All the big boys from the moral side of things are here: Bill Bennett, Gary Bauer, Liberty University Law Dean Mat Staver (perhaps best known for telling Newsweek just after the 2008 election that President Obama is not the anti-Christ, but he "can see how others might" think he is), Sean Hannity, Phyllis Schlafly, anti-abortion heartthrob Lila Rose, the xenophobic Bryan Fischer and many, many more are scheduled to speak. Of course the star is FRC's president Tony Perkins, the man who keeps hope alive for the moral warriors of the right, batting down any chance that the GOP will shift too far away from it's traditional, religious-moral core.
And despite the tea party's public arm's-length distance from social issues out on the campaign trail, virtually all of it' political stars will be glimmering from the podium, including the newest and brightest star of the week, Delaware Republican Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell. She'll be joined by tea party heavyweights Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) and wannabe tea party heavyweight Newt Gingrich. Other political contenders scheduled to appear include Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
[TPM SLIDESHOW: The 2009 Values Voter Summit]
Of course, as with anything that skews conservative and/or Republican these days, the tea party has a significant presence on the agenda. It's not really much of a secret that most tea partiers are socially conservative as well as fiscally conservative, but the presence of tea party leaders at the summit might raise eyebrows with some of the movement's libertarian-leaning members. As a whole, the movement tries to avoid talk of the social stuff, claiming that this is not the year for a war over tradition. Nevertheless, Tea Party Express spokesperson Amy Kremer and Katy Abram, the woman who was made famous by her town hall confrontation with Sen. Arlen Specter (then still R-PA) in August 2009 will be part of a panel called "We the People: The Tea Party's Place in American Politics."
Most of the other panels are pure throwback however. There's "Is Hollywood Getting the Big Picture on Values?" and "The Falsehood of the Inevitability of Same-sex 'Marriage.'" Not interested in talking about gays or nudity on prime time TV? Maybe "American Apocalypse: When Christians Do Nothing, Secularists Do Everything--The Case for Christian Activism" is for you.
Like I said, it's old-school.
Even so, the summit comes at a time of great turbulence for the moral leadership of the Republican Party. Prominent Republicans have called for the party to shy away from social issues (or at least keep quiet about them) for fear that frustrated independents will bail out of their newfound home in the GOP once the talk of a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage starts up again. What's more, polls are showing that Americans are shifting away from homophobia in droves, even as the Family Research Council and its supporters are decidedly not.
One of the highlights of the weekend promises to be Saturday, when attendees will participate in a 2012 straw poll to select the moraliest Republican presidential contender of the moment.
As is clear from the star-studded guest list, the road to national political prominence still runs through Traditional Values Town, despite what the tea party's libertarian rabble might hope (or the Republican party's long-term strategists might wish.)