MILWAUKEE — On Tuesday night, Christians saved Ted Cruz.
The Texan made winning Wisconsin look easy, waltzing to a double-digit victory in the Badger State and all but guaranteeing that the Republican Party will pick its nominee at a contested convention in Cleveland this summer.
But Tuesday’s result was not predestined—and it wasn’t just a series of unforced errors that made the Trump Train sputter. The Cruz team pulled off a singular organizing feat, corralling a sizable number of Christian pastors for last-minute endorsements that helped shore up his support among evangelical Christians.
In February, Cruz suffered a tough defeat to Donald Trump in South Carolina, in large part because evangelicals—to the bafflement of many—were eager to line up behind the thrice-wed casino magnate.
In Wisconsin, though, that didn’t happen. CNN exit polling indicates that Cruz beat Trump among evangelical Christian voters by a whopping 21 points. And moving those numbers took work.
Julaine Appling, who heads the socially conservative group Wisconsin Family Action, said the effort was “absolutely unprecedented.” Pastors didn’t even come together by that number with that much speed for Gov. Scott Walker, she noted.
“This has been an incredible two-week blitz,” she said. “It speaks to the urgency, and the quality of the candidate.”
Appling helped organize the endorsements, working with Erik Corcoran, who was Cruz’s faith director for the state. As Corcoran stood in the victory party crowd under the purple lights of Milwaukee’s American Serb Hall on Tuesday night, he practically glowed.
“It was a God thing, it really was,” he said.
The campaign’s Wisconsin faith coalition held its first meeting just two weeks ago, he said. In the ensuing days, they worked overtime to get pastors to join the Cruz Crew.
“I told Senator Cruz when I first came on board, if we live out Matthew 6:33, ‘Seek him first and his righteousness,’ everything else is going to be added to this campaign,” Corcoran said. “And that’s what it all comes down to.”
He added that the endorsements were extremely valuable.
“These are leaders of churches, leaders of the god-fearing people of Wisconsin, whether they’re Catholic, whether they’re Baptist, whatever their denomination,” he continued. “And people look to them and say, ‘What does my pastor think?’”
Corcoran added that backing from pastors likely moved a lot of votes.
“A lot of people think the churches don’t care, that they’re uninvolved—or they’re separate, the whole misconception of church and state,” he said. “When in all actuality, it’s the freedom to say how we feel as Christians.”
He added that Trump-bashing wasn’t part of his pastor outreach.
“I focused just on Cruz’s vision and his love for the Lord, and that was enough, really,” Corcoran said.
Paul J. Hoover, a Cruz endorser who pastors Souls Harbor Baptist Church in Milwaukee, said evangelical leaders who boosted Donald Trump early on—especially Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas and Jerry Falwell Jr.—may have endorsers’ remorse.
“They may want to rethink their endorsement,” Hoover said.
“I’m not necessarily telling people who to vote for,” he added of his decision to back the Texan. “But I’ll say who I’m voting for. And also, I preach the Bible. And if you vote with your eyes wide open, I think you have to vote for Ted Cruz.”
Later, he emailed me this quote from John Jay:
“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”