The religious voters Cruz was counting on are ditching the Bible thumper for Donald Trump.
For once, Ted Cruz might not be Christian enough.
The Texas senator was once considered a lock to win South Carolina, thanks to his unimpeachable religious credentials: a pastor father, a lifetime commitment to the Southern Baptist Church, and a seamless ability to weave the prosperity gospel into his political rhetoric. Days before the state’s critical Republican primary, however, Cruz finds himself sandwiched between Marco Rubio, who has also proven adept at capitalizing on his faith, and Trump, an unrepentantly foul-mouthed exemplar of “New York values” with a tenuous grasp on Christianity who is nonetheless crushing his competition in the polls, with twice the support of either Cruz or Rubio. Even worse, Trump leads Cruz among self-described evangelical voters, according to a new Monmouth University poll—the same group that Cruz won in Iowa by a landslide. Now, as Cruz prepares to face off against Rubio and Carson in a CNN town hall Wednesday (airing opposite a one-man Trump “town hall” on MSNBC), his campaign has to be asking: What went wrong?
Cruz’s fatal error may be his fundamental misunderstanding of the diversity of South Carolina’s evangelical voters. Oran Smith, head of the evangelical Palmetto Family Council, told Politico that Cruz had tried to position himself as a “movement evangelical,” with deep connections to Christian activist groups that comprise only one portion of the religious right. “If everyone that was an evangelical in South Carolina, say, were members of the Family Research Council, if everyone was aware of some of the legal groups that work for Christian values, if they were all oriented that way, I think it would be a slam dunk for Cruz here,” Smith said. “But among more nominal or casual evangelicals, the Cruz message doesn’t resonate quite as strongly.” Indeed, while 65 percent of South Carolina’s voters identified as evangelical in 2012, they are also diverse in age, income, and perhaps most crucially, devotion to their faith.
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