This Is Exactly the GOP that Religious Conservatives Want

Beth Reinhard

Polls show the Republican Party at rock bottom. The shutdown, the obsession with unwinding Obamacare, the default denying – all are wiping away support for the GOP's approach among voters.

But don't tell that to any one of the religious conservatives at the Values Voter Summit.

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To these church leaders, anti-abortion activists, gay marriage opponents, and gun owners – who vote straight-ticket Republican – the showdown over the Affordable Care Act that led to the federal shutdown was worth it, and mainstream Republicans' worry about the 2014 implications are, plainly, ridiculous.

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"I think Obamacare is the worst thing in this nation since slavery," said Ben Carson, a speaker at the conference and an African-American retired neurosurgeon who joined Fox News as a contributor this week.

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And while Ted Cruz and Mike Lee continue to come under heated criticism from Washington colleagues for precipitating a crisis they did not know how to resolve, attendees here praised the tea party senators for their leadership.

"I for one am sick of the whining that's going on from the Republican Party and from some in the conservative movement itself," said Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group. "Until Ted Cruz came along with Mike Lee … they had no plan A."

To this crowd, which holds sway over the Republican Party because of its outsized share of the primary electorate, ideological principles matter more than the bad poll numbers coming in that show GOP tactics badly hurting the party.

A new Gallup poll found only 28 percent of Americans view the GOP favorably, an all-time low for either party since 1992. The latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found a 24 percent favorability rating, also a record low. The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found 65 percent of Americans do not want Republicans to tie efforts to defund or delay Obamacare to the government funding bill.

These surveys and others are leading moderate Republicans from the business community and political establishment to increasingly challenge House Republicans' tactics.

"To go to war over an impossible objective (repealing Obamacare) is not only woefully ineffective, it is political suicide," former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, a Republican who served in the Bush administration, told National Journal. "I am alarmed by the lack of a coherent strategy by my party."

The ongoing conflict over the health care law has exacerbated the rift in the Republican Party between pragmatists with an eye on 2014 and 2016 and the conservative ideologues who filled the hotel ballroom at the annual conference sponsored by the Family Research Council. The mention of Cruz's filibuster-like tirade against the health care law brought the crowd to its feet.

"It was the right thing to do," said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council. "Obamacare is objectionable enough to make this kind of a stand to show how odious it is."

The budget showdown was even worth it to Jim Neuberger, a government contractor from Clifton, Va., who was able to attend the conference with his wife and two daughters because he's been furloughed. "Just because it's a law doesn't make it right," said Neuberger, who is worried the Affordable Care Act will disrupt his family's insurance plan. "It's a clash of principles."

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