Rick Santorum had a message for social conservatives on Friday: “Quit being scared and start being activists and making things happen in America.”
Those were the words that came roaring out of the conservative firebrand’s mouth as he addressed a packed ballroom at a hotel in Washington for the annual Values Voter Summit. Mixing his speech with rage and optimism, the former Republican presidential candidate and senator from Pennsylvania rejected claims that the GOP must become more moderate to win elections.
“If you look at the current conservative movement, Republican Party, there are issues that we aren’t even – we haven’t even lost yet and we’re talking about giving up,” an incredulous Santorum said. “We’re not even willing to fight the fight, to stand for what we say we believe in because we think well, history is moving in a different way. History? We are the determiners of history, not history the determiner of history. We are not to look to history, this amorphous concept, to judge us. We have somebody else that we need to pay attention to when it comes to judging us, and it’s not history.”
Santorum’s speech on the first day of the three day conference, which is organized by the Family Research Council, touched on a range of issues, including radical Islam and terrorism, but it was clear what Santorum was referring to: the social issues that once defined the Republican Party.
“If we are going to win this fight here at home to protect our religious liberty, to protect the right to life, to protect the institution, the glue that holds the family together, marriage, to protect our economic liberties, then we have to be willing to make those sacrifices, we have to be willing to join together and make a difference,” Santorum said.
“Why do we lose,” Santorum asked the audience. “It’s because we don’t have enough Brian Browns and Kelly Shackelfords and many of you out here in the audience who are willing to stand up and not take no; to come back and fight,” he said, referring to the president of the National Organization for Marriage and head of the Liberty Institute, respectively.
Brown introduced Santorum at the conference, which has seen anti-LGBT rhetoric dwindle in recent years as elected Republican officials, particularly those with national ambitions, shy from the language that once was a staple of the conference. Brown, however, didn’t appear to get the memo.
“There are some in the Republican Party who think it would be a good idea to take the three legs of the stool — social conservatism, economic conservatism, foreign policy conservatism — take the three legs and get rid of that social conservatism leg, just lop it off a bit,” Brown said. “But those of us in this room know that that is the exact way that we’ve been losing elections, not winning them. The simple truth is that you cannot blame social conservatives for list elections when you spend over $1 billion and in almost no ads did you ever mention marriage or life. It’s not our fault.”
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One day prior, Brown attached his name, along with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Tom Minnery of CitizenLink, to a letter sent to GOP leaders stating that they will actively oppose the election” of Carl DeMaio and Richard Tisei, who are both openly gay, to the U.S. House of Representatives and Monica Wehby to the U.S. Senate and will “mount a concerted effort to urge voters to refuse to cast ballots for them in the November election.”
In his introduction to Santorum, Brown said Republicans must have leaders who stand for the party’s platform, which opposes same-sex marriage and abortion.
“When we have leaders boldly stand for the party platform, boldly stand for the truth that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, for the truth that life begins at conception, voters can trust them because they’re standing up and talking about what they believe in,” Brown said. “The reality is that someone who will betray the core truth about our values on marriage and life, then why would they not betray our values in foreign policy or the economic realm. They all go together.”
Santorum and Brown weren’t alone in calling on social conservatives to stand proudly by their beliefs, including opposition to same-sex marriage.
“Now there are people in Washington who say Republicans, to win, have to abandon values,” Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) said. “Look, our values are who we are. Our values are why we’re here. And our values are fundamentally American. This country remains a center-right country. This country remains a country built on Judeo-Christian values. This country remains a country that values and cherishes our constitutional liberties.”
How do Republicans win again? “We defend the values that are American values,” Cruz said. “We stand for life. We stand for marriage. We stand for Israel. We bring back jobs and opportunity and unleash small businesses to make it easier for people to achieve the American dream. We abolish the IRS. We repeal Common Core.”
Later in the day, attendees also gave a standing ovation to two Oregon bakers who were found in violation of state law for refusing service to a same-sex couple.
According to Santorum, what Republicans desperately need to do is unify and not “put our heads in the sand and hope that these issues go away.”
“We see so much division within the Republican ranks — the conservative ranks about the direction to take on all of these issues, on all of these clashes,” he continued. “The clash of civilizations here, or as you heard Brian talk about, the Republican establishment saying, no, no, we need to stop talking about these things.”
But despite all the rallying cries for social conservatives to articulate their opposition to the issues that once won elections, such advice — particularly on the issue of same-sex marriage — appears increasingly ill-advised. A majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage, and support among younger Americans — even those who identify as conservative — is on the rise.
During his Friday speech, Santorum was quick to talk up his conservative bonafides. He’s spoken at all nine annual summits and next year he expects an attendance pin. Santorum had another message as well: I told you so.
“Many people have criticized me in the past for going out in front on some issues, saying, oh, this will never be a problem in America,” Santorum said. “When I forced in 2004 and again in 2006 in the United States Senate something that everyone said is premature — why are you even talking about this? This will never be an issue in America. Go back and read the debate. What was it on? A federal marriage amendment.”
On Monday, Sept. 29, the Supreme Court justices will meet behind closed doors to consider seven petitions asking the high court to hear cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in five states — Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin — all of which have resulted in some part due to the court’s sweeping decision striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013. Although the Supreme Court has no obligation to take any of the cases, nor are they restricted to a specific timeframe for announcing their decisions, it seems a national resolution could at last be within reach of marriage-equality advocates.
“Go and make sure that you get behind people that have the track record and the energy and the enthusiasm to fight this battle up here in Washington, D.C.,” Santorum pleaded with attendees of the summit. “We desperately need it.”