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The Values Voter Summit happens every fall at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, the premier venue for conservative conventions in Washington, DC. (For those of you keeping score, it goes Omni, Grand Hyatt, Mayflower. We do not attend conventions at sub-Mayflower hotels.)


The Omni is a sprawling mass perched over Rock Creek that goes forever in all directions, and on these magical few days it is packed to its unironic chandeliers with the upper conservacrust of American politics and media. You could come around the corner and run into the entire Duggar family or find yourself passing through a heavenly gate formed by the homophobic houseflipping Benham twins (right). Rick Santorum is doing man-on-the-street interviews next to the shoe-shine stand. Mike Huckabee is appearing in two to four separate locations simultaneously at any given moment.

Seriously, those twins, though. They were everywhere.

The morning program started with a back bench congressman so latecomers wouldn't miss anyone they actually wanted to see. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio warned that the Supreme Court could start oppressing Christians again real soon since the Hobby Lobby case was decided 5-4. Too close! Better be sure they don't get any more liberals on the high court, which could happen any day now. (We were somewhat amused by Rep. Jordan's implication that President Obama could get even God himself confirmed to the Supreme Court over a filibuster by the Senate Republicans.)

With the opening act done, we buckled in for an all-day cavalcade of conservative stars.

Ted Cruz belted out an animated half-hour speech that had audience members calling out "amen!" and "shame on them!" He tossed his Biblical comfort food with a few jokes about his "soft-spoken" father Pastor Raf and a White House fence-jumper gag he ripped off from Jimmy Fallon, then got serious on the increasing threat to freedom from left-wing extremists. Did you know that Democrats just recently took turns micturating upon the precious First Amendment right on the Senate floor? Ted is not afraid, though! He will fight them using their own beloved idols.

These are dangerous, extreme, radical times. You know, in 1997, the Democrats tried something similar, and that famed right-wing activist, Ted Kennedy, spoke against it. He stood up and said, in over 200 years, we haven’t amended the Bill of Rights; now is no time to start. I gave a floor speech on the Senate floor with a giant poster of Ted Kennedy’s face, and that quote next to it. (Lots of laughter and applause.) Scared my father to death. He turned on C-SPAN and said, good God, my son’s gone native.

Don't want the Bill of Rights destroyed by flaming liberals? Better get the Republicans back in control of the Senate. Time to swipe all the bright red paint in your kids' art boxes, patriots!

How do we turn this country around? We offer a choice, not an echo. How do we turn this country around? We don’t paint in pale pastels, we paint in bold colors. We’re 39 days away from a pivotal election. If you want to defend the First Amendment, our free speech, our religious liberties, vote Harry Reid out. If you want to defend our Second Amendment, our right to keep and bear arms, vote Harry Reid out. If you want to defend the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, our right to privacy -- if you want to defend the 10th Amendment, then vote Harry Reid out.

Ted then did a quick rundown of the various wars the United States had won with the help of God and closed with this heartening refrain: "Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning." (Speak for yourself, Senator. Some of us have to be back here for the second day.)

Would it be enough for Ted to pull off a presidential straw poll victory for the second year in a row? Spoiler: Yes. Did you think for a second that anyone else could possibly win?

Rand Paul, rocking the blazer/jeans combo that made the ladies swoon at CPAC this year, wasted no time in declaring that while he is confident America is going to be just fine, we'd all better watch out for traffic at this ideological crossroads.

America, I believe, is in a full-blown crisis, a spiritual crisis... We’ve arrived at a crossroads. We’ve arrived at a day of reckoning. Will we falter or will we thrive and rediscover our mojo? America has much greatness left in her, I’m convinced of it, if we believe in ourselves, if we believe in our founding documents, if we believe in the system that made us the richest, freest and the most humanitarian nation ever. But cracks are evident. The sand is shifting. Our moral compass is wavering.

We messed up our moral compass! If we keep standing too close to our giant sin magnet, George Washington's going to come back and take our democracy away.

