Donald Trump threatened a third-party presidential run, Herman Cain and Israeli lawmaker Danny Danon stirred up the crowd and Jon Huntsman Jr. and Tim Pawlenty got polite receptions at the second annual Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington.
Ralph Reed’s gathering Friday and Saturday of conservatives also heard from GOP presidential polling front-runner Mitt Romney, the only major hopeful to not mention Israel, and saw a video address from a vacationing Newt Gingrich, who led an informal survey by The Washington Times of Republicans asked whom they would most like to hear give a speech.
Only Mr. Cain, a former corporate executive and the sole black 2012 nomination contender, set afire the audience of several hundred political operatives, activists and consultants, most of them religious and social conservatives clearly dedicated both to defeating President Obama and to supporting Israel.
But it was a man who fancies himself the new GOP kingmaker - real estate magnate and TV star known as “the Donald” - who proved to be the biggest attraction before Mr. Cain’s closing banquet address Saturday night.
The outspoken New York billionaire “was a big draw, no question about it,” Mr. Reed told The Washington Times.
Mr. Trump, who earlier this year ruled out a bid for the GOP presidential nomination after flirting with the idea for weeks, reasserted his embrace of same-sex marriage, his pro-life view on abortion and the dire need to deny Mr. Obama a second term.
In a separate interview, however, Mr. Trump said he would run as an independent if the GOP nominates “someone I don’t agree with” - a threat not exactly in keeping with the “unity” theme sounded by Mr. Reed, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and virtually every other speaker.
But no issue seemed to unify those in attendance more than Israel. One “breakout” panel of speakers addressed the subject, “Israel: Surrounded Yet Undaunted in the Face of Evil.” And from the podium in the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, speaker after speaker offered steadfast support for Israel while leveling stiff criticism at Mr. Obama’s desire to have the starting point for renewed peace talks to be based on Israel’s borders before the Six-Day War in 1967.
“We will fight, and Jerusalem will stay united,” he vowed, sparking the audience into a frenzy. “Jerusalem will stay under Jewish control forever.” Following the speech, Bob Reccord, executive director of the Council for National Policy, offered a prayer, saying “Heavenly Father, the Scriptures are very clear when they tell us in the Old Testament pray for peace in Jerusalem.”
The importance of Israel as the “only friend and ally” of the United States in the Middle East shared thematic dominance with an evangelicals desire to elect a Republican to replace Mr. Obama in the 2012 elections.
Much of the conference was devoted to simultaneous work sessions led by specialists in political organizing and messaging.
Mr. Reed said the purpose of the conference was not just to give 2012 aspirants a platform before churchgoing political activists, but also to act as the equivalent of a National Football League miniature training camp for identifying, motivating and getting voters to the polls.
Many attendees agreed, after Mr. Cain addressed the conference banquet on Saturday night, that the man who had turned around the failing Godfather’s Pizza chain was the only candidate who “blew away” the audience.