Mitt Romney may have finally hit on an issue that fires up social conservatives on his behalf. It just happens to concern matters unfolding 4,000 miles away.
The buzz this year at the Values Voter Summit, the annual Washington gathering of social and Christian conservatives, was as much about foreign affairs as it was about gay marriage and abortion, the more traditional lightning rods for such events.
Another change: Any tendency toward noninterventionism, as evidenced by the win last year of Rep. Ron Paul , R-Texas, in the gathering’s presidential straw poll, appears to be gone.
Conservative radio host Bill Bennett won one of the biggest standing ovations of Day One on Friday when he read aloud Romney’s much-derided and factually challenged statement accusing the Obama administration of deciding “to sympathize with those who waged the attacks” at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The crowd of values voters didn’t greet it as a misstep, as many Republican Party elders have branded it.
"His words had a shock effect, didn’t they? They had a shock effect because they were true," Bennett said. "When they were condemned so broadly, so universally, among the establishment press, it is likely that they are true."
Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan championed the rights of the unborn and what he deemed an irresponsible level of federal spending, but notably he left out the standard conservative defense of traditional marriage and started his address by stressing his and Romney’s view that the Obama administration has been too soft in its foreign policy.
“We have all seen images of our flag being burned and our embassies under attack by vicious mobs,” he said. “Amid all these threats and dangers, what we do not see is steady, consistent American leadership.”
Speaker after speaker affirmed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to loud cheers and applause — an implicit reminder of the embarrassing scene played out at the Democratic convention earlier this month. The party’s position on Jerusalem, the same as the conservative position, was taken out of its platform and had to be reinserted in a chaotic voice vote on the convention floor.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor touched on the repeal of the health care law and the Chicago teachers’ strike, but also noted — again, to loud cheers and applause — that “there is one ally [who] is under an existential threat, who needs America to stand by her now, who needs America to have her back. That is why we need a president who unabashedly will stand up, stand strong for Israel and her eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a former 2012 presidential hopeful known for railing against federal spending and the spread of radical Islam, spent almost all of her speech assailing the Obama administration’s approach to the Arab world. Obama is “the most dangerous American president we have ever had on foreign policy," she said. “What we’re watching develop before our eyes today are the direct consequences of this administration’s policy of apology and appeasement across the globe.”
The foreign-policy emphasis is a marked difference from this time last year, when eight GOP presidential candidates came to court conservative Christians in advance of the primaries. Who was the most passionate advocate for the unborn? Who was the greatest defender of traditional marriage? Those were the issues then.
The 2011 summit also briefly became consumed with the question of whether the Republican Party was ready to select a Mormon as its standard-bearer. (Texas pastor Robert Jeffress caused a ruckus when he called Mormonism a cult and said true born-again Christians “ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”
Back then, Paul, with his foreign policy of strict nonintervention — including bringing U.S. troops home from Korea, Germany, Japan and Australia as well as from Iraq and Afghanistan — won the presidential straw poll. Businessman Herman Cain came in second, and we all now know how he feels about Libya.