While Donald Trump has had us all mesmerized, and we’ve also watched former co-front-runners Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio lose some altitude, and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina get their fifteen minutes of fame before voters and the media get a closer look at them, it could be that Ted Cruz has been making a move on a key constituency group with a lot of choices. On Friday night in Des Moines, Cruz put on quite the extravaganza for Christian Right activists who simultaneously want to show their wrathful power to the ungodly by smiting Planned Parenthood and whine and cower at their alleged persecution by The Homosexual Agenda. Here’s Matthew Patane’s take for the Des Moines Register:

In his opening remarks during the “Rally for Religious Liberty,” Cruz referenced a number of Supreme Court cases regarding religious issues that came down to a 5-4 decision.

“You want to know what this election is about? We are one justice away from the Supreme Court saying ‘every image of God shall be torn down,’” said Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas said.

The Cruz campaign invited multiple individuals that it said were “victimized by government persecution” for standing by their religious beliefs.

Oh yes. Cruz brought on stage the Bakers of Conscience, the homophobic Atlanta fire chief, all the mythic figures in the ongoing martyrdom of conservative evangelicals who will nonetheless Take Back Their Country next year.

But there’s an even bigger sign of Cruz’s ascendancy with this constituency, per WaPo’s Katie
Zezima and Tom Hamburger:

Sen. Ted Cruz, who has assiduously courted evangelicals throughout his presidential run, will take a lead role in the launch this week of an ambitious 50-state campaign to end taxpayer support for Planned Parenthood — a move that is likely to give the GOP candidate a major primary-season boost in the fierce battle for social-conservative and evangelical voters.

More than 100,000 pastors received e-mail invitations over the weekend to participate in conference calls with Cruz on Tuesday in which they will learn details of the plan to mobilize churchgoers in every congressional district beginning Aug. 30. The requests were sent on the heels of the Texas Republican’s “Rally for Religious Liberty,” which drew 2,500 people to a Des Moines ballroom Friday.


“The recent exposure of Planned Parenthood’s barbaric practices . . . has brought about a pressing need to end taxpayer support of this institution,” Cruz said in the e-mail call to action distributed by the American Renewal Project, an organization of conservative pastors.

Ah yes: The American Renewal Project, David Lane’s little effort in practical theocracy designed to get conservative evangelical ministers heavily and unambiguously engaged in partisan politics. Lane has long been closely associated with the American Family Association, the gold standard of homophobia.

Now Cruz’s central role in this lobbying campaign may largely flow from his position in the
Senate, where he has zero inhibitions about defying Mitch McConnell’s vows against government shutdown tactics. But you do have to wonder if Cruz is emerging as the Christian Right favorite, especially in Iowa, a bit ahead of schedule.

After all, Rick Perry missed the first Fox News Debate (as did two other aspirants to Christian Right support, Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal) and is having financial issues. Mike Huckabee has his own habitual money troubles, and seems to have lost a step since 2008. And while the quieter and less overtly political breed of conservative evangelical, exemplified by the Southern Baptist Convention spokesman Russell Moore may prefer candidates like Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, or even Jeb Bush, the old-school activists certainly seem to still be in the saddle in the early states. If Cruz can indeed put himself at the front of a crusade to destroy the godless baby-killers of Planned Parenthood, he’ll bask in positive Christian Right publicity right up to the brink of the Iowa Caucuses. Add in the regular presence on the campaign trail of Ted’s deranged father the Rev. Rafael Cruz and the junior senator from Texas has got himself a regular tent revival going.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.