After Wisconsin, Cruz Looks to Widen His Appeal

After Wisconsin, Cruz Looks to Widen His Appeal
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If the Republican primary heads to the convention in Cleveland, Ted Cruz’s victory in Wisconsin could stand as an important marker, having made it more difficult for Trump to lock up the nomination. In his victory speech Tuesday, Cruz called the result a “turning point.”

In terms of the substance of Cruz’s campaign message, at least, it indeed appears to be that.  

On the campaign trail this week, Cruz’s rhetoric was notably softened from the fire and brimstone that marked his early campaign appearances; in particular, his stump speech has shed the overtly religious tone that first endeared Cruz to evangelical voters.

“This next election is going to come down to three issues,” Cruz said Monday at a rally in Waukesha, Wis. “Jobs, freedom and security.”

The transition by Cruz is deliberate, as he now seeks to advance his argument beyond a base of values voters and staunch conservatives to a broader audience in the GOP. That shifted focus shone through Tuesday, as Cruz invoked “unity” and turned his eye toward the general election: "Let me just say, Hillary, get ready. Here we come."

“It’s important that we start talking about issues that bring all Republicans together,” said one Cruz campaign source. “We’re at a point in the campaign when expanding the brand is kind of the next step.”

The refined messaging tack for Cruz and his campaign represents a stark departure from his successful values-centric approach in Iowa and throughout the first half of the GOP primary.

At a campaign rally in Waterloo, Iowa, one week before the state’s pivotal caucuses, Cruz urged his supporters: “Lift this country up in prayer, and commit today, each and every day between now and Election Day, to lift this country up in prayer. To spend even just one minute a day saying, ‘Father God, please continue this awakening, continue this spirit of revival. Awaken the body of Christ to pull us back from the abyss.’”

Such rhetoric was nothing out of the ordinary for Cruz at that stage; indeed, it was his emphasis, even as he insisted on occasion that religion would not bear directly on his decision-making as president.

“I’m not running to be ‘pastor-in-chief,’” Cruz told the Christian news organization CBN in February. “It is not the calling of a political leader to deliver the salvation message. That is the calling of us as believers, it’s the calling of a pastor, but it’s a different role to be a political leader.”

Following his victory in Iowa, Cruz took his faith-tinged message with him to New Hampshire, South Carolina, and the Southern primaries beyond.

But that formula seemed from the beginning to have an expiration date, if Cruz were to advance to the later primaries and, perhaps, the general election.

Indeed, Cruz has previously outlined what his foundational message would be. In his book, “A Time For Truth,” published last summer, Cruz introduced three steps to “reignite the promise of America:” “Bring back jobs, growth and opportunity; protect our constitutional rights; and restore American leadership in the world.”

Or, put another way: Jobs, freedom and security.

In March of last year, when Cruz announced his candidacy for president, his remarks received much attention for his overtures to religious Republicans. The venue, Liberty University, the Christian university founded by Jerry Falwell, underscored the theme.

Much of the speech, however, focused on more mainstream ideas that will now take center stage in Cruz’s campaign.

“Now we’re at the point where we’re basically going into the second half of his announcement speech,” the campaign source said.

Whether his rivals will permit a smooth transition, however, is another matter. “Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet — he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump,” said a statement from Trump’s campaign after Cruz won Wisconsin.

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.

 

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