When I was walking around the different booths and spying on people who had friends yesterday, the whole Values Voter platform felt very niche. I was able to have a nice time joking around with vendors and making one friend because it was obvious that we were all individual people with different backgrounds and nobody really had the power to impose one’s views onto the other. Today, the first real day of the conference, feels very different. This is does not feel niche anymore. It feels significant.

I’ve been in the Regency Ballroom in the basement of this hotel for just over four hours, and it feels like this is the world now. I have forgotten what it feels like to laugh or chew solid food or say words out loud. I have drunk six cups of water and peed three times.

Advertisement

In the first plenary session of the 2015 Values Voters Summit, I saw a number of Republican presidential hopefuls preaching to a choir of the converted where the assignment wasn’t to present the best, most innovative plan to transform America— rather, it was to present a predetermined roster of ideas with the most pizzazz.

The morning began with a rendition of the National Anthem (which an enthusiastic reporter behind me sang with a strong vibrato), an invocation (which obviously invoked Ronald Reagan), and some rousing racism from MC Gil Mertz who remarked about the visit from Chinese President Xi Jiping (he is apparently staying in a hotel across the street) with the joke, “The only Chinese I know is on a menu.” He also made the first of a number of Hillary Clinton email jokes. They were all boring and they were all the same.

The first candidate to speak was Sen. Marco Rubio (introduced rather humbly by Sen. John McCain). Rubio, I’ve always felt, has been the most electable of the Republican candidates— he is seemingly the least crazy of the options and manages to present the Christian pro-family platform in a way that doesn’t make me physically ill. He even announced a new policy which would give a limited 25 percent tax credit to any business that offered between four and 12 weeks of paid family leave, which is a great improvement on our current paid family leave policy (there isn’t one), and a position that has really only been championed thus far by Democrats.

Advertisement

“This won’t solve every scheduling conflict between work and family life. No policy can,” Rubio said in his announcement. “But it will help ensure that our people don’t have to sit behind a desk while the most profound moments of their lives pass them by. And it will help our businesses expand and create new jobs by allowing them to keep more of their money rather than send it to Washington.”

But then he had to break my heart and remind the crowd he was that kind of Christian, growling his support for what would become the three most important causes of the day: the right to religious liberty, the right to bear arms, and the right to life.

It was then that my attention rapidly waned.

The winner of the morning was undoubtedly, horrifyingly Ted Cruz. In the two GOP debates, Cruz has played the part of the unnervingly sincere creepy uncle—his eyebrows and subdued tone make him impossible to trust. But for this crowd, he is a fucking rockstar. Cruz’s very fiber is made up of values voters — these are the people that taught him that he is Special. This is where he makes sense.

He started with some very well-received stand up comedy (President Xi is in town and everyone is talking about the historic meeting between “the world’s most powerful communist and the president of China.” LOL.)

In his speech, he noted that he had the opportunity to visit Kim Davis “in a Kentucky jail house,” making him the first and only person to refer to her by name (Rubio generally referred to Christians who were being persecuted/prosecuted), where he told her “Thank you.” Powerful.

He then outlined his plan for the first few days of his presidency: First, open an investigation into Planned Parenthood and prosecute all criminal conduct by that organization, and (more generally) end the persecution of religious liberty. Then, he’ll repeal the Iran deal and move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Then, repeal every word of Obamacare, instruct the Department of Education (which he feels should be abolished) to end Common Core, rebuild the military, defend second amendment rights, close borders and end sanctuary cities, take on the EPA and the “alphabet soup of government bureaucracy,” and pass fundamental tax reform.

Advertisement

The crowd gave him a standing ovation for every one of these points. He literally earned 12 standing ovations and now I am barren.

“At the end of of eight years,” Cruz said, “There’s gonna be a whole lot of reporters and journalists who have checked themselves into therapy.” That is accurate, kind of regardless of who wins.

The two other candidates who spoke this morning were Rick Santorum and Donald Trump who have both reduced their personae into cliches.

Advertisement

Rick Santorum asked, “Who has the vision to win the presidency and lead this country?” An audience member shouted: “Ted Cruz!” That accurately summarizes Santorum’s talk.

Donald Trump brought a Bible his mother gave him on stage and then didn’t refer to it for the rest of the speech. He spent a solid ten minutes talking about his polling numbers, and then at one point he said “Uch, I’m gonna do so good.” And there’s Trump’s entire campaign.

The most shocking revelation from the morning by far is that Cruz is not the neutered wacko that he sells in the GOP debates. He is full of fire and hate and, more horrifically, actually has a shot. He is a fringe candidate, but he is king of the fringe.

Advertisement

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take four shots and eat a Chipotle burrito bowl that’s only meat since I did not pay extra to attend a luncheon with Barronelle Stutzman, the florist who wouldn’t serve gay customers. I’ll be back at 2:00 p.m., slightly closer to death.


Contact the author at joanna@jezebel.com.