TIME 2016 Election

Why Josh Duggar’s Past Will Hurt Social Conservatives

Many movement leaders have been close to the reality star now accused of child molestation

As a reality TV star famous for being part of a large conservative family, Josh Duggar had a public visibility that made him attractive to advocacy groups hoping he could spotlight their shared opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Now, as he responds to accusations of child molestation as a teenager, that same visibility could hurt the cause.

A police report detailed grim accusations against Duggar, one of the stars of TLC’s series 19 Kids and Counting. According to the newly released report, Duggar, the oldest child, allegedly sexually molested five minors, when he was 15. Jim Bob Duggar, his father, did not report the incidents to police for more than a year.

The political reaction was swift. Duggar, now 27, resigned from his role at the Family Research Council on Thursday, the same day the report was released due to a freedom of information act request.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, hired Duggar to lead Family Research Council Action, the group’s lobbying arm, in 2013. Duggar was 25, a young, popular TV star who poised to help advance the conservative evangelical political platform. “Josh and his wife Anna have been an inspiration to millions of Americans who regularly tune in to see the Duggar family’s show, and all of us at Family Research Council and FRC Action have long appreciated their commitment to the pro-family movement,” Perkins said at the time.

But Duggar worked to be more than a pop culture icon, he was a favored son in social conservative politics. He served on two presidential campaigns, Mike Huckabee’s in 2008 and Rick Santorum’s in 2012, and during the recent midterms he campaigned for Senate candidates in Kansas, Mississippi and Virginia. Politics were also part of his upbringing. His father Jim Bob served two terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives (1998-2002) and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2002, around the time of the allegations against his son.

Josh Duggar focused his work at FRC Action on grassroots outreach, frequently fighting to keep the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. He was at the Supreme Court for arguments on same-sex marriage in April and helped to lead the March for Marriage rally in Washington that week. In December he campaigned, successfully, against an LGBT nondiscrimination measure in Arkansas that he said put children at risk. He tweeted that Islam attacked women. He said his family was the “epitome of conservative values.”

Conservative GOP candidates valued Duggar as a way to advance their agenda and leverage his constituents. He has tweeted photos of him with nearly all the 2016 GOP White House hopefuls—Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, to name just some in his timeline—and countless representatives, senators, governors and operatives, from Sen. James Lankford to Sarah Palin to GOP head Reince Priebus. He retweeted politicians who promoted FRC Action’s agenda, and challenged others who stood against it. Just last week he pushed hard on social media to promote the U.S. House’s “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” and tweeted at Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, “Sorry, but you’re the one lacking compassion.”

But what was Duggar’s political value for Family Research Council, his moral example, has now become a cost. The group has looked to the 2016 election as an opportunity to advance their cause, especially since there are so many candidates with similar values on family and marriage. Perkins also currently leads the Council for National Policy, a group that quietly seeks to vet candidates. Plus, everyone is bracing for the Supreme Court to decide a landmark gay marriage case in late June, and the Family Research Council has been at the forefront of working to stop the spread of gay marriage.

That entire agenda is now compromised, and the Family Research Council has to pick up the pieces. Perkins issued a statement Thursday night saying that the group was previously unaware of Duggar’s past, and that Duggar himself made the decision to resign because he realized “that the situation will make it difficult for him to be effective in his current work.” In the statement, Perkins agreed: “We believe this is the best decision for Josh and his family at this time.”

The Family Research Council will have to find a new executive director for its lobbying arm, and attempt to recover the ground lost from this setback. FRC Action has also removed Duggar’s information from its website. (His bio on FRC Action’s website stated: “Drawing from his unique experiences in family, entertainment, politics and business, Josh seeks to use his God-given platform to encourage others to be engaged in the political process.”)

Reactions from the conservative side still remain to be seen. Huckabee became one of the first politicians to back Duggar Friday morning. “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,’” he wrote on Facebook. “He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.”

Read next:

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TIME rick perry

Rick Perry Cites His Eagle Scout Rank on Campaign Trail

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a meet and greet event at Pizza Ranch in Sioux Center, Iowa
Nati Harnik—AP Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a meet and greet event at Pizza Ranch in Sioux Center, Iowa, on May 18, 2015.

Rick Perry has been studying oratory with a former Shakespeare actor, and it showed on Monday, when the former Texas governor paced around a small gathering in a two-stoplight-town farming village in Iowa.

