Senator Ted Cruz is running away with the Iowa Republican caucuses. The most recent Des Moines Register survey has Cruz leading by 10 points, though other polls have since narrowed the gap.
This apparently doesn’t sit well, not just with celebrated Bible scholar Donald Trump, but many Iowa evangelicals. That’s according to Tim Alberta and Eliana Johnson at National Review, whose latest piece makes the case that leading Hawkeye State social conservatives, stung by the failures of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, are making common cause with Marco Rubio to take out Ted Cruz. They write:
To a concerned and angry bunch of Iowa Republicans, their mission heading into next month’s caucuses is as simple as ABC: Anybody But Cruz. …
“This is real. There exists this feeling that Senator Cruz is only the most recent Christian conservative presidential candidate, and that the two individuals who preceded him in the 2008 and 2012 caucuses have not been given the respect that they deserve as voices in the Christian conservative movement,” says Jamie Johnson, a former member of the Iowa GOP state central committee who supported Santorum in 2012 and has not thrown his weight behind a candidate after supporting former Texas governor Rick Perry earlier this cycle.
It does appear from National Review’s reporting that some plugged-in Iowa traditionalists, including Johnson and Santorum advisor Matt Beynon, have soured on Cruz. It’s easy to see why: Cruz was recently caught on tape assuring Manhattan donors that gay marriage wouldn’t be a top priority if he made it to the general election, and the Texas senator lacks the social conservative street cred of someone like Mike Huckabee.
But let’s look beyond the “whispers” that National Review cites in its piece. Is there really a “feeling” that’s “real” among Iowans that Cruz is a counterfeit?
To answer that question, let’s follow the money. Who in Iowa is dumping funds into attacking Ted Cruz? Alberta and Johnson cite two Super PACs in their piece. The first is called American Encore and is helmed by Sean Noble, a member of Marco Rubio’s coterie who maintains ties with many Huckabee supporters. American Encore’s only recent foray into Republican presidential politics is an anti-Cruz ad called “Leading from Behind,” a title so predictable it’s likely to induce aneurysms in small children:
Tying the killings in Paris to the NSA-reforming USA Freedom Act is patent stupidity: France had a highly invasive surveillance law in place at the time of the terrorist attacks, and the French government’s own counterterrorism advisor has said the problem wasn’t a lack of eavesdropping powers. But this is the angle American Encore is taking to assail Cruz—one shared by the Republican establishment, which remains obstinately hawkish on national security.
The second Super PAC is the Iowa Progress Project, which is playing Six Degrees of Separation with Congressman Steve King’s support for Cruz and Cruz’s support for ending ethanol subsidies:
The Progress Project is run by Nick Ryan, who’s also collaborating with America’s Renewable Future, an agriculture industry-funded campaign to keep the ethanol mandate alive. America’s Renewable Future is headed by Eric Branstad, the son of Terry Branstad, Iowa’s governor and the face of his state’s Republican establishment.
Again, none of this is to suggest that social conservatives don’t have genuine grievances against Ted Cruz. But it’s telling that the ad buys aimed at Cruz in Iowa have been over the establishment priorities of national security and ethanol, not gay marriage. If you had to draw a battle line, it would run not between evangelicals and Cruz, but between the archaic establishment and Cruz, a (very rough) reboot of the old fight between Branstad and the Paulites. The voters seem to be taking Cruz’s side here. Any proper account of Cruz’s campaign in Iowa should mention that he’s been endorsed by evangelical stalwarts Bob Vander Plaats and Steve Deace. It should also mention that 45 percent of Iowa evangelicals say they support Cruz.
The old Branstad hands, wheezing on about corny capitalism, have fallen out of touch with the zeitgeist of their state. Desperate attempts by political operatives to realign social conservatives won’t change that. Iowa voters: beware of greasy establishmentarians donning the vestments of pastors.