MANCHESTER, N.H. — Ted Cruz is talking a lot less about Jesus.
The Texas senator spent the last full day before the New Hampshire primaries making a disjointed and largely God-free pitch to Granite State voters—emphasizing his devotion to fiscal responsibility and de-emphasizing his interest in making social conservatism great again.
That isn’t to say Cruz’s last day was totally godless; he sprinkled in quiet references to his faith—and his foes’ faithlessness—throughout his final events in the state. But his closing pitch was vastly different than the hard sell he made in Iowa—and it got a vastly different reception. The candidate drew an uncomfortable welcome from skeptical crowds, indicating just how tricky it may be for him to build the broad coalition that he’s promised his donors.
The candidate kicked off his day with a town hall at the TURBOCAM manufacturing plant in Barrington—a largely innocuous event, free from the fire-and-brimstone language that his Iowa surrogates used to pump up crowds last week. Instead of having his events opened by his dad—a fiery preacher with a thick Cuban accent who many conservative Christians adore—one of the senator’s warm-up acts was Jack Kimball, a former gubernatorial candidate who once called for Sheriff Joe Arpaio to arrest President Obama’s butt (his word), and shared a YouTube video about an “armada of UFOs.” Kimball didn’t call for incarcerating the president when he stumped for Cruz, but he did argue at one stop that the Second Amendment’s main utility is so Americans can overturn the government if they need to. And his message throughout the day was grimly apocalyptic.
“Our country’s on a precipice,” he said to the crowd assembled at the plant. “This isn’t a secret.” Then he reiterated that our country is about to do something off “a cliff.”
Cruz’s second opening act, former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, didn’t compare the candidate to any sort of savior.
“When I hear Ted Cruz,” he said, “I think of me, when I came as a young man to the United States Congress, full of vim and vinegar and wanting to change America.”
And his message to would-be Cruz voters took a fairly gloomy view as well.
“Even if you’re dead, still vote for Ted,” he said, to audience chortles. “Not really, not really.”
This couldn’t be more different from Cruz’s closing pitch in Iowa, a traveling roadshow of right-wing celebrities where at least one audience member waved a Bible in the air and where Duck Dynasty’s resident theologian Phil Robertson warned voters that gay marriage was evil nonsense. In Iowa, Glenn Beck exhorted voters to find inspiration in George Washington’s faith. One of Cruz’s last events was in a jam-packed church, where belief was in the air.
In New Hampshire, however, Cruz only mentioned religion in passing. He opened his speeches with a cry of, “God bless the great state of New Hampshire!” And then promptly pivoted to discussions of the ethanol lobby, economic growth, and proposed structural changes to the Veterans Administration.
At the tail end of his first event, there was a hint of Iowa Ted. He asked attendees “to commit to lift this country up in prayer each and every day from now until the election, to pray that God would continue this awakening, this spirit of revival, to pull this country back from the abyss.”
Then he talked about how Ronald Reagan put his hand on 2 Chronicles 7:14 when he was sworn into office—a story “our friends in the mainstream media will never share with you.”
But besides that one pastoral comment, Cruz focused more on the dangers of radical Islamic terrorism than on the merits of his own faith. And at one stop, he took a dig at his political opponents over questions of belief. A heckler interrupted his remarks at the Tuckaway Tavern and Butchery in Raymond, waving a cross, holding what looked like a mirror, and imploring Cruz to look at himself.
“You know the very odd thing?” Cruz retorted, grinning slyly. “Usually lefties don’t believe in God.”
Cruz’s surrogates didn’t seem to have gotten much of a cohesive message regarding how to talk about the senator’s Christianity. When The Daily Beast asked Kimball about Cruz’s statement on praying for revival, Kimball gave an answer that made very little sense.
“Clearly what he was getting at was that you want social revival to occur,” he said, “and you have got to free up—you have got to take the handcuffs off of small businesses in this country, you’ve gotta shrink the size of government and grow the size of our economy so that a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Later in the day, though, at a stop at an American Legion post in Manchester, Kimball told assembled Tea Party activists that they should vote for Cruz because he is the best Christian in the race. Kimball said Cruz steps aside with attendees at his events to pray with them, and that no other candidate does that.
Then Kimball noted that Cruz has a hot wife.
“We got to have dinner with Heidi Cruz, and what an impressive woman,” he said. “She’s also not bad-looking. Sorry, honey! She’s a beautiful woman, she’s got two beautiful daughters.”
Kimball directed the “Sorry, honey!” comment at his own wife, in the crowd.
That particular event—Cruz’s last of the day—came to an odd, flat ending when an audience member pressed him on if he would have been able to predict the 9/11 attacks had he been president at the time. Cruz refused to say he had such powers of foresight. The audience only gave tepid applause to his lines, and a pair of elderly folks passed the entirety of Cruz’s speech playing noisy slot machines in the back of the hall. So while the Texan tried to tout his anti-undocumented-immigration bona fides, one corner of the room was treated to canned farm animal sounds—lots of moos and oinks—as the sullen pair played a slot-machine game called “Henry’s Harvest.”
Cruz’s impressive win in Iowa was largely due to Evangelical voters’ unalloyed devotion to him—and due to his preternatural ability to speak their language. But in New Hampshire, where the dialect is decidedly different, suffice it to say his pitch is a wicked hard sell.