Perry stretched his hands apart like a huge balloon when he talked about Texas’ job growth. He dramatically swung two fingers in a general southerly direction when he recalled his tough border policies in 2014. But it was the subtler speaker’s trick that may have won Perry’s listeners over: know your audience.

“When I look at a resume and I see ‘Eagle Scout,’ I can take that out and put it in a special pile,” Perry told a crowd with plenty of Boy Scouts of America members and U.S. military veterans.

“I may be applying for a job in the future,” Perry continued, “so I want them to know I was an Eagle Scout.”

The former 14-year Texas governor and Eagle Scout has been on a multi-day tour of Iowa, speaking at town hall meetings and restaurants across the state, revving up for what is likely to be the launch of his candidacy on June 4 in Texas.

With the Republican field getting crowded, likely candidates are looking for ways to set them apart as they roam the early primary states. In his pitch Monday in Holstein, northwestern Iowa, Perry spent a full 10 minutes—one-third of his prepared remarks—talking about his military experience and the leadership skills he learned in the Boy Scouts.

For Scouts, it’s a familiar sales pitch. The typical script for an Eagle Scout court of honor includes a shout-out to the presidents (John Kennedy, Gerald Ford) and members of Congress who earned Scouting’s highest rank. (And lawmakers love to return the favor.)

Still, in such a crowded Republican field, Perry faces competition even on this front from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who prominently notes that he reached Eagle in the third sentence of his official bio and once responded to a question about sending troops into combat by citing his time in the Scouts. Even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who attended the kickoff for a Scouting alternative that refuses to admit gay and transgendered boys, had a Scout troop hoist the flag at his campaign launch.

Perry, who is 65, spoke of Scouting in more personal terms, arguing that the trail to Eagle was not unlike the campaign trail.

“Because I know something about that young person right off the bat: that at a young age, they started a major project, that had a long process to come to its fruition,” he said. “I know they started a major project and they followed a guide book to its conclusion. And with that discipline, that focus as a 12- to 17-year-old, they most likely have those same characteristics as a 25 or 35 or 45-year-old—or 65-year old individual.”

As for his service in the Air Force as a pilot: “I don’t think there’s a greater way to serve your country than to wear the uniform of your country,” he said to enthusiastic applause.

The Republican presidential contest is turning into a chaotic contest that is increasingly being defined by candidates’ foreign policy credentials. Former Gov. Jeb Bush stumbled last week when he was unable to clarify whether he would have chosen to invade Iraq. Scott Walker in poor taste compared defeating 100,000 union protesters in his own state to fighting the Islamic State. Sen. Rand Paul has recast himself as less of a foreign policy dove over the past year, but many conservatives are unconvinced.

Perry, meanwhile, is reminding all who will listen that he was a veteran and that he has the kind of leadership experience to be a tough foreign policy player. (Perry never saw combat during his service, as Democratic presidential hopeful Jim Webb did in Vietnam.) Perry opposes any deal with Iran on the grounds that the Islamic Republic cannot be trusted (“there ain’t going to be a good deal with Iran, because I don’t think you can trust them”) and wants to increase the United States’ military capacity (the military is at its smallest since 1940, Perry reminded his audience). Earlier on Monday, he said he would not have invaded Iraq knowing what he knows now, but lambasted President Obama for pulling out of Iraq early, CNN reported.

In Holstein, Perry chose as good a place as any to talk about uniformed service. The one-commercial street town, which has at its center a large granary and is in the heart of biofuel country, is predominantly traditional and in Iowa’s conservative West. There are more than 200 Eagle Scouts in the county of 7,000 people, and when Perry thanked “the mothers and fathers” of Eagle Scouts, there was wild applause.

Eagle Scouts and Scoutmasters dressed in full garb gathered after the town hall meeting was over and praised Perry’s time in the BSA.

“It would throw some weight with me,” said Jody Fraser, a Scoutmaster, said of Perry’s Eagle Scout rank.

“I think it does mean a lot in terms of character,” said Harry Oakley, a Marine Corps veteran and Eagle Scout who wore a felt blazer and jeans. “I’m glad that isn’t lost on Governor Perry.”

TIME Republican

Energized Republicans Put On a Campaign Show in Iowa

Irreverence, optimism and Lindsey Graham's incest joke

DES MOINES—I’m a little worried about burying the lead here. Saturday night was the annual Lincoln Day dinner in Iowa, a major cattle call for Republicans who wish to be President. Twelve candidates attended. And Senator Lindsey Graham…no, wait.

