Mitt Romney came in sixth place at the Values Voter straw poll, with just 4 percent of the vote.
If Mitt Romney has ever had a "Sista Soulja moment," it came on Saturday morning at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, when he called out a scheduled speaker, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, for using "poisonous" rhetoric. Speaking to a crowd that politely acknowledged his best lines but hardly embraced him, Romney did not refer to Fischer by name (a fact that left the many attendees who do not receive email alerts from People for the American Way utterly confused) and did not specificy what exactly set him off. But there's no question about this: Romney made absolutely certain that his comments—and the role of Mormons in the GOP coalition—would be a dominant topic at the event.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, the host for this weekend's festival, came to Fischer's defense (sort of) when I asked him about the speech. "Discourse is important," he said. "But we don't want anybody shutting down the debate, and that's part of the problem with maybe more inflamed rhetoric, is there is one side that's trying to shut down the debate. The left is trying to shut off debate and not have a discussion." Perkins said he didn't know enough about Fischer's statements to comment on them.
In his morning address to the Values Voter Summit on Saturday, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney slammed Bryan Fischer, the speaker slated to take the stage after him, for spouting "poisonous language that does not advance our cause." As we reported in September, American Family Association issues director and radio host has said that Mormonism is not protected by the First Amendment, called pre-Columbian Native American societies a "slop bucket," and called for the mass deportation of American-born Muslims. A ubiquitous presence at conservative confabs like VVS, GOP politicians like Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) have been regulars on Fischer's radio program and have consistently blocked questions about his incendiary rhetoric. Not Romney. Here's what he said, toward the end of his remarks:
On Friday, Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress got the Rick Perry presidential campaign in a bit of trouble when he told reporters at the Values Voters Summit in DC that the governor's top rival, Mitt Romney, belongs to a "cult," and that his membership in an LDS church was a disqualifier as a Republican presidential candidate. Jeffress' appearance on stage to introduce and endorse Perry* was approved by the campaign, and Perry himself praised Jeffress from the lectern.
If the Republican primary turns into a debate about Mitt Romney's Mormonism, that's probably bad news for everyone involved. But the former Massachusetts Governor is in good company when it comes to being slammed by Jeffress. In 2010, the mega-church pastor convened a weekly lectured series called "Politically Incorrect," in which he tackled the kinds of issues that, in his view, society didn't have the courage to confront. "Oprah Winfrey also claims to be a Christian," Jeffress said in one such discussion, "but her teachings are anything but Christian."
But Islam receives by far the harshest criticism from Jeffress. The world's second-largest religion, he explained in a 2010 video (starting at about the 3:40 mark below), is "evil." Here's how he framed his opposition to the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan:
When Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress introduced Rick Perry at Friday's Values Voter summit in Washington, he praised the Texas governor as a man with a "strong committment to Biblical values." Just a short while later, he ripped into Perry's top rival for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of belonging to a "cult"—Mormonism.
Speaking to a gaggle of reporters shortly after finishing up an interivew with the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer—who himself has slammed Romney for his Mormon faith—Jeffress explained that to him, beating Barack Obama is a "spiritual issue." "I really am not nearly as concerned about a candidate's fiscal policy or immigration policy as I am where they stand on what I believe are Biblical issues. And that's why I'm endorsing Governor Perry." That's not especially surprising. Here's what he said, though, when asked by the Dallas Morning-News's Wayne Slater about Romney's faith:
The display tables at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC, are a cornucopia of conservative red meat. One advertises an upcoming conference on creeping Islamic Shariah law (November 11th in Nashville; register online). Near the entrance, a company advertises something called the "Timothy Plan," which helps investors avoid stocks that are "involved in practices contrary to Judeo-Christian principles" (the list includes Disney, CBS, and JP Morgan).
And over near the back doors, there's PFOX (short for Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays), an organization dedicated to combating perceived prejudice against people who say they've stopped being gay. As the group's literature puts it, "without PFOX, ex-gays would have no voice in a hostile environment." Ex-gays have long been a staple on the religious right and at gatherings like this, but the organization has found a renewed sense of purpose following last spring's to-do over Rep. Michele Bachmann's Christian therapy clinic. As The Nationfirst reported, clinics owned by the Minnesota congresswoman and her husband have practiced so-called reparative therapy, designed to cure patients of their homosexuality.