Conservatives Welcome Tea Party Energy At Summit

Social conservatives have lost some of their buzz to the Tea Party this year. But at their Values Voters summit in Washington on Friday, the conservatives stressed the common ground.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm David Greene.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

It has been a dramatic week for the Republican Party and for the Tea Party. In Delaware's Republican primary, the victory of a Tea Party-backed candidate over a time-tested moderate has once again raised big questions. Is the Tea Party Movement helping or hurting Republicans' high hopes for the midterm elections?

GREENE: In a few moments, we'll kick that question around with our political commentators. First, to an event today in Washington, where social conservatives and fiscal conservatives stressed their common ground. Among the speakers, the winner of that Delaware primary, Christine O'Donnell.

Ms. CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (Republican, Delaware Senate Candidate): We're not trying to take back our country; we are our country.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GREENE: NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on the Values Voter Summit.

ARI SHAPIRO: The roster of presenters here includes politicians, TV stars, and people who have run for president. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is all three. Before he kicked off the program this morning, I asked him whether the fiscal conservatism of the Tea Party Movement threatens to sideline the social conservative issues that are the focus of this Values Voter crowd. Huckabee said, no way.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas): Yeah, I don't see a conflict. The fact is the Tea Party is the best thing that's happened to American politics in my lifetime because it's reminded us that people still rule. What the Tea Party has done, it's shown that people who are fed up with their government can change it.

SHAPIRO: That theme of change, which worked so well for Barack Obama two years ago, was the chorus of his opponents' song today. One of the biggest applause lines came from Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. The chair of the House Tea Party caucus noted that the Declaration of Independence gives Americans the right to alter or abolish the government.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): Would you like to alter your Congress?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Rep. BACHMANN: Would you like to alter the presidency?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Rep. BACHMANN: Would you like to alter the Supreme Court?

(Soundbite of cheering)

SHAPIRO: One speaker after another used the podium as a bridge. On one side of the bridge: the issues of small government, taxes and deficits - mainstays of the Tea Party. On the other side of the bridge, issues of abortion, religion and same-sex marriage.

Jim DeMint of South Carolina is often ranked among the most conservative voices in the Senate.

Senator JIM DEMINT (Republican, South Carolina): I hear regularly as I travel around the country, someone will tell me I'm a fiscal conservative, but I'm not a social conservative. I want to straighten them out a little bit this morning, because the fact is you cannot be a real fiscal conservative if you do not understand the value of having a culture that's based on values.

(Soundbite of applause)

SHAPIRO: DeMint has been a sort of Tea Party kingmaker. In primary races around the country, he has endorsed insurgent candidates who went on to beat their establishment Republican opponents, most recently in Delaware this week.

Sen. DEMINT: What you and I can be excited about today, the primaries are over and all over the country, we have candidates like Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Marco Rubio in Florida.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. DEMINT: And we have Rand Paul in Kentucky, and Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell. I mean, we have some candidates.

SHAPIRO: Each year, Barry Lynn comes to this event to do opposition research. He runs Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. And he says this year's summit looks like a marriage of convenience.

Mr. BARRY LYNN (Americans United for the Separation of Church and State): What the Tea Party has tried to avoid in the last six months is to get so deeply involved in these social issues; even immigration is off the table at many of their rallies. What we see today is that people in the religious right are saying, you need us, and you need our issues. And in the next 50 days or so, you really need us.

SHAPIRO: People at the summit all seem willing to put aside any conservative divisions in the next few weeks, and work together to put Congress in Republican hands. Jean Ward(ph) comes to this summit from California every year.

Ms. JEAN WARD: I'm not a Tea Party member, but I certainly am sympathizing with what they're doing.

SHAPIRO: There are certainly Tea Party members, though, who will say, I care deeply about the size of government and taxes. I don't care deeply about issues like marriage, abortion, religion.

Ms. WARD: Well, that's where I have a problem with them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: But that's a problem Republican leaders can deal with after the midterm elections.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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