The candidates ranged from very serious and plausible like Jeb Bush, who performed admirably, to has-beens (Rick Santorum), never was’s (George Pataki, the very former governor of New York, was there), to never-will-be’s (Rick Perry), to …to Lindsey Graham, who told a joke…no, wait.

As I was saying, the candidates ranged from Bush, to a soft-spoken and very accomplished surgeon named Dr. Ben Carson—whose slightly bemused presence seemed that of a Buddhist monk in a leather bar—to the inevitable Donald Trump, who was the only one to make a complete fool of himself: he announced that he, personally, somehow, contra the Constitution would—did I mention, personally?—slap—that is, without the Congress, and seemingly overnight, mind you—the Ford Motor company with a 35% tax on products imported from Mexico.

But Lindsey Graham, the Senator from South Carolina, came on like a cabaret act, encouraging the crowd to drink up, “The more you drink, the better I sound…” And then, after a series of energetic one-liners—this was like a post-modern deconstructionist version of a political speech—told one about his first case as a lawyer in South Carolina. It was a divorce case. “The husband asked,” the Senator said. “If we get divorced, can we still be cousins?”

Okay, it was somewhat bowdlerized. The version I first heard some years ago, was, “Can she still be my niece?” But still. Senator Lindsey Graham told an incest joke at a Republican Party dinner in Iowa, where the evangelical legions are assumed to be in control. In fairness, the 1,400 GOP activists assembled seemed more from the banker-businessman sector of the party, but still—I’ve been doing this for 46 years and I don’t think I ever heard a presidential candidate tell an incest joke before.

Actually, Graham—who was allotted 10 minutes, as were the other candidates—was wildly entertaining throughout. He ragged Iowa’s famously abstemious farmer-Senator, Chuck Grassley: “You know Chuck’s not paying tonight, or he wouldn’t be here.” He said he wanted to be President because “you get a house, a car and a plane.” He said that if you’re a jihadist who attacks us, “I’m not gonna call a judge”—a slap at civil libertarians—“I’m gonna call a drone and it will kill you.”

In the course of an evening during which every one of the Republicans decried Islamic terrorism without really saying what they’d do about it, Graham said he would put boots on the ground in Iraq and keep them there in Afghanistan. (Before tonight, he was better known for his bellicosity than his humor.) “How many of you think the Iranians want to build a peaceful nuclear power plant and how many think they want to build a weapon?” He said that those who believed the former “shouldn’t be allowed to drive in Iowa.” He also said he was convinced that as soon as the Supreme Leader got the bomb, he would use it against Israel. This is utter nonsense—and afterwards Graham told me he was more concerned about the Iranians leaking the technology to groups like Hizballah than a frontal assault on Israel (which would result in the almost-immediately evaporation of the city of Tehran, 12 million strong). But still, Senator, the ground rules are that you’re not supposed to say mega-scary things in public if you don’t really believe them.

I must say that Lindsey Graham is the cheeriest superhawk I’ve ever seen and while I’m pretty sure he won’t be nominated by the Republicans, I’m really glad he’s in the race.

As for the others, there was a pattern. They talked about an economy constrained by a nonsensical tax code and web of regulations; they talked about the threat of Islamic radicalism—and the seemingly more outrageous fact that the President refuses to call it that. There was much less anger and pessimism than in the Republican class of 2012. Rick Perry, the only one to attempt real churchified oratory, kept saying over and over again, with slightly scary fervor—an evangelist on Ecstasy?—how optimistic he was. And most of the others paid lip service to optimism—which used to be the true American religion—as well. (I should mention that Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie, who might have added even more juice to the proceedings, were absent.)

Rand Paul distinguished himself from the pack, as he almost always does, because he is different from the pack: he devoted much of his speech to the coming debate over the Patriot Act, which he sees as an infringement of First Amendment rights. And he launched a particularly effective attack on Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State: “Someone needs to ask Hillary Clinton if it was a good idea to topple Qaddafi in Libya,” he suggested, noting that Qaddafi has been replaced by “chaos,” with a significant slice of the (former) country in danger of falling under the control of ISIS.

