The XX Factor

Republican Candidates Compete for Evangelical Votes at a Faith & Freedom Coalition Event

Ted Cruz last month in Greenville, South Carolina.

Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images

Over the weekend, the Faith & Freedom Coalition held its Road to Majority event in partnership with the anti-feminist organization Concerned Women for America. A solid chunk of the roughly 8 billion Republicans running for president showed up to try to win over the assembled crowd of evangelical voters. Phyllis Schlafly helped kick off events by highlighting her work defeating the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have made it unconstitutional to discriminate against women on the basis of gender.

Two Republican hopefuls, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, continued in Schafly’s vein. “When I became governor, I was shocked by the total lack of regulation of abortion clinics,” Bush said, even though abortion clinics were subject to the same regulations as any other medical facilities when he took office as Florida governor in 1999. “So what we did was we put regulations on abortion clinics. And we narrowed the number of them.”

Christie focused on his cuts to Planned Parenthood. “When [the Democratic legislature] sends me Planned Parenthood funding year after year after year and I am the first governor to veto Planned Parenthood funding out of the budget, there is no room for compromise there,” ThinkProgress reports him telling the audience

By all reports, however, Ted Cruz won the conference with a wild speech that largely focused on redefining “religious liberty” to mean imposing evangelical faith on nonbelievers. “I will never, ever, ever shy from standing up and defending the religious liberty of every American,” he argued, with examples including defending a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds, fighting to keep “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and defending laws that allow evangelical business owners to discriminate against gay people.

Cruz also claimed that there are 90 million evangelical voters but that 50 million of them stay at home, and thus could really take over the country if they just got more organized. In reality, evangelicals are about 27 percent of voters but only 25 percent of the population, which means they are slightly overrepresented at the polls. 

Although Cruz accused his Republican competitors of insufficient dedication to the cause of “religious liberty,” the presence of so many Republicans at this conference suggests otherwise. The only competition left is who can thump the Bible the hardest.