Freedom can only be realized when citizens know self-restraint, or put another way, virtue. This parallels what – George Washington’s belief,  that democracy requires a virtuous people. Think American Revolution versus the French Revolution. Laws don’t ultimately restrain people. Ninety-eight percent of the people will follow a virtuous course with or without laws. Now, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have laws or that we – that we don’t need laws, but what we need is something more than laws. We need something that civilizes a nation, and that is virtue. What America needs is not just another politician or more promises. What America really needs is a revival.

Ooh, is this the kind of revival that happens in a tent with the red-faced preachers and the speaking in tongues and all? We're in! Can we RSVP on EventBrite for this?

Also hypothetical President Rand Paul would certainly have gotten congressional permission to attack ISIS. It is a tragic thing for our nation that we will never find out the many other great things that would have been possible if he'd deigned to run in 2012.

Michele Bachmann's final speech at VVS as a sitting congresslady was a hodgepodge of everything we love about her. She is a "normal real person," just like she was before she came to Washington! (We are from Minnesota. While her normality might be debatable, we can confirm that she has not changed.) We did get somewhat distracted by her chilling reminder that she's been serving the past few years on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, doing a "deep dive" into the leading "foreign policy and national security issues of our day."

What we have seen is one disaster after another from the Obama-Clinton foreign policy team. And in their fantasy world, a smaller, diminished, less-powerful United States is somehow supposed to bring about global tranquility! Well Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton, we want our 1980s foreign policy back! Peace through strength! We don't want your failed Russian reset! We don't want four Americans dead in Benghazi! It was a tragedy to release the five top Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay. Perhaps nothing will change the world more than your foolish lifting of sanctions on Iran as they are racing toward completing nuclear weapons, and they will, if we stay the course as President Obama and Hillary Clinton have laid forward. And unthinkably, we have the first anti-Israel president in American history. That's the Obama-Clinton legacy.

What's next for Michele now that her last term is drawing to a close? "While it's true that I am leaving Congress, I want you to know that I am not leaving the fight." As for the party's immediate future, she's sure of one thing: "We need to expose Hillary Clinton's record of failure and we will defeat her in 2016. Of that I have no doubt."

Rick Santorum recapped all his visionary moves in the Senate and reminded the crowd that leaders as brave as him are not easy to come by, so conservatives shouldn't let them get away (cough) 2012 primary (cough).

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. 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. If you look clearly through the prism of the struggle that is at hand, it is easy to see why I introduced the Workplace Religious Freedom Act 12 years ago, to protect the very people that  we now are seeing in court cases like Hobby Lobby. It’s easy to see where we are going if you know what the fight is. And that’s why it’s important, ladies and gentlemen, to elect leaders and to have leaders within our movement, which we frankly do not have many of, particularly in the Republican establishment, who understand the existential struggle that is in America today, and then are prepared to engage that struggle because when we lose these battles, when we lose these precious freedoms that I talk about, then everything else will start to fall because now government has gotten more intrusive and bigger and dictatorial, and the secular statists who control government are the ones who will be dictating not just how you practice religion, but how you run your business, who you do business with and how.

Rick understands this struggle for our precious freedoms!  He's not like these other Republicans today, who are too flexible and quick to give in.

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. 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. (Enthusiastic applause.) 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.

Shorter Santorum: you could've picked Rick in 2012, but it's not too late! He came in second to Mittens in the primary and the two runners-up before him -- McCain and Mittens himself -- wound up on the GOP ticket their next time around. Rick'll just be over here making right-wing movies with his new fan club Patriot Voices when you're ready for him to be your Man to Beat.

It would not be a conservaparty without Sarah Palin. She came out swinging, ready to fight for all those voters' values! Values like truth! And Sarah knows all about it, as a victim of constant lies by the media.

Truth is a value. Oh, man, I know all about that difference between truth and the lies that they can tell about you. Well, nearly every day I know my family sees something in the paper that, goodness gracious, we would never have known about us had we not read it in the paper, you know?

