A little more than a week ago, a group of evangelical leaders met in secret, behind closed doors, to hold their own caucus to determine who they would endorse, if anyone, for the Republican presidential nomination.
The group—called simply "The Group"—was called together by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, and eventually selected U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) over U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The vote was decided on a fifth ballot after Cruz supporters were able to get a three-fourths supermajority, according to those who attended.
Insiders at the meeting spoke on condition of anonymity to Tim Alberta of National Review, who published a report about the meeting Monday. In his report, he notes The Group had been meeting periodically since 2014 to pray and discuss the state of the presidential race.
"It had all built to this day and to this meeting, where members would vote until they reached a verdict," he wrote. "Once finalized, their decision would represent the culmination of an oft-dismissed undertaking that began several years earlier and aimed at one thing: coalescing the conservative movement's leaders behind a single presidential candidate in a show of strength and solidarity that would position them to defeat the establishment-backed candidate in the head-to-head stage of the 2016 Republican primary."
Alberta reports the intent was to push for a supermajority in support of Cruz all along, and that Cruz was the favorite to win an endorsement going in. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, and Dr. Ben Carson were also considered, but quickly dropped off the ballot.
"On the strength of his debate performances, the Florida senator had quickly begun positioning himself as the establishment favorite while simultaneously courting social-conservative leaders nationally and in the early states," Alberta wrote. "This gave pause to some members of Perkins' group heading into the fall, as they suddenly questioned the necessity of picking sides early in a Cruz-Rubio showdown."
On the campaign trail, Cruz has argued that if conservatives would coalesce behind his campaign, he would win. With Carson fading, Huckabee and Santorum polling in the low single digits, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal out, getting The Group's backing could be just what his campaign needs in the final days before the first-in-the-nation Iowa Republican Caucus, where evangelical Christians, historically, make up about half of the voters.
Christians have only seen a "scratch the surface" impact from the meeting so far, Alberta wrote. Three of the participants—Richard Viguerie, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, and Bob Vander Plaats of The FAMiLY LEADER—announced their endorsements within the first 72 hours.
"An avalanche of endorsements is forthcoming from conservative leaders, including James Dobson, founder and chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family, Ken Cuccinelli of Senate Conservatives Fund, and of course, from Perkins himself," Alberta wrote. "Though some prominent group members, such as Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America, have made it known that they won't endorse."
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