OK, I’ll admit it: I was expecting a fairly endless evening of predictable and highly-processed red meat. But this was…fun. There is energy and irreverence—without the Limbaugh-Hannity bitterness—in this crop of candidates, although the field could certainly use some pruning. That will come in good time, of course. For now, though, I suspect Lindsey Graham is ready for Vegas…if not for the Nevada primary. He’s crazy good.

TIME rick perry

Rick Perry Takes a Swing at Three Senator Rivals

Rick Perry
Mark Humphrey—AP Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry runs off the stage after speaking at the National Rifle Association convention, Friday, April 10, 2015, in Nashville.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday he doesn’t think American voters “want to take a chance” on electing another Senator to the White House, delivering a sharp blow to the three declared Republican presidential candidates.

Speaking to reporters after a lunch with New Hampshire business leaders in Nashua, the second-time candidate, who has yet to publicly announce his presidential campaign, said that after electing first-term Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, voters don’t want to take the same risk again. Perry declined to say whether he believes Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are qualified to be president.

“These are really bright, capable individuals,” Perry said. “But my point is, do you want to take a chance on someone who doesn’t have a track record of being an executive. When you walk off the Senate floor, you walk off the Senate floor. You don’t walk away from things when you are Governor, you have to deal with things.”

In his roundtable with the business leaders, the longest-serving governor in Texas history said he understood why people gravitated to Obama, but argued that his lack of experience let the country down. “I think he was talented, he was a unique individual,” Perry said, “but he had no executive experience, and I think the country is seeing the cost of that.”

Perry compared electing a well-spoken Senator to flying on a plane from Boston to London with a charming pilot who can explain the theory of aerodynamics, but has only 150 hours of flight time. “Or do you want to be with that grizzled old 20,000-hour captain who has taken that airplane back and forth thousands of times safely,” Perry asked.

“That’s the juxtaposition of a young inexperienced United States Senator versus a skilled, experienced executive,” he continued. “I just think the American people are going to want an executive after eight years of Barack Obama — I’m thinking they’re going to want to have somebody who has got a real track record: don’t tell me, show me.”

Perry, 65, addressed concerns that he is among the older generation of Republican candidates, quipping to reporters, “I’m just filling out my Medicare card, so I hope they don’t hold my age against me.”

TIME Supreme Court

New Strategy Against Gay Marriage Divides GOP 2016 Field

US Supreme Court Declines To Hear Appeals On Same-Sex Marriage Cases
Alex Wong—Getty Images People come out from the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Activists want to take on the Supreme Court

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa—The U.S. Supreme Court’s expected decision this spring that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry will, for most, mark the end of a decades-long culture war.

But a small circle of Christian activists aren’t giving up yet — and they are already winning over some Republican presidential candidates to their last-ditch effort. Resting their hopes on an effort to redefine the role of the federal judiciary, the activists’ argument takes on a central tenet of modern American politics: that the Supreme Court has the final say on what is the law of the land.

“There are three branches of government,” Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer and conservative activist, told TIME in an interview. “If the Supreme Court overreaches on an issue, the other two branches are there to check and balance it. The Supreme Court can make that decision, but it can’t enforce its own orders in a state. That’s up to the Legislative and Executive branches.”

It’s an argument with a long history in American politics, Schlafly says. He cites the Supreme Court’s 1857 decision in the infamous Dred Scott case, which found that freed slaves were not American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in court. “The Republican Party said no, we’re not going to go along with that,” Schlafly said. “And the next President was Abraham Lincoln and he did not enforce it.”

Most mainstream constitutional scholars find that argument confounding at best, with criticism from both liberal groups and the conservative Federalist Society.

“It was established a long, long time ago that the federal judiciary has the power to interpret our Constitution and to determine what government actions are constitutional and what are unconstitutional,” said Jeremy Leaming of the progressive American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. “This is pretty basic law-school type of stuff.”

If the Supreme Court decides that same-sex-marriage bans violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, then that’s the end of the story, he added. “States can’t choose and pick which parts of the Constitution to uphold and which not to.”

But regardless of how the argument is received in legal circles, it’s already having a significant effect on the Republican presidential primary, where a number of candidates are working overtime to earn the support of social conservatives who are opposed to same-sex marriage.

Last week in Iowa, where evangelical voters hold particular sway, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee emphatically argued that the high court’s ruling would not be the end of the debate.

