New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were not invited to a major gathering of social conservatives in Washington last weekend in what was viewed as a serious snub of two men considered prominent Republican presidential contenders for 2016.
“They were not invited this year because they just weren’t on the top of the list in terms of what they are doing right now and whether or not it was relevant to the values voters and who they want to hear from,” said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council and chief organizer of the Values Voter Summit, which opened on Friday and ended Sunday (Sept. 28).
“They shouldn’t take it the wrong way,” Perkins told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview taped on Friday.
But in his report, Brody said the two men had been “snubbed” and that’s not good news for any presidential aspirations they may harbor.
The Values Voter Summit is the pre-eminent venue for GOP candidates who hope to showcase their bona fides to the crucial conservative Christian bloc, and Christie and Bush — the elder brother of former President George W. Bush — are seen as Republicans who could appeal to the center of the electorate but who have not won the hearts of social conservatives.
Those voters, predominantly white evangelicals, are key to winning the GOP primaries.
Christie and Bush “are quite frankly not at the top of the list when it comes to values voters, who they want to hear from,” Perkins said.
“We have a list of good, conservative leaders that are fighting on our issues right now that wanted to be part of this,” he said.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Tea Party favorite who wowed the crowd with a red meat, faith-filled speech, on Sunday won a straw poll of the delegates for the second straight year with 25 percent of the votes. He finished ahead of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee.
“We stand for life,” Cruz told the nearly 2,000 delegates. “We stand for marriage. We stand for Israel. We bring back jobs and opportunity and unleash small businesses to make it easier for people to achieve the American dream. We abolish the IRS. We repeal Common Core.”
“He’s not apologizing,” Perkins told reporters after the speech. “Values voters find that refreshing.”
Other Republican hopefuls who addressed the summit included Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Perkins said Christie and Bush could well be invited next year as the presidential election heats up, especially if they throw their hats into the ring.
Social conservatives are struggling to maintain their status as a pillar of the Republican Party as the GOP engages in sharp debates over its identity and what it will take to recapture the White House. In that debate, religious conservatives are contending with economic conservatives and defense hawks, who often hold conflicting views on the party’s priorities.