And there are other victims of lies, as well, besides the Palins! All conservatives should understand her pain, since "I'm speaking to the most slandered group in America today." For instance, anyone who criticizes the president is called a total racist. Why do liberals have to keep playing the race card when all the Republicans want to talk about is tax policy?

And pulling that race card, pulling the race card, how much longer do you think they’re going to -- oh, it’s just -- it’s not even smart. It’s not even smart, when one simply wants our government to live within its means and to not tax us to and beyond death, not to mortgage our kids’ future, and that being for today’s selfish wants. Because of that, we’re racists? Well, what isn’t smart is when they try to slap that on Colonel Allen West and Dr. Ben Carson (delighted laughter from the crowd) and J.C. Watts and Rafael and Ted Cruz and my husband, Todd Palin. [No idea what she's talking about here. Is Todd 1/32nd Native American or something? -ed.] Yeah, no, those truly prejudiced folks – just remember this – they scream racism just to end debate. Well, don’t retreat: you reload with truth – which I know is an endangered species at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.

BREAKING!! Sarah's blown the lid off the crippling lack of truth at the park across from the Willard Hotel.

After reassuring conservatives that getting called racist is a sign that you're winning the argument, she set them free to plunge ahead with their Battle For America.

It’s time. All you mama grizzlies out there, rear up and charge against this lawless imperial president and his failed liberal agenda and the lying lapdogs in the media. And you strong men, it’s time to get off the hind end and expand our ranks and inspire others. I think we’ve all fattened up enough for what’s up ahead. So it is time to stand and fight like your country’s future depends on it, because it does. And take time to rejoice. Rejoice. In two years it’s going to be the end of an error, the Obama error. (Big applause.) All that hopey changey stuff that just did not work, not even a smidgen. (Knowing laughter.) Remember the Greek columns and the stadiums full of fainting fans and all that dream weaver stuff, promising that, ah, the planet’s going to chill out, remember? And the seas – he'd calm the seas. He’d sink every putt. And you could keep your health care.

And Sarah's had it up to here with everyone on the other side who wants to divide people up into different sides.

It’s time to end the politics of division, the left politics of demographics and identity groups and their tactic of distraction. The status quo has got to go -- united, we will be able to stand. Because here is what they’ve done, these Alinsky-loving, Orwellian, out of touch command-and-control elitists who’ve been running the show. Well, you know, they used to rail against Big Brother government and the man. Remember that? They are the man. Their MO is to play the politics of personal destruction against anyone that they would deem a threat to their power. And they distract, bebopping from one scandal after another, knowing that there are so many that you can’t keep up with all of them. So no one’s ever held accountable, from the IRS corruption to you being spied on to, gosh, Benghazi, to bailouts, to, oh, Bush’s war was bad, but Barack’s bombs? Oh baby, those red lines, the strategery there that was thought up on the back nine? Barack’s bombs? Oh, they’re the bomb.

Gosh, you're right, Sarah! Conservatives would never act like the same thing was either fine or an outrage, depending on the president.

THE REST OF THE CONSERVACRAZY

There were some other speakers in there, since people have to go to the bathroom and grab their swag sometime. Gov. Bobby Jindal got to talk about how his mother (A LEGAL IMMIGRANT) smuggled him from India to America in her belly. "I was what you'd call a pre-existing condition!" (He was not an anchor baby, because his parents were legal immigrants, got it?) Rep. Marlin Stutzman told a story about a pregnant teen in his home state who would've had an abortion if she'd gotten a ride to Kalamazoo, and it turned out it was his mom and he got a standing ovation for being carried to term. Doctor/Congressman John Fleming got a teensy bit carried away preaching against the madness of decriminalization or legalization of marijauna (though he made some excellent points about the dangers of putting edible marijuana into cookies or candy -- such a thing nearly killed our dear Editrix!). David Dewhurst, newly primaried out of office as lieutenant governor of Texas, warned that "if we don't stop the bad guys at the border today, they'll be in your neighborhoods tomorrow."

