Anyone but Obama

Christian conservatives -- at least, as represented by the 3,000 or so attendees of this year's Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. -- are determined to make Barack Obama a one-term president. "My motto for next year is 'anyone but Obama,'" says Ellen Elmore, an attendee from Missouri. Who that anyone is, however, still matters, she says. "We want a real conservative -- we don't want another John McCain."

Which gets to the core dilemma facing social conservatives and the Republican Party: They are enthusiastic about next year's election but divided on what it means to be an authentic standard-bearer for the movement. To a large degree, this is a product of dashed hopes. Representative Michele Bachmann thwarted former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's attempt to appeal to the broad Republican base with her devout adherence to social conservative dogma. In turn, her hold on the conservative imagination was smashed by Texas Governor Rick Perry, who gained rapid appeal with his Southern swagger and brash radicalism. But that wouldn't last, either. With his poor debate performances, weak grasp on the issues, and willingness to buck party orthodoxy on immigration, Perry alienated some conservatives and lost his status as front-runner.

Unlike his competitors, Mitt Romney has maintained steady support among Republicans nationwide. In its most recent survey of GOP voters, ABC News and The Washington Post found that 21 percent of Republicans support the former Massachusetts governor's bid for the nomination -- more than any other candidate. That, however, didn't mean much to the crowd at the Values Voter Summit, who weren't so sure of his conservative credentials. "He's just kind of wishy-washy," says Richard Alexander from Virginia. Ellen Elmore was a lot more aggressive when asked about her thoughts on Romney: "He never apologized for Romneycare, he believes in global warming, and he has been praised by Al Gore -- that should say it all."

For evangelical Christians, Romney's Mormonism is the core problem with his candidacy. "It is a cult," says the Reverend Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, who introduced and endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry at the summit. "Every true, born-again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian." This, he said, "is not a right-wing fringe" view, but one supported by the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

Of course, this dislike of Romney doesn't necessarily translate into support for Perry, whose standing among Republicans has slipped dramatically in recent weeks. "I'm not sure about Perry," said Edward Staves after the governor gave his speech. "I'm not confident that he is who he says he is." Likewise, one longtime summit-goer gave this assessment: "Based on his statements, I'm not confident about Perry on values. And with the HPV vaccine, I don't trust him on health care. If you can't trust him on one thing, what about the others?" Tepid support for Perry brought him 8 percent of the straw poll's vote, tying him with Bachmann.

Indeed, the Values Voter straw poll stands as a testament to conservative uncertainty over the nomination battle.

Georgia businessman Herman Cain, who entered the Republican race as a novelty, has emerged as one of the most popular figures in the field. Last month, he scored a first-place finish in the Florida straw poll, and this weekend, he earned second place in the Values Voter straw poll with 23 percent of the vote. (First place went to Texas Congressman Ron Paul, whose fervent supporters left him with 37 percent of the vote.) Romney -- the front-runner nationwide -- pulled in 4 percent of the vote.

Cain's speech Friday afternoon was a barnstormer. His loudest applause, a standing ovation, came when he noted his upbringing under Jim Crow, but he told the crowd that he's never been upset with the treatment of blacks in America. "I have achieved all of my American dreams and then some, because of the great nation, United States of America," Cain said. "What's there to be angry about?" he asked.

Post-speech, audience reactions were effusive. "The guy was fabulous," said one attendee, "Does the term 'home run' ring a bell?"

Of course, even with his popularity among some Republicans, Cain is a long shot for the GOP nomination -- his organization in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina is thin, to say nothing of his nonexistent presence in later states that might prove crucial. Among the people I spoke to, most understood this: "I don't give him a chance, but it would be interesting," said Edward Staves. "At least, no one would call him a racist."

