Known anti-gay hate groups sponsored a major gathering in DC at which multiple Republican nominees will speak. One pastor there has already urged evangelical Christians to vote for Rick Perry – and he knows the numbers of voters he’s trying to rally.

The Values Voter Summit took place this weekend, and the major news was Rev. Robert Jeffress’ endorsement of Rick Perry and his statement that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is “a cult.” Although that has captured headlines, and Romney’s condemnation of “poisonous language” has made a smaller splash, the larger context of the Values Voter Summit provides an informative example of how the extremely conservative Christian agenda is driving Republican politics today.

The two primary sponsors of the VVS, the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, have been identified as anti-gay hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their unremitting anti-gay propaganda and lies. Yet somehow the five major candidiates for the Republican nomination were willing to speak at this event.

There’s a very specific set of “values” at the core of this event. Even though the first two imperatives on the VVS’ website banner are “Reduce Government” and “Limit Spending,” members of these groups and the politicians who pander to them have shown absolutely no concern about increasing government in order to regulate women’s rights and marriage, and have insisted on wasting money defending unconstitutional laws.

The third imperative, “Champion Traditional Values,” is clearly the predominant one. And their version of traditional, ’50s values has more in common with the 1850s than the 1950s.

As Fred Clark points out, the Values Voter Summit is not staged by liberal bloggers conspiring to foment hysteria. (Honestly, in a million years I would never have dreamed up guys in suits holding up plastic dinosaurs.) The conservatives with extreme agendas are highly influential, and they’re working to become more so.

To me, the most illuminating element of Jeffress’ follow-up interview with CNN was this little factoid that has been largely ignored:

Look, when it gets down to it, we need to remember this. In 2008, 30 million Evangelical Christians sat at home and didn’t vote. Barack Obama won by 10 million votes. Whether you like it or not, Mitt Romney will not energize Evangelical Christians.

I have no idea whether his numbers are accurate. The point is that he’s calculating the numbers. He’s not just praying, he’s not just preaching, he’s counting votes and working to get voters “energized” to swing the next election. Let me say this as clearly as I can:

Even people who are working towards irrational ends often use perfectly rational means.

Others with similar goals in mind are using highly sophisticated means to try to increase voter registration and participation among people with the “right” “biblical worldview.” They are also counting the votes, and working on mobilizing millions – not just thousands, millions – of voters to support their increasingly hateful and vile agendas.

This is about a lot more than “poisonous language.” It’s about a toxic and addictive mix of hatred and politics. As Pratchett wrote, “Poison goes where poison’s welcome.” All the candidates who attended the Values Voter Summit showed that to them, this poison’s welcome. If the hit comes with a rush of voters, they’ll take it and be jonesing for more.

More importantly, the significant numbers of voters actively engaging with the conservative movement as it grows ever more radical are showing that they continue to welcome the poison, too. And there are plenty of people – like Jeffress – working to push it to them, to get them hooked on ever-higher doses of hatred so that they’re willing to take increasingly extreme actions to get their next fix.

And although the pushers may themselves be high from taking offense one too many times, they have calculated the angles and are running their racket shrewdly to expand their market.