Nobody in his right mind would think that Ted Cruz is a squish on gay issues. Needless to say, the GOP presidential race is crowded with people who fit that description. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have been frantically trying to portray Cruz as soft on marriage equality in a feeble effort to stop Cruz’s momentum in the polls and in fundraising. (For the record, Cruz has been endorsed by the National Organization for Marriage, which should settle the question of his credentials.) Marco Rubio has added his own twist, trying to out-Cruz Cruz.
The ostensible reason for the attacks is a comment that Cruz made at a private event with supporters in New York. As reported by Politico, Cruz was asked at the event if fighting gay marriage was “a top-three priority” for him. Cruz’s reply was “no,” but with enough nuance that you shouldn’t get your hopes up.
“I would say defending the Constitution is a top priority,” Cruz said. “And that cuts across the whole spectrum — whether it’s defending [the] First Amendment, defending religious liberty.”
What Cruz’s comments boil down to is that fighting gay marriage is part of a broader anti-gay agenda and not a standalone issue, which is consistent with Cruz’s record of opposing all things gay (with the exception of gay money). It’s also consistent with how he’s spoken about marriage equality in the past.
Politico breathlessly tried to spin the story “a potential vulnerability that Cruz’s opposition aims to exploit.” Following Politico’s helpful script, his opponents did just that. The PAC supporting Mike Huckabee ran an ad in Iowa, quoting from the audio file Politico posted. “Listen to Cruz raise money in New York City from liberals who don’t share our conservative Iowa values,”the ad’s narrator intones. (Apparently, Huckabee’s definition of a liberal is anyone who doesn’t contribute money to him.)
Rick Santorum suggested that Cruz is insufficiently homophobic because he has a “libertarian streak.” In a fine example of the typical Santorum logic, who has retired his sweater vests, said that Cruz’s inability to demand the courts bend to his will would eventually lead to polygamy.
Huckabee’s and Santorum’s temper tantrums are to be expected because Cruz has been vacuuming up all of their potential evangelical endorsements. Huckabee in particular is still irritated with Cruz for trying to crash the photo op when anti-marriage clerk Kim Davis was released from jail–not exactly the kind of move that would make liberal New Yorkers vote for Cruz.
Taking the record for hypocrisy, however, is Marco Rubio. In the weeks before Cruz’s remarks became public, Rubio had been ratcheting up the antigay rhetoric in a clear effort to pry some votes away from Cruz. In a single three-minute span on a Christian radio show, Rubio promised to undo President Obama’s executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination, appoint judges that would rollback marriage equality and push hard for religious liberty exemptions. Just for giggles, he threw in a slam at transgender people, raising the specter of shared bathrooms.
What makes Rubio’s rhetoric hypocritical is that one of his biggest donors is also a leading Republican proponent for marriage equality. It would be interesting to know what line Rubio is handing Paul Singer, whose son is gay.
Of course, all of this just means that Cruz is leading the pack. Why bother attacking Santorum or Huckabee, when they are hovering around three percent in the Iowa polls–combined? With he first votes in the campaign just weeks away, candidates will be scrambling to distinguish themselves anyway they can. But if Cruz emerges victorious after Iowa, he will have a huge advantage over the others. And that might mean that Cruz could be the man that no one else can beat.