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Bryan Fischer: An evangelical conservative sizes up the 2016 field
Friday, December 13, 2013 2:27 PM

By Bryan Fischer

Follow me on Twitter: @BryanJFischer, on Facebook at “Focal Point” 

Evangelical conservatives, in general, want candidates who are strong in their Christian faith as a prerequisite for further consideration. 

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum clear that hurdle with room to spare. Chris Christie, on the other hand, does not. He’s openly stated that his Christian faith has no impact, for instance, on his stance toward homosexuality. So Christie is out. 

The rest of the field appears, from all indications, to be solid on the sanctity of human life. Because of their opportunity to use executive authority to advance the cause of the unborn, Gov. Huckabee and Gov. Perry have the advantage here. Gov. Huckabee has been a tireless advocate for the unborn and has often and with little fanfare supported efforts to protect babies in the womb. However, Gov. Perry’s record on the life issue is unmatched by any governor in the country. Advantage Perry on this one. 

They all generally appear to be strong on the issue of natural marriage, with Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee the frontrunners. Gov. Perry in particular openly celebrated the passage of Texas’s amendment protecting natural marriage, and has been an unbending defender of the family. Cruz, on the other hand, was disappointingly tepid when he had the opportunity to defend and promote natural marriage by instead emphasizing it as a state issue. 

Paul Ryan has probably removed himself from contention through his sponsorship of his budget-busting deal with Patty Murray, just as Rubio has done through his misguided decision to the champion of amnesty. Ryan and Rubio are done. 

Sen. Santorum will simply be unable to generate the kind of momentum necessary to run a viable campaign, so Santorum is out, more for pragmatic reasons than principled ones. 

Mike Huckabee is obviously an attractive candidate to evangelicals. He’s unapologetic about his faith, and strong on the sanctity of marriage and life. He can say to evangelicals with complete credibility, “I do not come to you; I come from you.” He has a very appealing presence, is articulate, and likeable. Even his political foes feel an affection for him. 

Evangelical concerns that will have to be satisfied come from his early support for Common Core, and his mixed record in Arkansas on taxes, welfare and immigration. 

He has renounced his support for Common Core, claiming it has morphed into something that he does not recognize. How convincing his renunciation was is still to be determined. I believe the immigration issue is going to be a sticky one for the governor, and unless he comes out for an emphatic border-security-first, build-a-fence plan on immigration, he’s going to have trouble here. Huckabee will be in the hunt, but knowledgeable evangelicals are going to want answers to some direct questions first.

Cruz is obviously running for the presidency, as he was the only senator to make the trip to South Africa for the Mandela funeral, which gave him the opportunity to look presidential. Cruz has given somewhat tepid responses to questions about natural marriage, resorting to the bromide that it is an issue for the states to decide. While that is true, he passed on the opportunity to give a Santorum-like, ringing defense of marriage and the family.

 But he is an obviously principled candidate, who is willing to take the arrows to move us back to some semblance of fiscal sanity. He is articulate. You will never have to worry about a Rick Perry “oops” moment with him, and that smoothness and ability to out-debate any political opponent will be enormously attractive to evangelicals, who are eager for a champion of conservative values who can articulate them and defend them against all comers. 

Rand Paul’s great advantage is his determination to uphold the Constitution, limit the size of government to its constitutionally authorized powers, and restrain out-of-control government spending and regulation. He and Rick Perry - the only candidate who has pledged “to take a wrecking ball” to Washington - are leaders of the pack here. Rand Paul strikes me as a man who would wield the veto pen with relish, as would Gov. Perry. 

Paul’s liability is his tendency toward libertarianism rather than conservatism. His expressed preference to get the government out of the marriage-recognition business is a concern for evangelicals, particularly since it creates dangerous instability for children and enormous uncertainty over child-custody issues in cases of divorce. 

His openness to legalizing marijuana is likewise problematic, as we have witnessed a spiking of marijuana use among teens in Colorado and increasing concerns among law enforcement officials there about the connection between legalized marijuana and crime. He also supports amnesty once the border is secure, which generates concern. 

Rick Perry is clearly running for the presidency, as his visits to South Carolina and Iowa and his cross-country trips to celebrate the economic successes he’s helped to accomplish in Texas indicate.

 In the 2012 campaign, he tripped up on immigration, admitted he goofed on Gardasil as governor, and his “Oops” moment will be very tough to overcome. He’s actually quite articulate in defending conservative values in almost every interview I’ve seen, but that one brain freeze will make the media eager to pounce on any verbal miscue and will make evangelicals anxiously grip the edge of their chairs in public debates. And he’ll need to convince Americans that border security will be his first and only priority before attention is given to any other immigration issue. 

The great advantage Gov. Perry has is that of the four most attractive candidates to evangelicals right now (along with Cruz, Paul and Huckabee), he has over a decade of effective executive experience and has proven that he knows how to use the powers of the executive office to promote sound social and economic principles. That’s a huge electoral plus in light of the chaos a president with no executive experience has created in our land through ineptitude and misplaced values. 

Bottom line: as far as evangelical concerns go, in the first furlong of this long race, Ted Cruz is the frontrunner, Rick Perry ought to be, Rand Paul is not far behind, and Mike Huckabee is fourth. They will be jockeying for position until June of 2016. 

(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)

 

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