Yesterday I wrote that Ted Cruz may have a clear path to the Republican presidential nomination if he consolidates the rural, evangelical vote while the more urban and secular vote splits between Donald Trump and an establishment candidate. Today, New York Times columnist David Brooks—a pretty good representative of the GOP establishment—writes, perhaps with wishful thinking, that Mr. Cruz’s “brutal, fear-driven, apocalypse-based approach” may not wear well with religious voters. In particular, he cites Mr. Cruz’s bellicose rhetoric on foreign policy. And his draconian views on criminal justice (as Texas solicitor general, he fought to keep someone in prison whose lengthy sentence was the result of prosecutors had incorrectly applying a habitual offender law).
It’s possible that what Mr. Brooks calls the “pagan brutalism” of Mr. Cruz will alienate some evangelical voters, but the Republican campaign so far doesn’t suggest so. Another candidate, Ohio Governor John Kasich, has never recovered from his invocation of St. Peter to justify expanding Medicaid in his state. (“He’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.”) Jeb Bush has been mocked for his moment of empathy in 2014, when he said that many who illegally immigrate to the United States do so out of an “act of love” for their families.
Mr. Brooks writes, “The best conservatism balances support for free markets with a Judeo-Christian spirit of charity, compassion and solidarity.” But he doesn’t address the widespread belief that the government is not a proper mechanism for acting with charity or compassion. If Mr. Cruz does well with religious voters, it may be because they believe government needs to get out of the way and let individuals and private charities do good works. This belief is highlighted in the just-released Almanac of American Philanthropy (see last week’s post), which takes the stand that government is not complementary, but instead antithetical to charitable efforts.
Distrust of the federal government is high across the political spectrum, so it wouldn’t be surprising for Republican primary voters to overlook Mr. Cruz’s sparse references to our obligations to the less fortunate. What does the president have to do with something that should be the province of churches, private charities and perhaps local government? Cruz supporters may answer Mr. Kasich in a similar fashion as The Federalist’s Sean Davis, who wrote that the Ohio governor “doesn’t practice what he preaches,” based on the small amount of charitable donations reported on his tax return. “He authors his own heavenly fan fiction,” writes Davis, “complete with an implied scene in which he brilliantly passes St. Peter’s works test while all his antagonists fail. Kasich does not preach compassion; he preaches a false gospel of redemption through political activism.”
Evangelical and other religious voters may look at government with too much suspicion to blame Mr. Cruz for stingy social spending. Government social-welfare programs, after all, are largely without judgment. They cannot promote Christian values, and most cannot penalize behavior (abortion, promiscuity, homosexuality, irreverence toward God or country, etc.) that many voters find morally offensive.
Certainly, a large number of religious voters still see programs like Medicaid as helping the common good, and Mr. Cruz may strike them as callous. I am not so sure that enough of them will vote in Republican primaries to stop Ted Cruz and cure David Brooks’s headaches.