And the panels! There was one on Common Core and one on foreign policy (according to Maj. Gen. Bob Dees, "If Israel goes down, we all go down"). Then came the surprisingly dramatic Marriage in America presentation, featuring Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of a now-shuttered bakery called Sweet Cakes By Melissa that was the subject of a civil-rights complaint with the state of Oregon after they refused to bake a cake for two women who were getting married. We guess Melissa really loved making her wedding cakes, since she broke down in tears on stage while describing how she used to sit with brides and ask all about the couple and the wedding and where they were honeymooning. We didn't get why she wouldn't be twice as happy to sit down with two brides. (For the record, the Kleins were not shut down by the state; the free market felled them when, as Aaron explained, people who used to refer couples to them stopped after Aaron and Melissa refused to destroy straight marriage by baking a blasphemous cake.) Standing O for the anti-gay bakers from Willamette!

During the dinner break, we tried to meet the natives, but found ourselves somewhat hobbled by our Scarlet A (actually schoolbus yellow) press badge. We were rebuffed at the door of a reception with Cantor-toppler Dave Brat, and when we attempted to mix with the values-voting youth at their free-pizza mixer, we were only allowed in for a few pictures after a handler from the press office agreed to follow us around to make sure we didn't talk to anyone. The room had signs on every table designed to start conversations around different issues, with the Drugs and Guns and Obamacare tables well-attended.

And what do you know, there at the Sexuality table were the Bobbsy Twins again. At least one of them did not seem pleased to see us.

At 7:00, it was time for Mike Huckabee's presser in a little room behind the bathrooms, announced by email blast from his PR lady. After a reporter in the front row needled him into refusing to say whether he's running in 2016, we got to ask the former governor: what should the GOP do to get votes from young and single women, not just the marrieds? After conceding that men and women might be more "passionate" about different issues, he launched into a spiel about everyone caring about whether their kids can go to college, which would certainly be of concern to the women without kids we were asking about.

At about our 12-hour mark, the Duggar children played us out from the ballroom stage with choral music performance and we slunk home for an ideological mini-cleanse (one hour of Rachel Maddow).

The second day of the Values Voter Summit is usually much quieter than the first, with appearances by luminaries of conservative media like perennial speechmaker Star Parker, radio talker Mark Levin, and patriotic-book writer Todd Starnes.

We took the opportunity to wander through the exhibition hall. There was so much to see and learn! We found a well-stocked table for Run Ben Run, the "draft Ben Carson" PAC that saturated CPAC with advertising in March, and at least three booths for conservative movie-production companies, including Santorum's Patriot Voices.

We found out what National Right To Life thinks a fetus would look like at various stages if it was cast in Caucasian-colored plastic and nestled into a box with a bottle of baby powder.

We picked up helpful literature to guide us in the event that we were to meet someone in a house of worship whom we suspected of being a non-heterosexual.

Doesn't anyone practice what they preach anymore? This booth should not even have chairs, NRA.

We expected the highlight of the afternoon to be Glenn Beck and his chalkboard, but he did not bring the crowd to their feet as much in the past, despite saying he'd decided we could burn the other schoolbooks after reading the Bible cover to cover for the first time and realizing it's all in there.

After Beck there were two rounds of breakout sessions, with panels featuring the likes of Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown. We will not lie to you, Wonketteers. Up until this time we were gamely swimming with the conservafishes, but we could not picture ourselves in a tiny meeting room hearing Kathryn Jean Lopez talking about the GOP's millennial messaging strategies. We were wonked out.

Goodbye, Values Voters! We imagine most of you will be back next year, when the straw poll will be binding and the GOP primary posturing will be fervent. And now we ask you, Wonkitariat: who pre-presidented it best this weekend? Ted Cruz? Rick Santorum? Rand Paul? (snicker) Bobby Jindal? Glenn Beck, with his bold book-burning platform? Or Scott Walker, for skipping this whole conservacluster? Weigh in in the comments!

You can follow Beth on Twitter. She will be tweeting only pictures of kittens for a few days while she recovers.

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