Contrary to popular belief, the 2016 presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz does not present socially conservative and evangelical voters their best chance to put one of their own in the White House. Instead, a Cruz presidency may usher in the total demise of social conservative movement in America.
Last week, Politico released a recording of Cruz assuring a New York City donor that a Cruz administration would not make traditional marriage a top priority.
Cruz went on to explain to the Republican gay-rights supporter who is supporting his campaign that his administration would be focused on defending the constitution, essentially stating that gay marriage is a states’ issue, and thus it will not be something his administration would pursue.
“People of New York may well resolve the marriage question differently than the people of Florida or Texas or Ohio,” Cruz stated. “That’s why we have 50 states — to allow a diversity of views. And so that is a core commitment,” he added.
Politico’s “closed door” recording of Cruz didn’t show the frontrunner for the Iowa Caucuses talking out of both sides of his mouth, but what it did display is that Cruz isn’t a classic social conservative like the previous two caucus winners, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are.
Cruz is an ardent defender of the 10th Amendment, and to be fair, Cruz has been rather consistent in his political ideology. The problem for Cruz is that, in addition be being perceived as a fighter who will take on Washington and even members of his own party, he’s also perceived as being a staunch social conservative. The problem Cruz faces in the final weeks before the Iowa Caucuses, is that his “closed door” comments open him up to attack from the right on issues like gay marriage.
2008 caucus winner Mike Huckabee quickly seized on Cruz’s comments. In a press release, Huckabee stated, “If issues like marriage and the sanctity of life are truly issues of principle and not just politics, then there should not be geographical boundaries to what is right and wrong.”
Had Cruz been running for president in 2012 and not 2016, instead of getting the endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats and three other members of the FAMiLY Leader, Cruz’s position on marriage wouldn’t have even gotten him past the first cut. In 2011, The FAMiLY Leader said that Congressman Ron Paul’s states’ rights position created a “stumbling block” for the organization.
In narrowing the field of candidates the organization would consider endorsing in 2011, the FAMiLY Leader stated, “The stumbling block for the board regarding Representative Paul dealt primarily with ‘States’ Rights’ as it pertains to the sanctity of human life and God’s design for marriage.”
Vander Plaats’ recent endorsement of Cruz grabbed a number of headlines, but most of Iowa’s social conservatives understand that Vander Plaats’ endorsement has more to do with Vander Plaats himself than the candidate he chose to back. Vander Plaats made it abundantly clear that Cruz was the choice because he thought Cruz could win, not necessarily because he is the best candidate on the issues that Vander Plaats and the FAMiLY Leader have long fought for in Iowa.
Cruz’s 10th Amendment brand of conservatism could also be problematic in a state like Iowa because there are still many social conservatives who are frustrated with how gay marriage came to be in the state. It’s not as if the legislature and the governor passed and signed a bill into law or the people voted on a constitutional amendment. The courts struck down the state’s defense of marriage act and then insinuated that gay marriage was now legal.
Iowa is a state where three Supreme Court Justices were ousted through the retention vote process, a result that stemmed from the frustration of voters that gay marriage rights were forced upon the state by the courts and not through the legislative process. Cruz’s “states’ rights” doctrine works in theory, but it does nothing to stop the abuses of judicial activism.
Likewise, if you apply Cruz’s “states’ rights” ideology on other conservative issues, like polygamy, common core educational standards, or something like Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare law that was the predecessor to Obamacare, Cruz can’t really have a problem with such things if he is going to remain consistent in his application of the 10th Amendment.
Cruz recently flip-flopped on the issue of marijuana legalization. Just like his answer on gay marriage, Cruz said, “If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”
Cruz’s position is one that is easy for him to defend and frankly is rather politically expedient, but it also can get him crossways with social conservatives in a hurry. In a race against Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, or Sen. Marco Rubio, Cruz’s position might not hurt him much. It’s the two former caucus winners in Santorum and Huckabee that could become problematic for Cruz down the stretch.
While both are in low single-digits in the polls, this has been the first time there is a real opening for one of them to exploit. As we saw with Santorum in 2012, even though the caucuses are a month away, there is still plenty of time for someone to make a big move. The Cruz campaign has claimed that his comments are much ado about nothing. To some voters that’s probably correct, but to those who are passionate about the issues, the same cannot be said.
Like other candidates before him, Cruz is living off the perception of the brand that he has built over the past few years. There is little doubt that he’s a fighter, but the real question is, is he really the socially conservative leader many believe him to be? By acquiescing on cultural issues to the constitution instead of, say, “the law of nature and of nature’s God,” Cruz may win an argument in a court room, but he’s going to lose religious conservatives who adhere to a higher law than that of man.
It will be interesting to see if his position gives new life to an authentic social conservative alternative.
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