Ted Cruz locks up Evangelical establishment, boxing out Rubio

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both know how to speak the Good Word on the campaign trail. One rails against the “atheist Taliban,” the other assures us that marriage equality isn’t actually settled. One builds a national prayer team for his campaign, the other reminds us that 9/11 was part of God’s plan.

Both believe strongly that all Americans deserve the freedom to practice Christianity in all aspects of their life — public and private.

Unfortunately for one of them, the gatekeepers to the Evangelical wing of the Republican Party decided that this year, in order to avoid a repeat of the fractured Evangelical vote that eased Mitt Romney’s path to the nomination in 2012, they would have to choose one candidate and choose them early. And it appears as though that candidate is Ted Cruz.

According to Tim Alberta of The National Review, a group of roughly fifty conservative leaders — a predominantly Evangelical coalition led by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins — held the latest in what have been a series of secret meetings in order to determine which candidate is best suited to represent their interests in opposition to the Republican establishment. After five rounds of balloting, with interludes for prayer and persuasion, Cruz emerged with the necessary 75 percent supermajority. As Alberta reported:

Ted Cruz, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Ted Cruz, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

It didn’t take long for the participants to winnow down their list. They eliminated the weaker contenders: Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson among them. This facilitated the Cruz-Rubio duel many had been anticipating: Cruz, the Protestant purist with a pit bull’s demeanor, versus Rubio, the Catholic pragmatist with a choirboy’s countenance. Or, as one member framed it: “Cruz the Fighter versus Rubio the Communicator.”

The impact was felt immediately on the 2016 campaign. Three prominent participants — direct-mail pioneer and longtime activist Richard Viguerie, the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown, and The Family Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats – announced their support of Cruz within 72 hours of the meeting at the Sheraton.

Earlier today, Brown wrote a blog post/fundraising solicitation on the National Organization for Marriage’s website citing his organization’s endorsement as the reason behind Cruz’s 21 point surge and ten point lead in the most recent Des Moines Register poll.

As Alberta reports, Cruz was the early favorite to get the group’s nod, and secured his position by actively campaigning for the group’s support. When talking strategy, Cruz has repeatedly emphasized the GOP’s need to turn out millions of (white) Evangelical voters who stayed home rather than voting for weak-tea conservatives like John McCain and Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012. In meetings with Evangelical leaders, he focused on the party’s need to unite behind one conservative candidate — a move that Alberta describes as a deliberate wink and nod to Perkins and the group he had assembled to do just that. So even as Rubio was emerging as the candidate the GOP establishment thought could bridge the gap between themselves and religious conservative on the right wing of the party, Cruz was working behind the scenes to eat their lunch.

But it isn’t just Cruz’s legwork that’s gotten him this basket of endorsements, which will be announced in the coming days, weeks and months. Having watched Cruz and Rubio make their pitches to Evangelical voters — pitches that Donald Trump simply isn’t capable of making — it makes sense for these Evangelical leaders to like Rubio and love Cruz on the merits. Rubio says the right words and takes the right positions, but Cruz picks the right battles and, perhaps as importantly, offends the right people — Republicans in Washington, in particular. Rubio looks and sounds like he’s reciting lines while Cruz looks and sounds like he’s delivering a sermon — perhaps because he is.

Rubio reminds me of the teenager who stops you on the sidewalk to ask if you’ve heard the good news. Ted Cruz reminds me of the preacher that sent him there.

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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10 Responses to “Ted Cruz locks up Evangelical establishment, boxing out Rubio”

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  2. Nicholas A Kocal says:

    Considering NONE of these people supporting Cruz is a real Christian …

  3. FLL says:

    The Republican Iowa caucus is like the children’s table at holiday reunions. It’s a little peppermint ghetto for fundamentalist Christians, and whoever wins is doomed to fail everywhere else. Kind of cute and weird at the same time.

  4. BeccaM says:

    So did Huckabee, and in a far more visible way, going so far as to snub Cruz and not let him onto the stage.

    As far as I can tell, Graham is the only one who has flat out said Davis should just do her job, as required by law. All the rest? They seem to be totally cool with religious exemptions for all Christians who hate gay people.

  5. Don Chandler says:

    Ted got in bed with Kim, that probably was the kicker.

  6. BeccaM says:

    I agree, but I think it’s a mistake to think the fight for marriage equality is won and over. They’re just changing their strategy now to turn same-sex marriages into something which state and local governments–and individuals–can ignore if they want to. Separate-but-unequal only for gay and lesbian couples, because none of them are saying they want the right to refuse to recognize a marriage between atheists.

    They’re coming at it from several angles: GOPer candidates who vow to appoint SCOTUS justices and federal judges who will find for no LGBT rights at all. Attempts at state-level (unconstitutional) nullification. Executive orders allowing discrimination. And of course blanket legal exemptions for anybody who wants to be a homophobe, just by citing ‘deeply held beliefs’.

    Part of NOM’s scam has always been a fund-raising scam. But they and FRC, AFA and the other alphabet hate-groups are still relevant for the conservative political right, who continue to seek the bigots’ endorsements.

  7. Jon Green says:

    They’re getting really desperate. Practically everything they do is a fundraising ask now.

  8. BeccaM says:

    Huckabee and Santorum must be going apoplectic at not being the fundies’ Annointed One.

    But yeah… there was no way they were going to go with Trump, because his Christianity is as thin as the gold plating on his cheap and gaudy statuary. He can’t be bothered to learn the usual required cant about being forgiven and saved by Jesus, and can’t even force himself to fake the necessary faux humility.

    Carson got it right, but he’s just too nutty and incompetent to be taken seriously. Plus he’s the wrong sect for these fundamentalists. “I was wild and a sinner, but God and Jesus saved me.” Trump’s response to the question? That he couldn’t think of anything he’d ever done in his entire life which merited forgiveness. Bzzzt! Wrong answer, totally wrong for this particular crowd.

    I’m really not surprised they went with Cruz. He’s got the whole sleazy preacher-style down pat. If the guy ever hooks up with a voice coach to teach him not to sound like a wormy douche all the time, he’d be a serious contender. Sad to say. At this point, if I had to guess who the GOP’s nominee would be, it’d be him. Being loathed by many members of his party’s leadership isn’t a liability in this election cycle.

  9. nicho says:

    NOM? Really? I can’t believe that morally — and politically — bereft organization is still hoovering money from the pockets of the suckers. Talk about beating a spot in the sidewalk where there used to be a dead horse.

  10. AnitaMann says:

    Good. Cruz should be easier to beat than Rubio, just on his kazoo-voice alone.

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