“There is no such thing as judicial supremacy,” he said at an event organized by the conservative Family Leader group. He added that “unelected black-robed judges” can overturn laws, but even when they do, “then it goes to the legislature and the Executive Branch.”

After a speech at the same summit, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum told TIME that he agrees with Huckabee. “The idea that the courts can just wave their magic wands and not only invalidate laws but pass new ones is a novel concept in the concept of judicial review,” he said. “The courts in my opinion have far exceeded their Article III authority and they need to be pushed back upon by both the Executive and the Congress.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has argued nine times before the Supreme Court, stopped short of saying that as President he would refuse to enforce a high court decision that found same-sex-marriage bans unconstitutional, but he wrote in a paper provided to the Conservative Republicans of Texas that he would denounce such a ruling “for what it is. Lawless activism, subverting the Constitution.” He also called on conservatives to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as “limited to one man and one woman” and to consider removing any Supreme Court justice that had “disrespected marriage.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has walked a similar tightrope. “Of course, court rulings must be respected, but it is the duty of the President to defend the Constitution, even when the courts won’t,” he wrote in a statement to Iowa conservative radio host Steve Deace.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul did not say that he would ignore a Supreme Court decision but called for term limits on “out of control, unelected federal judges.”

Other Republican presidential candidates have chosen to take a different route, noting their disagreement with state and federal courts’ pro-gay-marriage decisions without actively trying to undermine them.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said gay marriage was a “settled issue” in his state, while Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said court rulings must be respected. Both dropped appeals in their home states after losing same-sex-marriage cases. “For us, it’s over in Wisconsin,” Walker told reporters last fall. “The federal courts have ruled that this decision by this court of appeals decision is the law of the land, and we will be upholding it.”

After a Florida court declared same-sex marriage legal, former governor Jeb Bush said, “We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law.” All three governors have faced tough questions from some evangelical voters after conceding the fight.

Schlafly predicted that those candidates would lose support from the conservative Christian base in a Republican primary.

“I think voters are going to be extremely interested in whether a candidate is willing to stand up against overreach by the federal courts on marriage,” he said. “I think it will be a big issue — I think it will be the biggest issue.”

The Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage promises to have particular salience in the first caucus state of Iowa, where a powerful evangelical bloc has long pushed back against the idea of judges defining marriage laws. After the state supreme court ruled in favor of gay marriage in 2009, conservative activists led a successful campaign to deny three justices another term on the bench.

Some conservatives in Iowa are now hoping for a similar backlash against a federal decision. “It’s the Congress that makes the law, it’s the President that executes the law, it’s the people that can amend the Constitution,” said Iowa conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats, who hosted Huckabee, Jindal, Santorum and Texas Governor Rick Perry. “The courts don’t get to do any of those.”

Last month, Deace, the Iowa radio host, asked a slice of the broad field of potential Republican candidates — Cruz, Huckabee, Walker, Perry, Paul, Rubio, Santorum, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump — to respond to an essay by John C. Eastman, a conservative professor of law, in which he made the case for ignoring a Supreme Court decision that found same-sex-marriage bans unconstitutional.

Perry, Trump and Jindal did not respond to Deace’s query. Jindal told TIME that he would wait for the court’s decision before weighing in on potential next steps.

Constitutional lawyers on both sides of the ideological divide have pushed back against these arguments. “It’s just fantastical to point to Dred Scott and the Civil War in reference to these cases,” said Leaming of the American Constitution Society. “It’s fantastical and it’s also quite frankly irresponsible.” But for some, at least, it may be good politics.

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TIME Hillary Clinton

2016 Rivals Respond to Clinton Announcement

"We're ready for Hillary"

Rivals were chomping at the bit even before former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formally announced her presidential bid Sunday afternoon, releasing statements and videos and hawking swag attacking the Democratic front-runner.

“We’re ready for Hillary,” said Republican hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz in a video. “Hillary Clinton represents the failed policies of the past.”

On Sunday morning, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush released a video saying the nation “must to do better than the Obama-Clinton foreign policy.”

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the only other woman eyeing the White House, said in a video statement that Clinton “doesn’t have a track record of leadership or trustworthiness. She’s not the woman for the White House.”

