And how it could spell disaster for his campaign on Super Tuesday.
In South Carolina’s evangelical-dominated Republican primary on Saturday, Donald Trump won 33 percent of the evangelical vote. In Tuesday’s Nevada primary, Trump upped the ante, claiming 40 percent of evangelical votes. And while it was jarring in both cases to see a Biblically illiterate, divorced billionaire win over such a sizable portion of America’s conservative faithful, an equally curious phenomenon has unfolded in the shadows of Trump’s victories: evangelical voters’ relative ambivalence toward Ted Cruz.
From the outset of the race, the senator from Texas has positioned himself as an evangelical-friendly candidate, emphasizing his religious upbringing (vis-a-vis his pastor father Rafael Cruz) and rolling out the harsh rhetoric on classic culture-war issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. Cruz’s push for evangelical votes was more than a perfunctory shout-out to an important Republican base: Inspiring vast, energetic evangelical support was a key strategy for the Cruz campaign, despite other Republican analysts’ misgivings. As Robert Draper reported in The New York Times, Cruz advisers estimated that “10 million [evangelical] voters who did not vote in the 2000 election turned out for Bush in 2004 and have stayed home since.” They hoped to stir these missing evangelicals to pull out a Cruz victory, although others, including former George W. Bush advisers, suspected the 10 million number was wildly inflated.
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