Ted Cruz is beginning to surge significantly in the polls in Iowa. Surely the evangelicals in Iowa are the key factor.
Already, some of the political pundits are writing him off, likening him to Barry Goldwater, the libertarian-leaning firebrand, who was soundly defeated by Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Goldwater lost by a landslide. But, by the same token, Ronald Reagan won by landslides in 1980 and in 1984. And Reagan was perhaps more conservative than Goldwater. The question many are asking about Ted Cruz and his conservative values is: Will he be the new Goldwater or the new Reagan?
Reagan got elected in part through the help of the Moral Majority, which was squarely pro-life, as well as being conservative on other social issues. Goldwater showed little inclination towards traditional social values, later going on to crudely remark that he wanted to kick Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell in the rear end. Also, he asserted a woman’s “right to an abortion.”
In 1964, LBJ was extraordinarily popular, running against Goldwater as the successor to John F. Kennedy just one year after the charismatic young leader was assassinated in Dallas. Johnson was perceived as the standard-bearer for JFK’s policies.
But the election of 2016 may be likened better to the election of 1980, as opposed to that of 1964.
In both cases, 1980 and 2016, there was/is an incumbent president whose policies were unpopular with tens of millions of Americans. That is why this campaign has seen the rise of the anti-establishment candidates. On the right, Trump, Carson, and Cruz. On the left, Bernie Sanders.
A majority of Americans feel the nation is heading in the wrong direction. That was true in 1980. Was it true in 1964?
Meanwhile, a real dividing line today, in what Dr. Richard Land calls the “Divided States of America,” are the social issues — abortion being chief among them. Voters on either side of the abortion debate will mobilize over the issue.
One pro-life leader is Dr. Alveda King, a spokesperson for Priests for Life. She told me in an interview for Christian television: “Our nation is in a quandary. Our nation no longer fears the Lord…. As the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and my father, his brother, Reverend A. D. King, I came from a foundation with biblical roots and a biblical worldview….Ultrasounds already demonstrate that the babies in the womb are human beings and people.”
There are many establishment political advisers who recommend that candidates go soft on issues like abortion. But Candidate Reagan was not soft on his pro-life views.
In 1980, he was asked in a debate why he wasn’t pro-choice, and he answered, “Well, first of all, I happen to notice that everyone who is pro-choice has already been born.”
Gary Bauer, the president of American Values, worked as a domestic policy adviser for President Reagan.
Bauer told me in an interview, “I’ve heard some of these consultants in the Republican Party suggesting the Party drop the life issue and so forth. I’m going to let people in on a little secret about what we do here in Washington when we hear a political consultant give us advice. The first thing we do is look at that consultant’s win/loss record during his political career, and I can tell you the political consultants that are giving this advice have long records of working for losing candidates.”
Ironically, the candidates who have done best are not those who jettison the values issues, but the true believers who are able to articulate their values. I think that point is true both on the left and the right. Cruz is a true believer in pro-life values, just as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are true believers in abortion rights.
Ronald Reagan was wildly successful building a coalition of three prongs: those interested in the social issues (like abortion), those committed to fiscal responsibility, and those committed to defense.
Bauer says, “I would argue that the election results prove that when the Republican Party only runs on economics and says a little bit about foreign policy and completely abandons all the values issues, they’re forgetting the lesson that Ronald Reagan taught about the three legs of the stool, and that that is the way to continually lose elections, forever.”
The question now is: Can any candidate — for example, Ted Cruz — form such a coalition?
This essay should not be construed as any sort of endorsement for any particular candidate. But when we consider the moral issues before us, including abortion, same-sex marriage (which still divides much of the country), and the lack of “common defense” — one of the key purposes of the Constitution — it seems to me that we are facing times much more similar to 1980 than to 1964.