Texas Senator Ted Cruz suspended his presidential campaign Tuesday night after a decisive loss in the Hoosier State — one that he determined was a must win for him. A post mortem story in Politico suggests that despite the fact that Indiana should have been Cruz-friendly territory with its southern social conservative heritage, the candidate’s statements on North Carolina’s new law requiring people to use bathrooms according to their birth gender may have been a turn off to many voters.
Outside the diner, in a gaggle with reporters, Cruz unloaded on North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law. “There is no greater evil than predators, and if the law says that any man, if he chooses can enter a women’s restroom, a little girl’s restroom and stay there and he cannot be removed because he simply says at that moment he feels like a woman, you’re opening the door for predators,” Cruz told reporters.
The comments went over well with the Cruz crowd, but moderate Republicans watching Cruz’s comments on the local news later that night might as well have heard a record scratch—the amens replaced by sighs. “I don’t like any campaign that puts one class of humans against another,” a central Indiana Republican delegate to Cleveland who was turned off by Cruz’s comments, told me.
In 2015, Indiana’s legislature passed and Governor Mike Pence signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. After blowback from many in the state;s business community, including a threat by Salesforce.ccom to leave the state and the NCAA to pull its basketball tournament, the legislature was forced to amend the act to address criticism that it promoted discrimination. The law’s passage and subsequent amendment changed the political climate:
Today, vast swaths of the state’s Republican electorate, from Indianapolis to West Lafayette, have retreated from the culture wars. And like the 50s-era diner itself, Cruz’s dogged socially conservative message seems anachronistic—and perhaps a little tin-eared—to these fiscally conservative, socially liberal Republicans, the kind Cruz has to win over in the state’s crucial, populous and well-heeled “doughnut” counties surrounding Indianapolis (if you remove Marion County, the remaining surrounding counties form a doughnut-shaped ring) in order to have a shot at beating Donald Trump in the primary on Tuesday.
Here in Georgia, of course, a series of religious liberty bills were rolled into what became known as the Free Exercise Protection Act. After passing the House and Senate, the measure was vetoed by Governor Deal. Yet, the bill’s supporters have vowed to bring the measure back in 2017, and it’s rumored that a “Bathroom Bill” similar to what was enacted in North Carolina or Mississippi could be added to the mix.
Which brings us to the 2018 elections, where statewide constitutional officers, including governor and lieutenant governor will be contested. And the question of whether support for a religious liberty / bathroom bill would increase support for a candidate, or whether, like in Indiana, it might cause voters to look for another option.