The event, at the First Federated Church in Des Moines, will be moderated by pollster and Fox News regular Frank Luntz. “It has the potential to be the most important forum of the primary presidential campaign,” Luntz says humbly on the website of the Family Leader, a sponsor of the forum. There will be “no gotcha questions,” he says, but instead “just an authentic discussion among the people who seek to lead this great nation.” He told the Des Moines Register he may ask the candidates, for instance, “What do the words ‘so help me God’ mean to you?”
Given the bigoted views the Family Leader expressed this summer, a better question for the candidates might be, “Why aren’t you sitting this event out?” Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are doing just that. But the rest of the squad—Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum—will be fighting like the devil to win over the faithful.
As host, Luntz will home in on the nation’s major concern, which, according to the Family Leader, is not the economy or foreign affairs but the need for faithful monogamy between God-fearing heterosexuals.
The Family Leader is a Christian group dedicated to the principle “that God is the ultimate leader of the family,” a view it aims to promote not only in churches but also “in the legislature, in the media, in the courtroom, in the public square.” The group’s president and CEO, Bob Vander Plaats, has come up short for Iowa governor three times. But last year he helped lead a successful campaign to dump three of the Iowa supreme court justices whose 2009 ruling had legalized gay marriage. Vander Plaats has tried to persuade the Republican prez candidates to wed themselves to his organization’s views, but so far only two of them have been willing to tie the knot.
On the steps of the Iowa capitol in July, Vander Plaats unveiled the Family Leader’s “Marriage Vow,” which included a “Candidate Vow” that candidates would have to sign if they wanted to be considered for the Family Leader’s blessing.
The Marriage Vow derided the “homosexual behavior” and “sexual promiscuity” that have “debased the currency” of marriage. A footnote pointed to the lack of proof that “homosexual preference or behavior is irresistible as a function of genetic determinism or other forms of fatalism.”
The Candidate Vow asked candidates to pledge fidelity to their spouse; to vigorously oppose “recognition of intimate unions which are bigamous, polygamous, polyandrous, same-sex, etc.”; and to support “robust childbearing,” “faithful constitutionalists” as judges, and “downsizing government,” all of which of course are fundamental biblical principles. The Family Leader also wanted candidates to pledge to reject “Sharia Islam and all other anti-woman, anti-human rights forms of totalitarian control,” to seek the “humane protection” of women and the “innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy,” and to push to safeguard military personnel from “intrusively intimate commingling among attracteds (restrooms, showers, barracks, tents, etc.)”
A candidate reading such vows might have a few questions about them, beginning with, “What the heck are ‘attracteds’?” and "Can I bring my innocent fruits of conjugal intimacy to the debate?" For Bachmann and Santorum, the only question was, “Where do I sign?” They each accepted Vander Plaats's proposal the day after he made it.
But then the Candidate Vow hit some bumps in the road. The preamble to the vow observed that a child born into slavery was “more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.” Some critics said it sounded as if the Family Leader was yearning for the good old days of slavery. A spokeswoman for Bachmann maintained that the congresswoman had signed the Candidate Vow without reading the preamble. Bachmann, the spokeswoman said, “believes that slavery was horrible, and economic enslavement is also horrible." You know—slavery is bad, just like high taxes.
The Family Leader removed the slavery passage. But the other candidates declined to sign the vow, even though it meant they were foreclosing the possibility of landing the crucial Jesus endorsement. Romney’s press secretary said Romney strongly supported traditional marriage but felt the pledge “contained references and provisions that were undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign." Cain said that while he was “an ardent defender of traditional marriage” and would “work to preserve and protect the sanctity of human life, which I believe begins at conception,” he wouldn’t sign, either.
Candidate Gary Johnson blasted the vow the day after Bachmann and Santorum signed it. “While the Family Leader pledge covers just about every other so-called virtue they can think of, the one that is conspicuously missing is tolerance,” the former New Mexico governor said. “In one concise document, they manage to condemn gays, single parents, single individuals, divorcees, Muslims, gays in the military, unmarried couples, women who choose to have abortions, and everyone else who doesn’t fit in a Norman Rockwell painting.”
With radical views like that, what chance does Johnson have of winning the Republican vote? He’s still in the race, but his polling numbers have been so small that the pollsters have stopped tracking him.
There will be no TV coverage for Saturday’s forum, which begins at 4 PM central time. It will be streamed live by one of the event’s cosponsors, CitizenLink, at CitizenLink.com. Tom Minnery, executive director of CitizenLink, who will moderate one segment of the forum, said that Herman Cain won't be questioned about the sexual harassment claims against him. “We're not going to take up our time dealing with that issue” because Cain is getting enough questions on it from others, Minnery said.
Tickets to the forum are $40. The church holds 3,400, and proceeds benefit the Family Leader. The Republican candidates help the Family Leader raise money through this event, the Family Leader helps righteous Republicans get elected—it’s all one big happy straight family.