Was Ted Cruz's Wisconsin Win a Victory for Conservative Christians?

Ted Cruz resoundingly won the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday, beating frontrunner Donald Trump by over 13 points and taking all but six delegates. Cruz has consistently appealed to conservative Christians, and boasted about the support of 100 pastors in Wisconsin, but it was not conservative Christians who pushed him to victory.

While Wisconsin voters headed to the polls, the Cruz campaign released a statement saying that another 50 faith leaders had endorsed the Texas senator, joining the 50 who had done so last week. This group of pastors joins the campaign’s count of 1,100 faith leaders.

“Ted Cruz has demonstrated that he is a man of faith and principle,” Pastor Wayne Devrou of Grace Bible Fellowship in Oostburg declared in the statement. Devrou said that Cruz “was raised with, and exhibits, the character and desire to stand on principles — not only for political reasons, but for personal ones.”

This character statement is important, following the recent allegations of a sex scandal with five different women. But it is just as important for the Christian conservatives who have grown increasingly distrustful of frontrunner Donald Trump, especially following his recent abortion fracas.

Long before Trump said women who have abortions should be punished, earning the justified ire of the pro-life movement by playing into pro-abortion arguments, evangelical leader Dr. James Dobson endorsed Cruz, saying he is “a Christian family man of utmost integrity.” At the time, Dobson attacked both Trump and Marco Rubio for weakness in opposing abortion and gay marriage.

Devrou’s comments echoed those of Dobson. The Wisconsin pastor added that Cruz’s record demonstrates his integrity. “In Washington, Ted has been a principled leader and an advocate for religious liberty and constitutional conservatism.” In this vein, the pastor concluded, “Ted has earned my respect and I’m pleased to be one of many clergy who have pledged their support for Ted. We urge people of faith in Wisconsin to cast their votes in support of a conservative champion.”

It is dangerous for Christians to place too much faith in a political candidate. Our primary loyalty is to God, and every man or woman who rules — however virtuous or just — will fail to lead perfectly. Nevertheless, in a democratic republic, evangelicals should support candidates who truly represent their interests. Cruz may share our values, but his rhetoric may turn many people off. Although I personally support him, I understand how this can be dangerous politically, and respect those who oppose him for that reason. Against Trump, however, this should be a dead issue.

Evangelical organizer David Lane, whose Issachar project has convinced around 600 pastors to run for low-level political office, had positive things to say about Cruz, but firmly decided against taking sides. “We did pastors and pews events in 2015-2016 with Huckabee, Cruz, Rubio, Jindal, Perry, Paul and invited Jeb, Christie, Kasich, Carson and Trump, etc…I’ve done by best to be an honest broker,” Lane told PJ Media in an email statement.

“We are not involved with [the] Cruz Campaign, although I’m close to Senator Cruz,” Lane confided. The organizer added that Cruz asked him to head his presidential campaign’s evangelical outreach, all the way back in June of 2014. He recalled his response: “Ted, I can’t do that, I’ve told Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio that I’m an honest broker — if my word is no good to them, then my word is no good to you.”

Naturally, all of these candidates have dropped out of the race, but Lane has decided to keep his word, despite the fact that the only two other remaining candidates (Kasich and Trump) never attended his events. He insisted that his role is to be “an honest broker in the process of picking a Republican presidential nominee in 2016.”

Lane argued that it is vitally important to unite the party behind the eventual nominee. “Otherwise we’ll end up in 2016 with the same problem we had with McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012 — Evangelicals will have stayed home and we end up with a Democrat.”

Next Page: Evangelicals may not back Trump, so Cruz may be the only option.

Many evangelicals may not support Trump, even if he is the nominee, however. Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said he was skeptical that conservative Christians would back Trump.

I just don’t think a Christian can support a sexist, racist, demagogic, misogynist, woman hater, anti-immigrant person who shows none of the fruits of the spirit, who has called himself a Christian but puts his money in the “communion plate,” and says he’s never had to ask God for forgiveness.

If many evangelicals think like Cromartie — the 100 pastors who backed Cruz in Wisconsin may be a sign that they do — Republicans may need Cruz to keep them in the party. Although, if Trump is not the nominee, many of his supporters have declared that they will not support the eventual candidate. Perhaps Lane is wise to prepare for either eventuality.

In any case, it was not hard-core evangelical conservatives who pushed Cruz to victory in Wisconsin, but the more elusive “somewhat conservative” voters. As National Review‘s Henry Olsen pointed out, Trump won this group in the majority of contests. Among the states with exit polls, Trump only lost four (Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, and Ohio), and in all the rest he won this group of voters, occasionally by large margins.

In Wisconsin, however, Cruz won “somewhat conservative” voters, by eleven points, 47 percent to Trump’s 36 percent. This group is usually the largest in every state, holding between 40 and 45 percent of all voters. Winning them by a large margin is a strong key to victory, and it is this number, rather than Cruz’s overall victory in Wisconsin, which is most impressive.

It is still an open question as to whether Cruz will win these voters in other states, particularly in Trump’s home state of New York. But if the Texas senator claims this kind of support going forward, he will give The Donald a hard run for his money.

Conservative Christians who favor Cruz and cannot find themselves backing Trump should take heart. Their votes may not make the difference, but these “somewhat conservatives” could push their man to victory.