One year ago, Mitt Romney took the stage at the Values Voter Summit and lit into Bryan Fischer for his history of anti-Mormon rhetoric. Now, Romney is at the top of the GOP ticket, and Fischer will be on the sidelines for the first time in three years as the confab convenes in Washington D.C. this weekend.
Fischer’s absence from the line-up is also notable in the wake of the Todd Akin controversy. Fischer stepped forward to defend Akin (he even said Republicans’ abandonment of Akin was like a “forcible assault”) even as Romney called on him to withdraw from the Senate race.
Fischer downplayed his absence in an email to TPM, noting that he will still attend the event and broadcast his radio show, “Focal Point,” live. Fischer is an official at the American Family Association, one of many sponsors of the summit.
Last October, in the run-up to the Values Voter Summit, Fischer argued that the framers of the Constitution had not intended the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections to apply to Mormons.
“My argument all along has been that the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the free exercise of the Christian religion,” he said. “Mormonism is not an orthodox Christian faith. It’s just is not. They have a different Gospel, they have a completely different definition of who Christ is and so forth… And it was very clear that the Founding Fathers did not intend to preserve automatically religious liberty for non-Christian faiths, so when Mormonism came along, they practiced polygamy, they believed in polygamy, just like Muslims do today.”
Romney, one of many GOP presidential contenders at the time, condemned Fischer’s anti-Mormon ideas.
We should remember that decency and civility are values too. One of the speakers who will follow me today, has crossed that line. Poisonous language does not advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind. The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate. The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us — let no agenda, narrow our vision or drive us apart.
Though Romney never referred to Fischer by name, an aide confirmed after the speech that he had been talking about Fischer.
Fischer spoke after Romney and clearly did not take his words to heart. His speech included anti-gay and anti-Muslim positions, and stressed repeatedly that the next president “needs to be a main of sincere, authentic, genuine Christian faith.”
Recently, Fischer also came out on the opposite side of most of the Republican establishment when he stood up for Akin, who came under pressure to leave the Missouri Senate race for saying that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant.
Though many social conservatives continued to back Akin, Fischer went a step further, defending the substance of Akin’s remarks and equating Republicans’ criticism of Akin to “rape.”
“You talk about a forcible situation, you talk about somebody being a victim of forcible assault, that would be Todd Akin,” Fischer said, the same day Romney joined fellow Republicans in asking Akin to step aside.
Fischer also went further than most in defending the substance of Akin’s comments, saying it is “absolutely right” that it is difficult for women to become pregnant from rape.
“That’s all Todd Akin is saying — that the brute force trauma of that event may inhibit her from body’s ability to have that act of rape result in conception — that’s all he’s saying and he’s absolutely right about that,” Fischer said on his radio show.
Fischer didn’t mention any of the conflicts in his email to TPM.
“The explanation is quite simple,” Fischer wrote. “I was filling in the last couple of years for our president, Tim Wildmon, who has had scheduling conflicts in the recent past. As a devoted father, he didn’t want to miss any of his son’s high school football games. Now that his son has graduated, he’s back on the podium at VVS, and I happily defer to him. I will be there, broadcasting my radio program on both Thursday and Friday as I have done in previous years.”
Paul Ryan is scheduled to attend the event on Friday, Sept. 14. The Romney campaign did not confirm the appearance.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.