MORE Hillary Clinton’s Main Obstacle: Her Own Inevitability

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tweeted that Americans want leaders from outside Washington, and tied Clinton to President Obama’s foreign policy, while former Texas Gov. Rick Perry tweeted that “America can’t afford another [four] years of the Obama-Clinton agenda.”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of the GOP’s most intense Clinton critics, devoted a section of his presidential campaign web store to items mocking Clinton, including a Clinton hard drive—a reference to her deleted emails from her time at the State Department.

“I know Hillary Clinton. I served with Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton does not have the right vision to lead America,” said former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in a statement.

MORE Liberal Groups Respond to Hillary Clinton Campaign Launch

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham also had harsh words. “The middle class is getting screwed by the administration’s domestic agenda & I believe it would be more of the same with Clinton,” he tweeted.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is expected to launch a Democratic challenge to Clinton from the left next month, addressed Clinton’s impending announcement Friday before an event in Iowa.

“Democrats expect a robust conversation about the issues we face as a nation and the challenges we face and the solutions to our problems,” he told reporters. “And they believe that that conversation needs to take place in something as important as a presidential primary. It would be an extreme poverty indeed if there were only one person willing to compete for our party’s nomination.”

Read next: Clinton Takes Road Trip to Iowa for First Campaign Event

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TIME 2016 Election

Republican Candidates Didn’t Just Talk Guns at NRA Event

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting in Nashville on Apr. 10, 2015.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting in Nashville on Apr. 10, 2015.

Most of the candidates talked about Iran, ISIS and religious freedom

Republican presidential hopefuls talked about a lot of things other than guns at a National Rifle Association conference Friday.

Almost the entire GOP field of likely candidates spoke at the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action leadership forum: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal were all on the docket, among others.

And while each of them touched on gun rights and the Second Amendment, they all broadened the theme of freedom to speak about other issues that have cropped up in their stump speeches.

Many of them spoke about the Middle East: the threat from ISIS, President Obama’s foreign policy and the recent framework for a nuclear deal with Iran.

“We’ve got a president who calls … Iran a place we can do business with,” said Walker. “I want a Commander-in-Chief who will look the American people in the eye and say that radical Islamic terrorism is a threat and we’re going to do something about it.”

Perry struck a similar tone. “Terrorist regimes must be defeated by strength, not words,” he said. “This agreement with Iran doesn’t limit Iranian nuclear ambitions, it legitimizes it.”

Rubio echoed that argument: “Our president refuses to look the threat of radical Islam in its eye and call it by its name.”

And Bush added, “In the face of rising danger from Russia, Iran and ISIS, among others, our President is indecisive and weak.”

Carson, on the other hand, wove together the Second Amendment, ISIS and border security: “We think about people from Honduras and Mexico and places like that coming in, but there are people who are watching us they’re all over this world. They’re called radical extremist Islamic terrorists, and they’re going to get in here any way that they can. And when they get there we need to be able to fight them, particularly if we have an administration that won’t fight them we need to be able to fight them ourselves.”

Most of the presumptive candidates also hit on a hot domestic topic — religious freedom, and the controversy over the recent religious freedom law in Indiana.

Jindal didn’t even mention gun rights until almost midway through his speech, beginning instead with harsh words for liberal criticism of the the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “It was an attack on the fundamental right to speech and association and the free exercise of religion,” he said, before tying it back to guns: “If these large forces can conspire to crush the First Amendment, it won’t be long before they come after the Second Amendment.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum added, “Freedom is under assault not by the gay and lesbian community, but by the Left in America … What is under assault today is the freedom to exercise your faith.”

TIME 2016 Election

Religious Liberty Becomes the Byword Among Iowa’s Social Conservatives

Arkansas Reacts To Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Addresses Of Controversial Religious Freedom Bill
Andrea Morales—Getty Images Demonstrators protest during a press conference by the Human Rights Campaign on the steps of the Arkansas State Capital in Little Rock, Ark. on April 1, 2015.

Conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats had just one question for the four presidential hopefuls gathered in the chapel at Iowa Wesleyan University: How would they preserve religious liberty?

It’s an idea as old as the country, but for the 600 people in the audience and social conservatives elsewhere in Iowa, religious liberty is fast becoming a new litmus test for Republican presidential candidates, thanks to a recent uproar over religious freedom legislation in Indiana and Arkansas.

Hosted by Vander Plaats’ Family Leader organization, the event Thursday was designed to make Iowa ground zero on the issue. For their part, the candidates’ responses showed broad agreement that religious freedom in general and Christianity in particular are under assault from the federal government.

