Clergyman Tim Squire says Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas “got me off the fence and off the sofa” with his fiery opposition to abortion and determination to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
“Someone has to speak up for the voiceless,” Squire, a Charleston County resident, said Tuesday at a Cruz rally in Mount Pleasant, S.C. “America has been involved in an abortion holocaust since 1973, and Ted Cruz wants to turn that around.”
Just what the Cruz campaign wants to hear in the Palmetto State. The Texas senator has been the most aggressive of the remaining six GOP presidential contenders in courting South Carolina’s conservative evangelical voters, who account for 51 percent of the likely voters in Saturday’s primary.
“Cruz is having to make an extra-aggressive play to try to get them off of their tendency in South Carolina, which is to spread out their vote to whomever they like, and get them behind him as the ‘Christian candidate’ or ‘evangelical candidate,’ ” said Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University who’s the director of the campus’ polling initiative.
Buoyed by the evangelical support that helped power his victory in the Iowa caucuses, Cruz hit South Carolina confident that his stances against abortion and Planned Parenthood, and his belief that only persecuted Christian Syrian refugees, not Muslims, should be allowed to resettle in the U.S., would help him win over the state’s religious voters.
Only one problem: Donald Trump.
White evangelical support in South Carolina from CNN/ORC poll: Trump 42 percent, Cruz 23, Marco Rubio 14, Jeb Bush 9, Ben Carson 5, John Kasich 1.
“He’s doing better among blue-collar and less-educated evangelicals, and probably, also, among those who are a little bit less connected to their religious institutions and communities,” said James Guth, a political science professor at South Carolina’s Furman University who’s co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Religion and American Politics.
“Evangelicals tend to be, of all Americans, the most skeptical about immigration. They tend to be the most hostile toward Muslims. They tend to have more suspicions of possible terrorism in the United States. And he (Trump) manages to touch all those bases.”
We will continue to point out that Donald Trump has no conservative record to point to. He’s not one of us.
Rick Tyler, Ted Cruz campaign spokesman
So Cruz is pressing hard.
At a Faith and Family Forum last Friday at Bob Jones University in Greenville – a Christian liberal arts institution at the evangelical epicenter in South Carolina’s Upstate region – Cruz spoke the longest and received some of the loudest applause as he discussed how his faith and politics are intertwined.
“If it were not for the loving salvation of Jesus, I would have been raised by a single mom without my dad in the house,” Cruz said of his atheist father’s born-again experience. “Instead, our family was reunited; some months later my mother became a Christian as well. For me, I became a Christian when I was 8 years old. I am saved by grace, and it has transformed my life and my family’s life.”
On the stump, in campaign ads and in last Saturday’s GOP debate, Cruz has fused faith, law and politics in stressing the need to block President Barack Obama – or Trump – from getting to pick a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
“Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment: We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all,” a narrator says in a 30-second ad released Sunday, a day after Scalia’s death. “We cannot trust Donald Trump with these serious decisions.”
“He is now echoing the hard left saying Planned Parenthood does wonderful things,” Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler said, referring to a comment Trump made during last Saturday’s debate. “He can’t be held accountable for his own words because he likely doesn’t remember them from one day to the next.”
Trump fires back, repeatedly questioning Cruz’s honesty, adherence to Christian values and even his mental state.
Meanwhile, Cruz has been working the churches. He’s been endorsed by more than 150 pastors statewide, Tyler said. The candidate’s father, Rafael Cruz, has been speaking to minister and church groups in South Carolina, according to Oran Smith, executive director of the Palmetto Family Alliance, which organized the Faith and Family event at Bob Jones.
“Cruz seems to be very oriented toward pastors,” Smith said. “He’s utilizing his heritage as a preacher’s kid and his wife’s heritage as the daughter of missionaries.”
Trump, for the most part, has let others do the talking to the evangelical community for him. He skipped the Faith and Family event – as did Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Trump sent Mark Burns, pastor of Easley, S.C.’s, Harvest Praise and Worship Center, to vouch for him.
Last month, Trump’s campaign began airing radio ads in South Carolina featuring Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, in which he speaks positively about the billionaire.
“Like Mr. Trump, dad would speak his mind,” Falwell says in the ad. “He would make statements that were politically incorrect. He speaks the truth publicly, even if it is uncomfortable for people to hear it.”
But the ad resonates like fingernails on a blackboard with some evangelicals.
“It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced to see Trump use the foulest language and the next day hear Falwell,” said the Rev. Chris Murrell, a minister of music and senior adults at Spartanburg’s Southside Baptist Church. “He (Trump) does not share our Christian values.”
Sarah Schmoll, a Summerville, S.C., retiree who is “100 percent Cruz, said she voted as a Christian and appreciated the Texas senator’s position on abortion.
She said she understood that Trump had fired up voters because “we’ve been so frustrated for so long and he (Trump) was saying the right things.”
“We’re angry, we’re hurt and we’re scared,” she said.
But she can’t fathom the religious support for Trump, noting that “he’s vulgar and he’s a bully, and those are not Christian values.”
Cruz, she said, “will restore our Judeo-Christian values.”
While Cruz sees Trump ahead of him with evangelicals, he can turn around and see Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., behind him, clawing to capture a greater share of the coveted religious vote. Like Cruz, Rubio has been sharing his personal religious testimonies with the state’s evangelical voters.
Frankly, having grown up in Greenville and knowing Bob Jones University very well, I was surprised how much support there was amongst students for Rubio compared to Cruz.
Oran Smith, executive director of the Palmetto Family Alliance
On Thursday, Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, a self-described “evangelical Catholic,” will campaign for Rubio at Columbia International University, a Christian institution in Columbia, S.C.
Smith, of the Palmetto Family Alliance, thinks Rubio is making inroads with younger evangelical voters ahead of the primary.
“Rubio seems to be attracting more younger evangelicals that are not as easy to find and track, that are not part of the typical data bases that would get direct mail,” he said. “Frankly, having grown up in Greenville and knowing Bob Jones University very well, I was surprised how much support there was amongst students for Rubio compared to Cruz.”
The lure of Rubio, Smith said, stems from him “running a younger-style campaign and Cruz more of your typical campaign that you’ve seen before amongst evangelicals that works so well in Iowa for Santorum and Mike Huckabee.”