A crop of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates will make their case for the conservative crown this weekend at the Values Voter Summit.
Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHow Cruz Supreme Court case could lead to unlimited anonymous election spending Poll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The politics of 'mind control' MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulConservative pundit says YouTube blocked interview with Rand Paul These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 I'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back MORE (Ky.), and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, all thought to be planning runs for the White House, are slated to speak at the conference.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), two other possible GOP White House contenders, are also slated to speak, as is 2008 vice presidential GOP nominee Sarah Palin.
Several other possible Republican 2016 candidates are notably absent from the speaking roster.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who wasn't invited to last year's summit, is not scheduled to attend.
Neither is Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who did speak at last year’s event, or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Christie, Rubio and Bush are all seen as politicians who might wear the establishment crown in the 2016 race, while Cruz, Jindal, Huckabee and Santorum have positioned themselves to run as a conservative champion.
Paul’s libertarian-leaning politics is putting him somewhere in the middle, and his presentation to social conservatives might be the most intriguing to watch.
Kentucky's junior senator has said he is personally against abortion, but in April, he argued that he would not push to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision because of the country’s division on the issue.
“I think where the country is, is somewhere in the middle, and we are not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise,” Paul said in an interview at the University of Chicago with former White House adviser David Axelrod.
He’s also said the party needs to “evolve” on gay marriage.
Those aren’t the messages that Values Voter attendees will be looking for at their conference, according to Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, one of the conference’s sponsors.
“Any presidential hopeful — declared or still pondering the notion — has to be willing to speak to fundamental conservative issues, such as religious liberty that we feel is at risk in this country,” he said. “It's hard for me to imagine that anybody that disagrees with the foundation of the platform would except a warm embrace by the base.”
Asked if there's room in the party for folks who disagree with social conservatives on abortion and gay marriage, American Family Association President Tim Wildmon said: “Not in my opinion.”
“You can't go both ways. You have to go one way or the other on these issues,” he said. “If you're going to abandon the causes, then you'll lose your core activist foot soldiers. You might expand your tent, but if you lost the passion of your core activists, are you better off? I would think you're worse off.”
The year’s conferences comes as the GOP is trying to expand its base by playing down some social issues, particularly opposition to gay marriage.
Polls show broad support for gay marriage, and state laws banning same-sex marriage have been dropping one after one.
Social issues have not been a dominant theme in this year’s midterm elections, and Republicans, to an extent, have been playing defense on the issue.
In Colorado, where Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) hopes to unseat Sen. Mark Udall (D), Democrats sought to make an issue of Gardner’s support for a “personhood” amendment, which would have banned forms of birth control by giving constitutional rights to life forms at the point of fertilization. That led Gardner to reverse his position on the issue.
“This was a bad idea driven by good intentions," he told The Denver Post. “I was not right. I can't support personhood now. I can't support personhood going forward. To do it again would be a mistake."
The changing tides set up a challenge for GOP candidates who want to play to the base without turning off the middle.
“One of the challenges facing the Republican Party right now is a balancing act between protections for religious liberties and understanding that there's tremendous momentum behind the gay right's movement,” said Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative group that supports gay marriage.
Even if social conservatives might have lost some clout nationally, they’ll play a major role in early presidential contests, such as in Iowa.
“Most of the speakers are folks who want to corner off sections of the Republican base for 2016,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “They need to corner off a secure base of voters in initial caucus and primary states, like Iowa and New Hampshire. And value voters have the most strength in Iowa.”
Other speakers slated to appear include Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.); Glenn Beck; Alan Robertson of A&E's “Duck Dynasty;” conservative talk radio host Mark Levin; and Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting.”