- South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (L) and U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio react on stage during a campaign event in Chapin, South Carolina, February 17, 2016. Haley announced her endorsement of Rubio for the Republican presidential nomination.
- A homemade campaign sign is seen at a rally for Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, February 28, 2016.
- A combination photo shows U.S. Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio (L) in North Las Vegas, Nevada on February 21, 2016, Donald Trump in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on February 20, 2016 and Ted Cruz (R) in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 22, 2016. In South Carolina last weekend, exit polls showed Trump comfortably beat both his closest rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio among evangelical voters, despite their more consistent appeals to Christian values.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and other evangelical leaders who’ve endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for president are denying a claim that prominent Cruz supporters have discussed switching to endorse Florida Sen. Marco Rubio should Cruz tank on Super Tuesday.
With over 12 Republican primary elections and caucuses to be held on Tuesday, the day marks a pivotal moment in the campaigns of Cruz and Rubio. Both campaigns are looking for big results to help make a dent into Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s 65-delegate lead and keep them in the running to win the Republican nomination.
Although over 50 prominent social conservative and evangelical leaders, including Perkins, voted to coalesce their support around Cruz in December in hopes it would unite the evangelical voters around one candidate, the voting bloc has been nothing close to united thus far.
While Cruz was able to win the Iowa Caucus on Feb 1, he has failed to win the majority of evangelical support in each of the last three state results, and exit polls show that more evangelicals appear to be voting for Trump and a growing number are voting for Rubio.
A homemade campaign sign is seen at a rally for Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, February 28, 2016.
After Cruz finished third overall in the South Carolina Republican primary with just 26 percent of the evangelical vote to Trump’s 36 percent, the National Review reported that some of the 50-plus evangelical leaders who voted in December to unite around Cruz held a phone call last Tuesday to discuss dropping their support for Cruz and endorse Rubio instead.
The phone call was reportedly held on the same day Trump was victorious in the Nevada caucuses and benefited from 40 percent of the evangelical vote in that state.
The National Review report cites sources familiar with the situation who said that if Cruz is not successful on Tuesday and does not at the very least win his home state of Texas, “some of his prominent backers are prepared to defect to Rubio,” in what could be a “pragmatic charge to stop Trump.”
In a statement on his Facebook page following the publication of the National Review piece, Perkins rejected the idea that any phone conference was held by Cruz supporters to discuss endorsing Rubio. He added that the report is based off “lies from the Rubio camp.”
“I will stand 100 percent behind my endorsement of Ted Cruz through the convention because he understands the Constitution better than any candidate in this race and is exactly the leader America needs to lead this nation to greatness again,” Perkins wrote. “I was on no conference call as insinuated by an anonymous online report. I am deeply troubled that anyone would stoop to this level in an effort to boost Marco Rubio.”
“Bottom line: There is not a snowball’s chance that I’m changing my endorsement,” Perkins added.
An update to the National Review‘s report claims that while Perkins and others deny taking part in the reported phone call, Cruz’s most loyal supporters were not invited to take part in the call.
Other prominent Cruz-supporting evangelical leaders like ConservativeHQ.com Chairman Richard Viguerie and Iowa social conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats also decried the report in statements.
“The idea that conservatives will shift their support from Cruz to Rubio is preposterous given Marco Rubio’s many betrayals of the conservative movement going back to when he served in the Florida House,” Viguerie said in a statement. “Senator Rubio’s support for amnesty for illegal aliens, his support for the Obama-Hillary Clinton disasters in the Middle East, and his long record of supporting big spending and intrusive government has rendered him unacceptable to key elements of the conservative coalition that elected Ronald Reagan and powered Republicans to historic victories in the 2010 and 2014 elections.”
“Tony Perkins had it right; these are nothing but lies from the Rubio camp,” Viguerie added. “Ted Cruz is the only candidate for president that, if elected, I trust to govern according to limited government constitutional conservative principles.”
President of Family Talk and founder of Focus on the Family James Dobson, a Cruz supporter who was also included in the December meeting, said in a statement shared with CP that he plans to continue urging conservatives and people of faith to vote for Cruz because he “has the moral and spiritual foundations to lead our nation with excellence.”
Vander Plaats, who is the national co-chair of Cruz’s campaign, was highly critical of the reporting done by the National Review, saying in his statement that there is “no way any sensible movement conservative would support anyone else” but Cruz.
“There has been a pattern of false reporting from [National Review’s] Tim Alberta in which he continually hides behind unnamed Rubio supporters,” Vander Plaats argued.