For years, Religious Right activists have dreamed about a presidential candidate like Ted Cruz. The Texas senator pledged to bring tens of millions of new evangelical voters to the polls by running on his hostility to abortion rights, Planned Parenthood and Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality and the separation of church and state.
He won nearly unanimous support from movement leaders, who hoped that by uniting behind Cruz, they would finally get their candidate of choice in position to win the GOP nomination. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson gushed that Heidi Cruz would be the country’s “very first pro-life first lady” and many leaders fawned over Cruz’s firebrand preacher father.
In the end, Cruz was defeated by Donald Trump, who questioned whether Cruz was a true Christian, threatened to “spill the beans” on his wife and accused his father of plotting the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
While Trump has won the support of several movement figures such as Phyllis Schlafly, Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell Jr., and was a regular presence at Religious Right events, he did not win many fans with his frequent flip-flops on abortion rights, kind words for Planned Parenthood or his sordid personal history.
When Cruz dropped out of the presidential race last night, Religious Right leaders were quick to express grief:
Robert P. George, one the movement’s intellectual leaders and the founder of the National Organization for Marriage, put it simply:
Conservative pundit Steve Deace reaffirmed that he’d never support Trump:
Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joked about how he will likely write in a vote for Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse rather than back Trump:
American Family Radio host Bryan Fischer, however, suggested that people should write in Cruz in the general election:
Erick Erickson, the founder of the conservative website RedState, said that he’d leave the GOP over a Trump nomination because he is “not down with white supremacists.”
“You’ve got Klan members, David Duke, the Aryan Nation supporting Donald Trump,” he told The Daily Beast. “If the Republican Party is willing to go along with that, then I think it’s fair branding, I think it’s very fair. If Republicans aren’t going to stand up to having their party hijacked by a group of Aryan Nation-types, then they get what they deserve.”
Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, who has an off again, on again relationship with Trump, asked God to “have mercy on our nation” after hearing the news about Cruz:
But like many other conservatives, Starnes said he still hopes Trump will win in November: “[I]f we can survive eight years of President Obama, we can certainly survive a charlatan like Donald Trump. But I'm fairly certain we could not survive four years of Hillary Clinton.”