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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.”

There exists today, Cruz said, “an urgency that none of us have never seen before in our politics,” maintaining that the country is “in a time of great crisis.”

“America begins with the fundamental premise of religious liberty,” Cruz told the convention attendees. “Rights don’t come from government — they come from almighty God. We are seeing fundamental challenges and yet we’re seeing victory such as the phenomenal victory for religious liberty that was the Hobby Lobby case.”

Some analysts, Cruz said, maintain that, in order to prevail at the polls, Republicans “have to abandon our values.”

“Look, our values are who we are,” he said. “Our values are why we’re here and out 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. And anyone who tells you differently is lying to you.”

Meanwhile, Cruz said, the modern Democratic Party “has become an extreme, radical party” that voted for legislation aimed at subverting religious liberty and overturning the Hobby Lobby case.

“How do we turn this country around?” he asked. “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 religions liberty, vote (Senate Democratic Leader) Harry Reid out. If you want to defend our Second Amendment to keep and bear arms, vote Harry Reid out.”

Conservatives can prevail in November, Cruz said, if “we defend the values that are American values.”

“We stand for life,” he said. “We stand for marriage. We stand for Israel. We bring back jobs and opportunities and we unleash small business to make it easier for people to achieve the American dream. We abolish the IRS. We repeal common core.”

“From the founding of our nation, America has enjoyed God’s providential blessings,” Cruz said. “I’m optimistic because I believe God isn’t done with America yet.”

Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, winning the Iowa caucuses but eventually falling to Mitt Romney, urged the socially conservative attendees to “quit being scared and start being activists and making things happen in America,” addressing issues like gay marriage and abortion that the GOP establishment has pushed to the back burner.

“I have never been involved in a race, where you play defense on an issue and yet you put points on the board,” he said. “And yet that’s what we do. If you look at the current conservative movement, the Republican Party, there are issues we haven’t even lost yet, and we’re talking about giving up.”

Also appearing Friday was Sarah Palin, the Republican Party’s 2008 nominee for vice president and former governor of Alaska who, like Santorum, urged the social conservatives to get active.

“It’s time for all you mama grizzlies out there to charge against the lawless imperial president and his failed liberal agenda and the lying lapdogs in the media,” she said. “And you strong men, it’s time to get off the hind end and expand our ranks and inspire others. It is time to stand and fight like your country’s future depends on it — and it does.”

Palin also said it is a time to rejoice.

“In two years it’s going to be the end of an error — the Obama error,” she said. “All that hopey-changey stuff that just did not work, not even a smidgen.”

“We are so over it,” she said. “We are over the false promises, the messianic oratory and the utopia that man was going to create here on earth if only us, the little guy, if only we would just understand what they were doing. No, we’re over that. And we are ready to get back to work, America, and we are ready to get back to the core values that made America great.”