials, minorities and unmarried women has been ineffective, at best.
After Mitt Romney’s defeat in the 2012 presidential election, political analysts from both parties agreed that his swing towards the right on social issues is among the biggest factors that cost him the election.
That didn’t stop conference speakers like Mark Levin, a popular right-wing talk show radio host, from pushing the idea that social conservatism is the key to winning national elections. This notion was best exemplified in a breakout session presented as a plan titled “How Conservatives Can Win With Millennials and Women” led by Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life; Katherine Lopez, editor-at-large at National Review Online; and Catherine Rodriguez, programs director at the Booth Policy Institute. Despite the session’s title, discussion on mobilizing voters was pretty minimal; the panelists mostly spouted questionable statistics about women and millennials—such as an assertion that most young people agree with Republicans on economics (partly true but just as much not)—and preached to the choir about the evils of abortion and contraception.
Though birth control is popular among, well, everyone, panel members seemed indignant that anyone in the GOP would support over-the-counter birth control, as several Republican senatorial candidates have done. According to Hawkins, birth control is carcinogenic and so the people providing these “dangerous chemicals” to women are waging the real War on Women.
Yet in the same session, the panelists dismissed the whole idea that there even is a War on Women. Throughout the weekend conference, speakers cited the story of Mariam Ibraim—a Sudanese woman who was arrested for being Christian and gave birth while in prison, and who was the featured guest at the conference gala. At the panel on women and millennials, panelists essentially argued that because women like Ibrahim are being persecuted around the world and women here have it better, American women had no complaint.
Not only is the War on Women apparently fabricated by the godless lefties, Hawkins even found a way to paint men as the true sufferers in the abortion debate. Many young men approach her, she claimed, to tell her that they feel excluded from the discussion. She claims that millennial men are more anti-abortion than their women counterparts; this is the case, she said, because women who were unabashedly pro-abortion raised these men. Hawkins told the audience that she often tells men that if they would have to provide child support for a child they fathered, then they should have a say in whether or not the woman “kills their child.”
The discussion on how to get millennials to vote for conservatives centered on doing outreach in unlikely places (Rand Paul speaking at Howard University was provided as an example), using words that millennials like, such as “compassion” and “social justice” (though an elderly woman in the audience was scandalized by the thought of using words that liberals use), and providing voters with more substantial information than can be imparted through flashy campaign videos and signs. But the substance of their message appears to be demonizing birth control and providing men a say over what women choose for their bodies. It’s hard to imagine that going over well with young voters, especially women.
Despite the religious right’s clamoring for a Republican victory in 2016, there is, perhaps, a reason why more establishment Republicans didn’t attend the Values Voter Summit: They actually want to win elections. And in order to win, it’s imperative that they gain a share of the millennial and women vote. With a platform so divorced from reality, no one outside the realm of “values voters” is likely to be convinced that they will.