DeMint Outshines Huckabee at Values Voter Summit

Thousands of conservatives are gathering today in Washington for the annual Values Voter Summit, hosting a line-up of some of the GOP's hardest hitting figures. Mike Huckabee launched the speeches today with a rousing defense of social conservatism. He received an enthusiastic response and lobbed a series of well-executed jabs at the Obama administration, but when Sen. Jim DeMint took the stage an hour later, it was clear who the star of the morning was.

DeMint received a rabid standing ovation from the crowd, who erupted at his references to the recent GOP upsets in primaries across the country. DeMint has become the object of much consternation within the GOP establishment for his support of insurgent candidates who have ousted Republican mainstays, in some cases endangering the party's chances of picking up seats from Democrats (see Christine O'Donnell in Delaware). He flaunted this rebel status to the Values Voter crowd, ginning them up over recent insurgent wins*:

I've been working for the last year to stir up some vigorous primaries between established Republicans and Republicans who stand for those principles of freedom. And folks, instead of diminishing our party, because of you, there's been one upset after another all over the country. And, as you know, there have been some senior Republicans in the Senate who went out and campaigned on, "You need me because I can bring home the bacon." That even in Alaska, the home of the bacon, they threw out that senator and voted for Joe Miller, who said, "I don't care what they need in Washington, I don't want to bankrupt my country in its name."

Now, the primaries are over, and ... we have some candidates, folks, this is no longer voting for the least worst on the ballot. We have some candidates we can be proud of, who we know when they get to Washington they will stand up and speak for you, who for years have felt ignored. Washington has treated Americans as stupid for too long. On November 2, we're going to see who's stupid and they're going to be out of Washington, and we're going to be in.

DeMint repeatedly referred to the need for a "big-tent" Republican party, but in response to critics who say that the kind of candidates he supports are narrowing the party's reach, he claimed that the Tea Party movement has broadened the GOP tent. "Forty percent of people at tea parties are Democrats and Independents," DeMint said. "That's a big tent! I tried to tell some of my colleagues when they lectured me after the 9/12 rallies... that last year a million Americans brought that big tent to Washington, and they invited us in."

Both Huckabee and DeMint addressed the need to integrate the fiscal conservatism seen in the growing Tea Party movement with the social conservatism advocated by the Values Voter Summit.

"Many of our economic issues are the result of the breakdown of something of character and integrity," Huckabee said, explaining that the Wall Street meltdown was a moral crisis as much as an economic one. Regarding news that one in seven Americans is now below the poverty line, Huckabee claimed that "ours is not so much a fiscal crisis, it's a family crisis. ... We must realize there's a direct correlation between the stability of families and the stability of our economy. I'm so tired of people telling me we don't want to hear about issues of the family." He went on to tie the costs of widespread incarceration to the breakdown of the family.

DeMint pursued a similar vein, claiming that "some of the largest costs of the federal government are related to social issues." He linked the rising number of births to unwed mothers to "welfare and food stamps." "If Republicans really want to build a big tent," DeMint said, "we need to figure out how to integrate our values with our economic system."

He pushed for a reintegration of Judeo-Christian values into the federal government while retaining a separation of church and state. "None of us want the government to push our religion. I don't want that. They'd just mess that up, too. But what has happened with purging religion from government ... is they've also purged our values that are derived from the Judeo-Christian faith."

Still to come: Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Mike Pence, and Mitt Romney this morning. This afternoon, Christine O'Donnell will make her first Washington appearance since winning the Delaware GOP Senate primary on Tuesday. 
 
*Transcriptions are rough, as they were taken during the speeches. 

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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