God’s Own Candidate Needs To Get Real

After his Iowa victory, Ted Cruz can keep his focus on religious voters. But what will he do with the secular voters and the members of his own party?

Up until Tuesday, the Republican primaries concentrated mainly on the question of how best to defeat Donald Trump. If the self-styled “winner” (he is incapable of uttering three sentences without mentioning his “outstanding poll numbers”) had used smarter tactics in Iowa, he might well have trounced all his opponents. So now, Ted Cruz is the target. Whether the Texas senator – the son of an American mother, a Cuban father and himself a native Canadian to boot – is even eligible to be elected president is still a moot point and one his opponent, Donald Trump, thinks disqualifies him.

Personally insulting an opponent is inevitable in U.S. elections, and Trump has only dragged this circus to a new low, something he is better at doing than almost anyone else. On the other hand, his 2 Corinthians blooper was really amateurish when, in a faith-based state such as Iowa, you can find Second Letter to the Corinthians in every Bible. There, Cruz is on much more solid ground.

But he didn’t credit his convincing victory solely to Trump’s inability (or unwillingness) to assemble a reasonable campaign apparatus, despite the thousands of available volunteers the billionaire’s professional mobilization efforts had organized. Cruz’s path to the top goes back much further than that.

The learned attorney (degrees from Harvard and Princeton) is rumored to have made a major strategic calculation. According to Politico, as early as two years ago the Texas senator is reported to have met with a series of Iowa conservatives to pitch his concept for gaining the presidential nomination and to simultaneously gauge his chances with various constituencies in the state. By that time, he had already established a name for himself as the tea party’s new watchdog.

Activists from that movement were to constitute the conservative basis behind his candidacy, which is why the first words after his Iowa victory were, “To God be the glory.” There’s a joke currently making the rounds on the Internet that this godly sentence is Republican for “Allahu akbar.” Of course, the religious right despises the jihadis and doesn’t think this is funny. Cruz himself has promised that within 30 days of winning the presidency, he will “carpet bomb” the Islamic militants and find out whether “sand can glow in the dark.”

Pragmatism Might Win

The wisdom of courting religious voters in Iowa is shown by a couple of statistics: evangelicals cast nearly two-thirds of all votes and one-third of those went to Ted Cruz. But in the long run, that can’t be his sole strategy, because Cruz now stands under the Republican spotlight. Before Iowa, the plan was to corral Trump and his discontented followers. Now, Cruz and his conservative Christian values have become the focus of an intra-party squabble. Marco Rubio, who finished third in Iowa, could turn out to be the final winner in the primaries.

The question of whether one of these three may become the nominee will depend on which – if any – of them can successfully stop the fragmentation rampant among Republicans and emerge as the unifying candidate.

Ted Cruz must now decide how much time and energy he wants to invest in the New Hampshire primary, where surveys place him far behind Trump. If he makes a good showing there – New Hampshire is a notably secular state – it will be a clear signal that he still has a realistic chance of appealing to a larger base of primary voters.

As it stands, Cruz the strategist is already thinking two moves ahead. Instead of concentrating exclusively on the tough battle he faces in New Hampshire, his main focus is already on South Carolina.

Cruz hopes to repeat his Iowa success there; winning South Carolina on Feb. 20 with the evangelical voters’ support could be what opens the door to a series of other southern primaries, culminating with Florida on March 15 and smoothing his road into the White House.

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