This, more than anything else, gets to why Herman Cain has risen to the top of the GOP field. Yes, conservatives are unhappy with Romney and disappointed with Perry. Yes, Cain has charisma to spare (as you can tell from watching his speeches). But that doesn't explain his rapid rise to the top. Insofar as anything does, it's this: To many conservatives, Cain offers absolution from racial guilt and a unique chance to turn the tables on liberals who accuse the right of racism. When Herman Cain says that he isn't angry about the treatment of blacks during Jim Crow, he's offering racial grace on the cheap -- a chance to feel good about race without actually doing much. This is what differentiates Cain from everyone else in the GOP field, and to many Republicans -- including the ones at the Values Voter Summit -- it's all he needs for their support.


Denial of racism is just what conservatives want to hear. They must maintain their fantasies no matter what the effect on society, rather than take personal responsibility for their actions. That is what make religion so popular, avoiding personal responsibility.  Do all manner of crimes but be instantly "cleansed" by some song and dance display of alleged conscience.

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Someone should get these people to actually drill down wtf they mean by "a REAL conservative".

ANYONE but Obama? Oh, YEAH! Y'all have a stable FULL of such great, qualified candidates that YOU can't even decide who to get behind! Right now it looks like a 3-way race between Romney the Mormon, Cain the nut-case and Ron Paul, the other not-case! GODD LUCK with THAT!!!

ANYONE but Obama? Oh, YEAH! Y'all have a stable FULL of such great,
qualified candidates that YOU can't even decide who to get behind! Right
now it looks like a 3-way race between Romney the Mormon, Cain the
nut-case and Ron Paul, the other not-case! GOOD LUCK with THAT!!!

The reality of a brilliant black man like Obama taking the reigns of America pushed certain folk to feverishly proclaim they 'want their country back.' The reality of a foolish black man like Herman Cain is what they meant.

Don't you feel sorry for these folks who are deluding themselves into thinking that they are the real patriots, while the rest of us, just don't understand. VOTERS VALUES SUMMIT, they don't even know what valuse they are promoting!! Their words are empty rhetoric about love of GOD and country, when they are so willing to support the GOP efforts to make millions of people suffer needlessly, in order to achieve a political goal of "Making Obama FAIL". They lack true humanity and are living proof that there is no CHRISTIANITY in the conservative movement within the GOP.

Well, if any one of these candidates gets "elected" we'll know for sure the fix is in.   vote him out

"Anybody but Obama" doesn't include the footnote about who won first place in the Value Voters Poll.  You agree with FoxNews that he should be minimized at all costs.

I still can't believe that (CAIN) actually believes that slavery was okay, racism is okay, and that equality for individuals of a darker hue--has arrived. This brother is sick and needs therapy really bad. I am only 35 years young and never went through what my grandmother or mother had to go through. However, I did see them stand up for me in certain situations in regards to "white" people been racist towards me. I am just in awe that this man even has a platform in this country.

"This is what differentiates Cain from everyone else in the GOP field,
and to many Republicans—including the ones at the Values Voter
Summit—it’s all he needs for their support."

True... but how deep does that support run?  Enthusiastic testimony and affirmative telephone poll responses, I grant you, but will they actually pull the lever for him in the ballot box?  Because if ever there was a voting population susceptible to the Bradley Effect, the 2012 GOP electorate is it.

Mr. Bouie, it is as though you are unable to grasp that a charismatic black man with attractive moral principles and very solid takes on the issues dear to conservatives could have the support of  (white) conservatives based on those qualities alone?

Sorry.  You appear to be looking through a racist lens.

No that BO's a proven absolute undeniable failure based on any economic, societal, green farce, geo global, or constitutional level, it appears that yes ANYBODY BUT OBAMA is the best candidate (maybe even crazy Ron). Yes, racism exists and is the ONLY reason this 1/2 American was elected. Had he been white, with the same level of no experience or production in any meaningful capacity in life, there is no way he would have been elected. Admit it now liberal, if the same conditions existed and the real president was white and had an "R" next to his name, you'd be spewing your liberal crap all over. You want America to turn out like Greece? Probably don't even know it was liberal socialism that sucked them down the sewer. But you were too busy watching american idol and dancing with stars to grasp anything other than what the MSM tells you to repeat.

I guess you are going to be unhappy when President Obama get re-elected in Novermber? But look at it this way. There's always 2016 to look forward to.

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