“It is wrong for our government to discriminate against Christians,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told the crowd at Iowa Wesleyan, listing off a litany of alleged sins, from requirements that employer healthcare plans include contraceptive coverage to anti-discrimination laws that don’t allow businesses to reject work on same-sex weddings. “It is wrong for our government to force these businesses to choose between going out of business or violating our sincere beliefs.”

The event, which also featured former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, capped a day of GOP candidates scurrying to drive up their support with evangelical voters. Earlier in the day they—along with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz—attended a homeschooler conference hosted by the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators in the state capital.

“The last few weeks have been heartbreaking with what we’ve seen in Indiana and Arkansas,” Cruz told the roomful of about 1,000 homeschooling parents and children. “We’ve seen religious liberty under assault.”

Religious liberty, Vander Plaats said, “will be the key issue of the 2016 campaign” in Iowa.

The gatherings drew little in the way of disagreement. “I look at them not as opponents, but as colleagues,” Huckabee said of his fellow contenders at the evening summit. Perry opened his speech at the Family Leader praising Santorum as a national leader of the pro-life movement and Jindal for his efforts on job promotion at home.

But beneath the agreement was the hard reality that all five hopefuls are depending on the same united social conservative bloc to bring them over the finish line, and right now it is split between all of them as well as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

The discussion comes as conservatives are basing their candidacies on the notion that Republicans have lost the White House because they have been insufficiently pure. Cruz argued that millions of evangelicals stayed home in the 2012 election out of frustration with more moderate candidates. “Our problem in previous elections wasn’t that we were too conservative, it was that we weren’t sincerely conservative,” Jindal said.

That political backdrop left the candidates jostling to prove their credentials fighting on issues important to evangelical caucus-goers and social conservatives nationally, from opposition to abortion to religious freedom laws like the one passed in Indiana. They touted their support for accreditation of Bible colleges.

“It’s part of a broader assault on people of faith,” Cruz said. “It’s part of a broader assault on Christians. It’s part of a broader assault trying to drive faith out of the public sphere. And in my view, in 2016, religious liberty should be front-and-center in this next election.”

“Religious liberty has been a passion of mine for over two decades,” Cruz added over the din of crying babies and gaggling toddlers. “I’ve been proud to have had the opportunity to fight and stand for religious liberty over and over and over again.”

Not to be outdone, Santorum, who won the caucuses in 2012, cast himself as ahead of the curve in fighting for religious liberty and against same-sex marriage when he was in the Senate a decade ago. “Karen and I homeschooled for 19 years—we were pioneers,” he added.

Perry drew applause for telling of his religious journey, describing himself as “lost” after leaving the military and returning to his parents’ home. “I was lost figuratively and literally about what I wanted to do in my life. God really wadded me up,” he said. “I told him I really wanted to live my life for him. So from 1977 on, God has given me an extraordinary second chance.”

Jindal scored the best-received performance Thursday evening with a biography-heavy stump speech punctuated by a strong condemnation of government interference in religious life. He criticized the “unholy alliance between Hollywood and big business” in Indiana opposing the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, calling it hypocritical that the same companies that do business in countries that discriminate against gays and lesbians and Christians were attacking the Indiana law.

Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses, used his time at the Family Leader conference to warn that conservatives were losing the fight to define marriage as only being between a man and a woman. He criticized President Obama for “using his precious time in the Oval Office to call people up to congratulate them for being gay.” He added, “[Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s] widow didn’t get a phone call, but a football player who came out did.”

TIME 2016 Election

Presidential Hopefuls Condemn South Carolina Shooting

The 2016 presidential field uniformly condemned the shooting of Walter Scott by a police officer in South Carolina last weekend.

In statements and interviews, several GOP presidential hopefuls weighed in on the shooting which has riveted the nation, following the emergence of a video that apparently shows officer Michael T. Slager firing multiple times at Scott, who was unarmed, before appearing to drop a stun gun near his lifeless body.

In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called the incident “just horrific.”

“For men and women who follow the law and use the training effectively, I’m always going to stand to defend them,” he said. “But that video just shook my very human being to think that someone would do that and I think anyone who’s been in law enforcement knows that’s not the way people are trained to act. And I send out my sympathy to the family involved there.”

His comments followed Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who on CNN said “it’s just a terrible tragedy and I hope justice does occur.”

