But the message wasn’t plain enough for Cruz. Just six months ago, his hometown voters in Houston had fallen prey to the “No men in women’s bathrooms” trope when they repealed a pro-LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance. Now, the candidate’s own internal polling suggested the bathroom issue might push him past Trump in Indiana.
It was familiar territory for Cruz, who made “religious liberty” the cornerstone of his appeal to the Iowa evangelical voters that delivered the GOP’s first primary contest to him.
But just like Pence and, more recently, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, Cruz misjudged the complexities of an issue that is evolving before our very eyes. As McCrory observed in an interview on the very same day that Cruz suspended his campaign: “Society is changing quickly and anybody who gets in the way is in trouble. And I might be in trouble.”
Indiana Republicans, already burned once by getting on the wrong side of that moral arc, weren’t eager to trod the path again. “Today, vast swaths of the state’s Republican electorate, from Indianapolis to West Lafayette, have retreated from the culture wars,” wrote Indianapolis Monthly editor Adam Wren. “And like the 50s-era diner itself, Cruz’s dogged socially conservative message seems anachronistic—and perhaps a little tin-eared.”
Wren was specifically talking about Indiana’s “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” Republicans, but they clearly weren’t the only voters turned off by Cruz’s message.
Even among white evangelicals—who account for more than half of Hoosier voters—Trump bested Cruz, 48 to 45 percent in exit polls. Although Cruz won majority support from voters who attend weekly religious services, Trump’s take of “white evangelicals” suggests that just because people associate with a religion, it doesn’t mean they find social conservatism compelling at the polls anymore.
In fact, it’s telling that the executive director of Indiana’s American Family Association, Micah Clark, read the Hoosier electorate all wrong. Clark was a strong supporter of Indiana’s original “religious freedom” bill and objected to the partial “fix” that eventually mitigated some of the law’s damage.
Though Mr. Clark said bathroom access was not at the top of voters’ concerns, he predicted that Indiana Republicans would reject Mr. Trump on the matter because “Hoosiers have common sense.”
“Common sense” is no longer on the side of social conservatives. And the sooner opportunistic politicians realize that, the longer their political lives will thrive.
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