The campaign season is off to a running start with Senator Ted Cruz, who threw his hat in the ring last week, and his launch at Liberty University says a lot about his plan for a surprise upset. A large part of Cruz’s strategy next year, say observers, will be a play for religious voters, particularly the evangelicals who dominate early primaries like Iowa and South Carolina:
Liberty produces thousands of graduates—many of whom remain in Virginia—who volunteer and vote for conservative causes. Though national evangelical Christians have shown less interest in conservative politicking during the Obama years, Liberty University has remained a stronghold for the religious Republican right. So Cruz’s speech Monday wasn’t just about courting the prominent and well-connected evangelical leaders who run and admire Liberty; it was also a chance for him to talk to a room full of potential future campaign workers.
On a lot of the issues Ted Cruz and evangelicals seem like, well, a match made in heaven: Cruz is one of the most consistent voices on life, marriage, and religious freedom in the field, and it’s easy to see how he thinks he can appeal to their desire for a candidate who grants these issues the importance they deserve. There is, however, one major disconnect that could cost Cruz among this crucial voting bloc: his opposition to the bipartisan immigration reform proposals passed by the Senate in 2013. From NBC:
A 2014 survey by Public Religion Research Institute showed nearly 54 percent of white evangelical protestants favored allowing immigrants here illegally to become citizens and 14 percent supported allowing them to become legal permanent residents. Just 30 percent supported deporting them. The survey sample of 8,000 white evangelicals is the largest surveyed on the issue, according to PRRI.
If these numbers are accurate, then 68 percent of evangelicals support a citizenship or at least residency for the undocumented immigrants living in America. Perhaps sensing this growing sentiment, potential presidential rivals like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Rick Perry have all endorsed immigration reform on some level. For Cruz to make a serious bid for evangelical voters in 2016, he’ll need to answer how he plans to deal with the undocumented immigrants already here, not just his plans to control future migration.
Nick Arnold is a researcher for American Principles in Action.