BY STEVE PEOPLES AND JILL COLVIN
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican Party’s conservative wing, pumped up by House Speaker John Boehner’s stepping down, is warning the 2016 presidential candidates that defying its wishes will come at their peril.
Religious activists forcefully conveyed this message Saturday: embrace our uncompromising stance against abortion rights and gay marriage, among other priorities, even if doing so risks a federal government shutdown.
An emboldened conservative movement signals fresh trouble for White House candidates viewed by the party’s frustrated base as insufficiently committed to their cause. Chief among them is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“Conservatives are on fire at the moment,” said Gary Bauer, a former president of the Family Research Council. He was among the featured speakers at the Values Voter annual conference that brought an estimated 2,000 evangelical activists to Washington this weekend.
Boehner’s announcement that he would resign from Congress by the end of October came without warning Friday, nearly four months before voting begins in the presidential primary. His decision revealed a deep divide within the GOP that raises questions about the party’s ability to unite behind one candidate next spring.
Hard-line conservatives were deeply disappointed with the last two Republican presidential nominees – former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain. Boehner was unpopular among conservative activists, and his resignation will give them new hope that the party may choose a candidate who energizes the most passionate voters, even if that nominee is seen as less attractive to a general election crowd.
A co-founder of the tea party movement said Boehner was just another of the establishment figures taken down by frustrated conservatives. “Today, the insurgency is more emboldened than ever and looks to even further dominate the presidential elections in 2016,” said Mark Meckler. “Our influence is growing.”