2016 Hopefuls Test the Waters with the 'Values Voters'

WASHINGTON – A handful of potential presidential contenders made the pilgrimage to a confab of social conservatives on Friday to express their love for God and their disdain for President Obama and his policies.

The Values Voter Summit, organized annually by the Family Research Council, brought Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to the dais to express concerns over what they perceive as continued attacks on religious liberty in the U.S. – some led by Obama – and offer warnings over what all viewed as dangerous foreign policy missteps.

All four are believed to be eyeing the GOP nomination in 2016, making the summit an early testing ground with social conservatives.

The recent 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, in which justices determined that privately held companies shouldn’t be required to make free contraception a provision in their health insurance plans if it violated the firm’s religious conscience, was a widely cited topic, as was what they said was America’s collapse on the world stage.

Jindal proved to be the harshest critic, asserting that Obama has “made America weaker but the world a more dangerous place.”

“This is a president who doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism,” Jindal said, adding that Obama “for some reason doesn’t understand when America is strongest, the world is safest.”

Obama, Jindal said, “truly doesn’t understand that America is not only the strongest, most visible, but also the longest, most consistent defender of human dignity and freedom. And the world needs America. We are the indispensable nation. And the quicker he realizes there is evil in the world that must be confronted, defeated, exterminated, not simply accommodated, not simply negotiated with, the sooner we will resume our rightful place in world affairs and the sooner we will be protecting the American people and our allies.”

Jindal ended by warning that “a rebellion is brewing” and that the American people are “ready for a hostile takeover from the entrenched interests in Washington, DC.”

Paul also spent a substantial amount of time on foreign affairs, an issue that only rarely surfaces at the Values Voter Summit outside of Israel discussion. He spoke sharply about Obama’s venture into Syria and Iraq to attack the threat from ISIS.

“The president acts like a king,” Paul said. “He ignores the Constitution. He arrogantly says, ‘If Congress does not act, then I must.’ These are not the words of a great leader. These are the words that sound more like the exclamations of an autocrat.”

In the face of war, Paul said, “the president is just as arrogant.”

“Instead of coming to Congress he illegally acts on his own,” Paul said, adding that he failed to follow the Constitution and “missed a chance to unite the nation.”

“He missed a chance to galvanize the country,” Paul said. “He missed a chance to become a great American leader. How did we stray so far from the Constitution? And how do we find our way back to the traditions of our founders?”

Aside from foreign affairs, Paul said he believes the U.S. is “in a full blown crisis – a spiritual crisis.”

“Our foundation is cracking,” he said. “It’s not that we’ve chosen the wrong politicians -- although there is some truth to that. It’s more fundamental. 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?”

What America really needs, Paul said, “is a revival.”

“America needs to revive tradition,” he said. “American needs to revive virtue. America needs to revive the hope that springs eternal from the transcendent teachings of a humble carpenter who died upon a cross. Government can supply bread but it can’t mend a broken spirit.”

Religious freedom remains under attack, he said, noting that the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion “is not about keeping religious people out of government, it’s about keeping government out of religion.”

“No government, no law can force a people to be virtuous,” he said. “Our churches, our schools our parents must fill that void. This isn’t the norm now. Speaking of our values is sadly considered non-conformity in this day and age. In other words, I think we must do something our world often tells us not to do -- seek God.”

In his talk, Cruz made constant reference to Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” maintaining that he remains optimistic despite ongoing threats to religious freedom.

“Oh, the vacuum of American leadership we see in the world,” he said. “We need a president who will speak out for people of faith, prisoners of conscience.”