“I think when you look at police across our country, 98 percent, 99 percent of them are doing their job on a day-to-day basis and aren’t doing things like this,” Paul continued.

Republicans have traditionally sided with law enforcement in other instances of police-on-civilian violence, making their condemnations all the more notable.

In a tweet Wednesday evening, former Secretary of State and likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton condemned the shooting.

“Praying for #WalterScott‘s family,” she wrote. “Heartbreaking & too familiar. We can do better – rebuild trust, reform justice system, respect all lives.”

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a likely Democratic challenger to Clinton, tweeted” “This video is appalling but it shows why accountability & transparency are so important. It shouldn’t take a video to ensure justice.”

In a statement, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal praised authorities for swiftly bringing charges against the officer. “This is a horrific situation, and I think it is important that authorities moved quickly to bring charges. My heart goes out to the family of the victim.”

A spokesman for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry echoed those comments, saying, “This is a terrible tragedy and the governor’s prayers are with Mr. Scott’s family.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham called the video “very difficult to watch and deeply troubling on many fronts,” in a statement. He added, “I also know the actions of the officer in this situation do not accurately reflect on the many valuable contributions made by thousands of law enforcement officers in South Carolina and across our nation.”

TIME reached out to the other major presidential candidates for comment, but they did not offer their reactions.

TIME 2016 Election

GOP Donors Buoyant About 2016 Prospects at Retreat

Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Good news for the GOP, bad news for Hillary Clinton

Republican donors gathered at an exclusive retreat this weekend to compare notes on the 2016 presidential field and hear the candidates’ pitches directly.

The celebratory mood was palpable, buoyed by another strong fundraising month for the party, the impending launch of the primary contest and a spate of negative stories about Hillary Clinton.

Donors in custom pins designed by the party backslapped their way through the pinkish walls of the Waldorf Astoria Resort and Club, as many of the candidates they elected in 2014, and the ones they are hoping to elect in 2016 preened for their support. Sean Spicer, the RNC’s chief strategist and communications director, said it was the “largest pre-nomination retreat in terms of both donor attendance and speakers.”

Throughout the weekend, the presidential contenders held private meetings with the assembled donors, broken into classes like “Eagles” ($15,000+), “Regents” ($60,000+), and “Team 100” ($100,000+). New this year, thanks to congressional action dramatically increasing donation limits to national parties, were the members of the “RNC Trust,” who have pledged to give the more than $330,000 legal limit annually.

The lavish resort is nestled between a golf course and a marina and across a sound from the beach, though the 36-hour conference was jammed with sessions on party data and messaging. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus sought to leverage the celebrity and celebration to plug the more mundane mechanics, as party staffers held briefings on technology and field program advances in the GOP since 2012. Pollster Frank Luntz held court in a session and Republican senators held a closed-door panel where they laid into the emerging nuclear deal with Iran.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio delivered well-regarded remarks Friday evening, highlighting their domestic themes of growing the party and criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy. Each, attendees said, was interrupted by multiple rounds of applause. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker focused his remarks on the economy, delivering, like the others, a modified version of his stump speech for the well-heeled audience.

On Saturday evening, New Jersey Gov. Christie called on the party to avoid flip-floppers in a pre-dinner reception before joining the Team 100 dinner, along with a coterie of Republican members of Congress. Texas Gov. Rick Perry rotated among the class dinners, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addressed the post-dinner dessert. Former Sen. Rick Santorum and former New York Gov. George Pataki attended the weekend gathering, as well as businessman Donald Trump, who spoke Friday evening and, according to multiple attendees, spent much of his speech trying to show off his connections to the assembled donors.

Among the members of Congress in attendance for the weekend were Sens. Cory Gardner, Pat Roberts, Mike Rounds, Thom Tillis, David Perdue and Deb Fischer and Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Renee Elmers.

A large number of benefactors remain on the fence, according to party and campaign sources, using the meetings to grill candidates on the issues important to them. In the hallways, donors shared notes from their private meetings, gossiping about Walker’s flip-flop on immigration reform, the burdens of Bush’s family name and Christie’s narrowing path to the nomination.

One donor, who has pledged five-figure sums to groups affiliated with at least three GOP candidates, said he and many of his peers believe it’s still a wide-open field.

“You want to get in on the ground floor,” said the donor, who didn’t want his name used to avoid attracting more suitors, “and so many of these guys can go all the way.”

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