Presidential races

Ted Cruz rides the backlash

Greg Nash

Sen. Ted Cruz is hoping to ride the conservative backlash on gay marriage to the front of the Republican presidential pack.

The Texas Republican has hit the Supreme Court with repeated rhetorical barbs in the wake of its ruling Friday that allowed for same-sex marriage in all 50 states, calling the justices “lawless,” “elites” and “a threat to our democracy.”

{mosads}“Today is some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history,” Cruz said Friday on “The Sean Hannity Show,” after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage and upheld insurance subsidies under ObamaCare.

He added during an interview Monday on NBC’s “Today” that “the elites … think that our views are simply parochial and don’t deserve to be respected.”

The 2016 contender is attempting to become the face of conservative opposition to gay marriage at a time when the sheer size of the Republican field has made it difficult to capture the spotlight.

Cruz, who released a new book this week, told NPR’s “Morning Edition” that he plans to keep his opposition to same-sex marriage “front and center” during his presidential campaign.

“Marriage and religious liberty are going to be integral, I believe, to motivating the American people to come out and vote for what’s, ultimately, restoring our constitutional system,” he said.

Cruz added on the “Mark Davis Show” on Monday that he believes the 2016 presidential election is “going to be a referendum and a religious liberty election.”

The Texas senator has been courting the religious right from the start of his presidential bid, launching his candidacy this spring at the evangelical Liberty University.

But he has competition for the conservative mantle, with rivals, such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, also taking aim at the Supreme Court.

Huckabee said Friday in response to the same-sex marriage ruling that he wouldn’t “acquiesce to an imperial court,” while Jindal suggested that the court should be disbanded.

If Cruz were to emerge as the top choice of religious conservatives, it could help him break away from the presidential pack, something he’s struggled to do since launching his campaign earlier this year.

The Texas Republican got an initial bump when he launched his campaign a full two weeks before anyone else, but the entry of other conservative candidates into the GOP field, notably Huckabee, slowed his momentum.

The Supreme Court ruling came at an opportune moment for Cruz, who was already scheduled to be in Iowa. Speaking at Drake University over the weekend, he drew applause and yells of support when he told the crowd that the justices “have become members of the Washington cartel.”

Cruz needs to make up ground in Iowa, which is the first state in the presidential nominating process. A Des Moines Register poll released late last month found only 5 percent of potential caucus-goers listed Cruz as their first choice for president.

By comparison, Huckabee, who won Iowa in 2008, garnered 9 percent in that poll.

Cruz’s opposition to same-sex marriage could resonate in Iowa, where three state Supreme Court justices were voted out of office during a 2010 retention election after voting to legalize same-sex marriage.

Only 26 percent of Republican caucus-goers in Iowa support same-sex marriage, according to a Des Moines Register poll released earlier this year. By comparison, 81 percent of potential Democratic caucus-goers would support allowing same-sex marriage in every state.

The difference among Iowans underscores a national split. A Quinnipiac University Poll released earlier this year found 58 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, though 59 percent of Republicans are opposed to it.

The division could force Republican presidential candidates to walk a tough line, with some in the party suggesting it’s time to move on from the gay marriage debate.

Some of Cruz’s presidential opponents have sought to downplay the marriage issue. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he disagrees with the court’s decision, but also believes “that we should love our neighbor and respect others.”

Similarly, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he disagreed with the court while adding, “we live in a republic and must abide by the law.”

That stance is at odds with conservative groups, such as the Family Research Council, which has denounced the court’s decision and pledged to fight gay marriage at every turn.

The party split could lead to a drawn out primary fight between establishment candidates and parts of the conservative base.

It’s a fight that Cruz appeared to welcome while campaigning in Iowa, as he doubled down on his call for requiring Supreme Court justices to stand for retention elections.

“The judges are not above the people,” Cruz said to applause in Des Moines. “Retention elections will give the people a constitutional remedy to the problem of judicial activism, and the means to throwing off judicial tyrants.”

Tags Marco Rubio Ted Cruz

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