Ted Cruz Courts West Texas Evangelicals
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Ted Cruz Courts West Texas Evangelicals

Once upon a time, only a few years ago, Sen. Ted Cruz was an unknown wanna-be senator from Houston who seemed more likely to jump over the moon than to be elected to the U.S. Senate. But then in 2012, Cruz became the junior senator from Texas, mostly based on the support of Christian evangelicals and Tea Party faithful. 

Since then Cruz has become a household name and has once again shocked the hell out of armchair political watchers by — somehow — becoming an actual option for the 2016 Republican presidential nod. And as his presidential dreams start to look increasingly more plausible, Cruz is working on drawing on the same evangelical base to back him up on the national stage.

On Monday Cruz showed up at a West Texas ranch owned by Dan and Farris Wilks, the multimillionaire brothers who are Cruz's biggest backers, at a two-day meeting with about 300 pastors, religious leaders and financial backers.

Cruz spun the meeting as a benign little meet and greet. In fact, it sounded like something just this side of a church retreat the way Cruz described it. "We are meeting with a great many evangelical leaders from across the country," Cruz told reporters before a rally in North Little Rock. "We'll be meeting with them in West Texas, having a chance just for some fellowship, to visit back and forth."

In reality, this is a big deal for Cruz. Traditionally, evangelicals tend to scatter their support among various candidates, but if they were to, you know, support one candidate on a national level, they could help said candidate go a long way toward scoring the Republican presidential nomination. Cruz isn't the only GOP candidate who has tried to garner favor with the Christian right (everyone from Dr. Ben Carson to Mike Huckabee and Sen. Marco Rubio is trying to entice this set of voters to support their candidacy), but it looks like Cruz is making a big play for the evangelicals, judging by his West Texas powwow.

For one thing, this event is being orchestrated by some of the most ardent evangelical types in the party. The hosts of the gathering, the Wilks brothers, made their fortune in early fracking technology, but the pair have only gained real national prominence in recent months after it was revealed that the family donated $15 million to Cruz's campaign, putting their political donations on the same level as the Koch brothers'. But what's really interesting about all of this is the fact that the brothers also built a church out in Cisco (a.k.a. middle-of-nowhere West Texas), Assembly of Yahweh, 7th Day. The church's doctrine considers being gay a serious crime, the Bible to be historically and scientifically accurate in every detail and abortion to be murder, including in cases of rape or incest, according to Reuters. 

The meeting is also being organized, at least in part, by Keep the Promise PAC, one of the four main super PACs backing Cruz and the only super PAC that is led by David Barton, an influential evangelical leader who is known as one of the foremost Christian revisionist historians in the country. He also has the dubious distinction of having written a book, The Jefferson Lies, that was found to be so historically inaccurate that it was voted the "the least credible history book in print" by the History News Network, according to the New York Times. 

With a month to go before the primaries start, Cruz has already scored endorsements from Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats (he says he's backing Cruz because he and Cruz both take a hard-line stance on abortion, LGBT rights and a slew of other issues) and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson (evangelical as they come and also the dude who interviewed Ted Bundy the day before Bundy was executed). 

Now Cruz is apparently trying to win over some other religious leaders in one fell swoop. The West Texas meeting wraps up today with a public rally featuring the Christian rock group Newsboys.

Appealing to the religious right worked for Cruz when he was running for senator. If he manages to make that happen on the national level, he might end up being the actual Republican candidate and he'll owe his nomination, at least in part, to people like the Wilks brothers, Vander Plaats, Dobson and Barton. Of course, that won't likely be awkward for Cruz, considering he has many of the same views as these guys. 

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