Which GOP candidate will capture the evangelical vote?
Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have their supporters among the evangelical community, but I think many evangelicals are looking for new blood. Scott Walker has solid evangelical credentials, but he is not dynamic enough. John Kasich is too compassionate for many ordinary evangelicals–especially on climate change and immigration.
A lot of evangelicals may be supporting Donald Trump right now, but that support will fade. Jeb Bush does not wear his religion on his sleeve. Some evangelicals will support him because he may have the best shot at defeating Hillary, but he will have a hard time winning the primaries that Huckabee won in 2008 and Santorum won in 2012. (Especially in the lower South).
So which candidate is best suited to consolidate the votes of the powerful evangelical wing of the GOP?
I think Ted Cruz has the best shot.
This weekend I watched (on C-SPAN) Cruz give a speech at the Iowa State Fair and then witnessed him working the crowd following the speech. I was struck by several things:
1. Cruz is a dynamic speaker. Ordinary evangelicals like forceful, powerful, and authoritative political “sermons.” Cruz knows how to deliver them. He speaks with a fierceness informed by his deeply held Christian faith. He comes across as authentic.
2. Cruz sees the world in black and white. His speeches appeal to the common sense mentality that has long defined American evangelicalism. He claims to have a corner on “truth” and he is very good at boiling his platform down to three or four fundamental points: overthrow Obamacare, defund planned parenthood, defend religious liberty for those who uphold traditional marriage, etc… There is little nuance. Many ordinary evangelicals like it that way. They prefer easily packaged sermons with three points and a prayer.
3. Cruz speaks evangelical and it comes naturally to him. As I watched him shaking hands with people I could not help but notice that Cruz sounds like an evangelical. He says “praise God” when people tell him good news. He seems very comfortable talking about the Bible as the word of God. He talks in terms of “revival.”
5. He has strong credentials. He is a graduate of both Princeton and Harvard. Evangelicals love well-educated people who have maintained their Christian faith in hostile environments. In the past six months I have talked to at least three evangelicals who referenced liberal Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz’s remark that Cruz was “off the charts brilliant.”
Keep an eye on Cruz. He will be around for a while.