Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks during pro-life campaign rally with former Texas Governor Rick Perry in West Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, January 27, 2016.
West Des Moines, Iowa — With the Iowa Republican Caucus rapidly approaching, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is running neck and neck with the GOP’s blasphemous frontrunner, Donald Trump. And in an attempt to close that gap, Cruz is showcasing a string of recent high-profile endorsements to make a final pitch to Iowa’s conservative evangelicals that he’s their God-given candidate.
Now, he has narrowed in on his staunch opposition to abortion as the starkest contrast he can draw against Trump, who, despite anti-choicers concern over past support for abortion rights, has also garnered support in recent days from prominent evangelicals—most notably, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.
On Wednesday night, more than 200 Cruz supporters showed up to a rally, sporting Ted Cruz football jerseys and toting “Choose Cruz” campaign signs as country music played in the background. For those attending, the event promised to be a formidable who’s-who of pro-life advocates.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who recently endorsed Cruz, showed up to boost the senator’s conservative bona fides, as did Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, and Representatives Louis Gohmert and Steve King.
Apart from Cruz though, the main attraction was Bob Vander Plaats, president of the social conservative group Family Leader and an evangelical who holds tremendous sway among conservative voters in the Hawkeye State. In 2008, Vander Plaats backed Mike Huckabee, who went on to win the Iowa GOP caucus in a major upset. In 2012, Vander Plaats endorsed Rick Santorum, who also won Iowa.
Vander Plaats caused waves within the conservative right in December when he announced that his coveted support would go to Cruz. Not surprisingly, Trump has responded with a Twitter offensive, calling Vander Plaats a “phony” and a “bad guy.”
The Iowa conservative has pushed back on Twitter and at recent campaign events, but on Wednesday night he zeroed in.
“The sanctity of human life is not up for the art of the deal,” Vander Plaats proclaimed. “This country must have a higher standard than that.”
When Cruz took to the stage, he sought to widen this wedge between him and Trump. He attacked the New York business mogul for his past support of late-term abortions as well as his support for federal funding of Planned Parenthood.
Repeatedly, Cruz argued that he is a true-hearted social conservative, while his rivals merely spout the obligatory GOP primary rhetoric. “We cannot get buried again … we cannot fall for campaign rhetoric again,” he said. “If you’re really a conservative, you shouldn’t have to tell anybody.”
“Don’t tell me you’re pro-life … show me,” Cruz continued. “If you care about the right to life, there’s a clear difference.”
If Cruz wins the Iowa caucus, it will surely be on the backs of Iowa’s conservative evangelicals. Trump is notably out of his element with the state’s religious right and Cruz is exploiting that weakness in the final days before the caucus.
And if Bob Vander Plaats’s past endorsement history is any indication, Cruz has a real shot at beating Trump on Monday.