Not-so-quietly, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is building serious momentum among Christian leaders.
On Thursday, Bob Vander Plaats, the head of extraordinarily prominent Iowa evangelical organization Family Leader, endorsed Cruz. He endorsed Governor Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Senator Rick Santorum in 2012, both of whom went on to win the caucuses. Asked by The Daily Wire if he had received any assurances from Cruz about upholding Christian values, Vander Plaats stated flatly, “Ted Cruz has a titanium spine.” In a statement on Facebook, Vander Plaats wrote:
When picking a candidate for president, I have long stated that I’m looking for someone who has the character to withstand the attacks that inevitably come during a campaign, has proven himself competent, surrounds himself with the company of trustworthy advisors, and who has demonstrated the ability to raise enough campaign cash to go the distance. Many of the candidates running met several of these criteria, but only one brings all four to the table. That man is Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz has proven to be a man of character who is trustworthy in all areas…. I am calling on conservatives from every corner of the state to join me and support Ted Cruz. If we coalesce and work together, we have a very real opportunity to elevate someone who not only shares our values, but who has a proven track record of actually doing what he says he will do. I trust Ted Cruz. I am asking the people of Iowa to join me on February 1st as we go to Caucus and cast our votes for the next President of the United States, Ted Cruz.
Vander Plaats has explicitly said that he would not endorse Rubio based on his position on immigration. The Family Leader organization did not endorse Cruz, but the board did vote 9-0 that Cruz was the best candidate.
Vander Plaats isn’t the only prominent Christian leader to endorse Cruz this week. James Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family and a major evangelical leader nationally said that Cruz is “brilliant, articulate, and well-established in his moral and spiritual convictions.” He added that he would not endorse Donald Trump because, “I don’t really believe Trump is a conservative.”
By early November, Cruz had picked up endorsements from pastors in every county in Iowa.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has already endorsed Cruz as well. Two weeks ago, he stated, “I believe Ted Cruz is the candidate that’s the answer to my prayers. A candidate whom God will use to restore the soul of America.”
The latest polls from Iowa show serious gains for the Texas senator, undoubtedly due in part to his growing cache among evangelicals Christians, who comprise 60 percent of the Iowa caucus electorate. The latest Monmouth poll shows Cruz leading Trump 24 percent to 19 percent, with Marco Rubio at 17 percent and Ben Carson at 13 percent. According to that poll, a full thirty percent of evangelical voters back Cruz; Trump is still second with 18 percent of the vote, with Rubio at 16 percent and Carson at 15 percent. Carson’s drop among evangelicals over the past month has been steep – he slid from 36 percent in October. Virtually all that support moved to Cruz. That trend will likely continue, boosting Cruz further.
The latest CNN poll still shows Trump beating Cruz 33 percent to 20 percent, with Carson at 16 percent and Rubio at 11 percent.
Cruz’s challenge moving forward will be to consolidate his momentum in swing states like South Carolina now that he appears to be gaining in Iowa. The past two Republican caucus winners in Iowa went on to lose the nomination; the past two Republican primary winners in New Hampshire went on to win the nomination. In 2008, John McCain won South Carolina; in 2012, Newt Gingrich did.
The latest CNN poll in New Hampshire shows Cruz in the middle of the pack; the latest Public Policy Polling poll shows him in second place behind Trump. Cruz has not expended significant resources in that state. The latest South Carolina poll from Fox News shows Trump ahead at 35 percent, with Ben Carson at 15, and Cruz and Rubio at 14 percent. A Winthrop poll shows Cruz closer to Trump, trailing by a 24 percent to 16 percent margin.
Cruz’s campaign is building support as opposition to Trump grows. Now the only question is whether establishment Republicans will begin to recognize that Cruz may be their best shot at stopping Trump’s nomination.