With all the talk of fiscal austerity and entitlement reform dominating these early months of the 2012 presidential cycle, it can be easy to forget that the Republican party is still the home to America’s social conservatives. Though it may be on the backburner of the presidential race for the moment, the culture war is alive and well in many Republican circles.
This weekend it gets its due. Nearly all the men and women running for the Republican presidential nomination and a good portion of the party’s top leadership will be on hand for the Faith And Freedom Conference, a social conservative confab organized by former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed.
All the big names will be here: from the presidential field, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Herman Cain will speak. From Congress, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, John Boehner (among others) will appear. RNC Chair Reince Priebus will be there. And from the world of conservative entertainment, Glenn Beck and Donald Trump will make an appearance. A spokesperson for Trump told TPM he’s attending at the request of Reed, though the speech comes as Trump seems intent on pushing his way back into the presidential field he left just weeks ago.
Speeches are divided over two days, with most of the major addresses coming Friday night. The event ends Saturday.
All in all, it’s a veritable Who’s Who of the modern GOP, save for one man. Newt Gingrich, who spoke at the last Faith and Freedom event held in Iowa back in March, is skipping the massive DC event. In between the two Faith And Freedom events, Gingrich has made his run for the White House official, only to see it implode spectacularly after he criticized the House Republican plan to phase out Medicare. Team Gingrich told ABC News the former House Speaker was not skipping Reed’s DC event to avoid more uncomfortable questions about his Medicare stance. Turns out Gingrich had already planned to take some time off from the campaign trail this weekend, his spokesperson told ABC, so he’ll send along a video address instead.
Sarah Palin — who’s making a huge if confusing splash with her bus tour this week — will also be absent from the festivities, though she’s not one to show at events like this normally.
Let’s not forget that most of these speakers put their social conservative side on display regularly. On the presidential campaign trail, a couple have said they’ll reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell if given the chance. Republicans in the House just got finished with one of the most ardently anti-abortion legislative pushes in decades. The attendees paying upwards of $75 to pack the ballroom are not strangers to today’s speakers.
So: what to expect from a social conservative event that comes chock in the middle of the debt ceiling war on Capitol Hill and the collective Ryan budget bear hug on the presidential campaign trail? Reed sets the bar high in promotional materials posted on the FFC forum website.
“You don’t want to miss this event,” Reed wrote. “I promise you it will change your life and the life of our nation.”