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Tea Party Jesus: Koch's Americans For Prosperity Sidles Up to Religious Right for 2012 Campaign

David Koch's key operative, Tim Phillips, is moving to merge the religious right with the Tea Party movement -- just in time for the presidential race.

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In Lynchburg, speaker after speaker at the Awakening conference pounded that theme. The Family Research Council’s Kenneth Blackwell argued that the debt is a moral issue because it amounts to “intergenerational theft.”  Evangelical leader Samuel Rodriguez, often regarded as the Right’s bridge to Latinos, equated “big government” with “the spirit of Pharaoh,” referring to the Egyptian ruler who enslaved the Jews in the biblical Book of Exodus before God sent Moses to deliver them to freedom.

AFP’s Phillips hosted a panel on what he claimed was a looming economic disaster. In introducing Blackwell, Phillips praised the Family Research Council as “one of the best organizations in the country,” saying FRC “does so much work, protecting our values, our faith, our freedom.” Also on the panel were former Reagan official Marc Nuttle, who serves on the board of the dominionist Oak Initiative, and Grover Norquist, the fiscal conservative who is one of the best-known figures on the secular right. Nuttle stayed to the weekend's script, calling big government an “idol” and warning that failure to get the nation’s fiscal house in order in the next two years could lead to “1,000 years of darkness” on the earth, while Norquist spoke in secular language.

Under normal circumstances, Liberty University would be a strange place to find Norquist, who last year joined the board of the right-wing gay Republican group GOProud, whose participation in the Conservative Political Action Conference led to a boycott by some religious conservatives. But his value as an anti-tax zealot -- best known for saying his goal was to shrink the federal government until it was small enough to drown in the bathtub -- appeared to win him a dispensation.  (Norquist seems to have a drowning fetish: at Awakening he joked that an economic recovery plan would be to put all the trial lawyers in a bag and throw them in the river.) Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, according to a report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has received $60,000 in funding from the Claude Lambe Foundation, which is headed by Charles Koch.

Norquist was there to support Tim Phillips’ push for religious and economic conservatives to work together on “limited government” and electoral victories. Blackwell and Norquist engaged in a bit of indirect jockeying, with Blackwell warning that economic conservatives would not be able to win the future if they try to marginalize social conservatives.

Norquist did not address the point directly, but described the whole of the conservative movement as a coalition grounded in a desire to be left alone by the government -- a libertarian characterization that rankles many Religious Right activists. But under Phillips’ watchful gaze, they were on their best eye-on-the-prize behavior; when asked about their differences, they declined to criticize each other and instead talked of how their followers needed to work together to win.

Norquist suggested there are no major divisions among the conservative on “vote-moving issues.” But Blackwell struck a warning: “There is no way that we can win this battle, culturally or economically, if we don’t take a stand -- for marriage, for the family, and school choice and religious liberty,” he said.

Just a few days after Bachmann, won the Awakening straw poll, Ralph Reed tweeted an upcoming appearance of his own: “Can't wait to see Tea Party friends in Orlando & Tampa on 4/15 for tax day rallies!” In Orlando, Reed will share the stage with Tea Party favorites Marco Rubio, the freshman U.S. senator from Florida who is already being touted as a potential future president, and Herman Cain, the prospective presidential candidate with strong ties to AFP. As could be said of Bachmann and Cain, that Tax Day Rally is co-sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.