Iowa Ted Cruz, meet Manhattan Ted Cruz

In Iowa, Ted Cruz is a theocrat. He rails against the “atheist Taliban” and says that non-believers can’t be president. He calls the Supreme Court “lawless” and promises to put a repeal of Obergefell v Hodges front and center” in his administration. He speaks with a preacher’s tone, and makes Biblical allusions when talking foreign policy.

In Manhattan, however, it appears to be a different story.

From Mike Allen at POLITICO:

But in December, behind closed doors at a big-dollar Manhattan fundraiser, the quickly ascending presidential candidate assured a Republican gay-rights supporter that a Cruz administration would not make fighting same-sex marriage a top priority.

In a recording provided to POLITICO, Cruz answers a flat “No” when asked whether fighting gay marriage is a “top-three priority,” an answer that pleased his socially moderate hosts but could surprise some of his evangelical backers.

Here’s the full exchange:

Male questioner: Can I ask you a question? So, I’m a big supporter. And the only issue I really disagree with you about is gay marriage. And I’m curious: Given all the problems that the country’s facing — like ISIS, the growth of government — how big a priority is fighting gay marriage going to be to a Cruz administration?

Cruz: My view on gay marriage is that I’m a constitutionalist and marriage is a question for the states. And so I think if someone wants to change the marriage laws of their state, the way to do so is convince your fellow citizens — and change them democratically, rather than five unelected judges. … Being a constitutionalist is integral to my approach to every other issue. So that I’m very devoted to.

Questioner: So would you say it’s like a top-three priority for you — fighting gay marriage?

Cruz: No. I would say defending the Constitution is a top priority. And that cuts across the whole spectrum — whether it’s defending [the] First Amendment, defending religious liberty, stopping courts from making public policy issues that are left to the people.

I also think the 10th Amendment of the Constitution cuts across a whole lot of issues and can bring people together. People of New York may well resolve the marriage question differently than the people of Florida or Texas or Ohio. … That’s why we have 50 states — to allow a diversity of views. And so that is a core commitment.

The recording was taken at the same December 9th fundraiser where Cruz questioned Donald Trump and Ben Carson’s fitness for the presidency, asking whether they had the judgement and temperament necessary to be trusted with the nuclear launch codes.

Allen notes that Cruz’s more moderate tone with respect to marriage equality at the fundraiser can be made to fit what he’s said on the campaign trail, but it takes some work. Presidents do juggle their “top-three” priorities all the time, and more than three issues will be “front and center” in a given administration. Cruz also followed up his “No” by explaining, as he has on the trail, that his number one priority is “defending the Constitution” and suggesting that the issue should be sent back to the states.

But it’s worth keeping in mind that Ted Cruz was one of just four signatories to the National Organization for marriage’s pledge promising to support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. So he’s either lying when he says he really thinks marriage equality should be decided at the state level, or he’s going back on his pledge to work to overturn marriage equality at the national level.

Perhaps more importantly, since candidate pledges aren’t exactly binding and the National Organization for Marriage is becoming increasingly irrelevant, it’s worth keeping in mind that Cruz struck this moderate tone at a high-dollar fundraiser just two days after he locked up the support of some of our country’s most prominent Evangelical leaders. And he earned their support in large part due to his repeated and emphatic commitment to overturning marriage equality, along with championing Judeo-Christian values throughout his administration. Cruz loves to talk — as he did at the December 9th fundraiser — about how he’s positioned himself in the conservative “lane” of the Republican primary, but for all of his bluster about principles and conviction, it appears as though his fire and brimstone is conditional.

That could be a problem with Republican primary voters, who seem especially sensitive this year to the perception that they are being lied to by elected officials within their own party. They’ve gravitated to Cruz, especially in Iowa, in large part due to his seemingly-genuine religiosity — a trait that Donald Trump clearly doesn’t share. Without credibility there, it would be much harder for him to emerge as the more polished alternative to the straight-talking, like it is-telling Donald Trump.

Especially given that Cruz is a caricature of the exact kind of cynical politician he’s spent his campaign warning voters about.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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