If there’s one thing that’s clear from the attendees of this year’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., it’s that they hate Obamacare. But when asked about the government shutdown that conference speakers, like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, precipitated to stop the health care law, consensus goes out the window.
As politicians and activists took the stage in the main ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel at the gathering of social conservatives on Friday, nothing brought people to their feet in applause like the fight against the health care law. But in the exhibit hall, where attendees browse the booths of myriad conservative groups and products, from the Family Research Council to a woman selling right-wing jewelry (literally: each piece displays a wing pointing rightward), conferencegoers were unclear on what should be done about the shutdown.
There were those who thought the shutdown was the dramatic step needed to halt the health care law. “I’m thrilled with the shutdown,” said John Caddock, a 21-year-old senior at American University in Washington, D.C. “Obamacare is so big and so intrusive, it’s worth really taking a stand.”
A big fan of freshman Sen. Cruz, the face of the far-right wing of the GOP pushing for the shutdown, Caddock said he wishes more senators would “stick their necks out and stand up for what they believe in.” Caddock’s was a sentiment on full display in the ballroom, where the audience lavished applause on Cruz and his crusade.
Then there were those who were more ambivalent about the shutdown and what should happen next. “I would like to see [Obamacare] obliterated completely,” said Glena Coffey, 75, a retired teacher from Fairfax, Va. But on how to resolve the shutdown, Coffey just said, “I don’t know what the answer is.”
On a trip to Washington to learn about American government with a Christian group called Teen Pact, Susanna Hobbs, 19, of Kansas, said she believes in defunding the health care law. But when it comes to the shutdown, she became a little less sure. “The whole thing is a little confusing,” she said. But now that the government is shut down, she feels Republicans should stand firm.
The shutdown, said Jim Knowlton, 46, from Massachusetts, is what “the Founding Fathers envisioned.” Looking to become more engaged in Republican politics after a recent layoff, Knowlton said both sides need to compromise, and if a shutdown is the only way to force a compromise, that’s how it should be. In the interim, Knowlton is OK with a compromise on the issue of Obamacare, as long as the goal remains to repeal the law in the long term. He predicts Obamacare will go the way of other “laws of the land” that have been repealed, like “prohibition” and “slavery.”
Warren Haring, 62, shrugs off the shutdown as a “joke” and a “game” politicians are playing, rather than tackle “the real problem,” which he said includes the nation’s debt and government intrusion into Americans’ lives. A retired firefighter from Long Island, N.Y., Haring is fed up with both political parties. “I’m furious with the Republican Party,” he said, “the term RINO [Republicans In Name Only] is something that comes to mind.”
Dee Wampler, 73, of Springfield, Mo., also shrugged off the shutdown as “politics.” “I’m more interested in preserving our Christian history,” he said. "That’s my “hot button” issue."
Outside of the conference, polls show the American public is upset over the shutdown and that a majority blame the Republican Party. Even among Republicans, moderates are frustrated with their party’s tactics while the far-right supports the shutdown strategy.
Certainly, that dynamic was on display Friday, where attendees cited Cruz as someone they wanted to see run for president in 2016. “Definitely Ted Cruz,” Caddock said. “Rand Paul is a close second.”