Ted Cruz’s obsessive focus on attacking transgender people in Indiana following Donald Trump’s remarks opposing ‘bathroom bills’ really turned off voters in the Hoosier state and may have been the main catalyst to his massive defeat there.
The cautionary tale of a fellow one-time 2016 hopeful was right in front of Cruz’s nose if he had stopped to look. A year earlier, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence had thumped his Bible straight out of national contention when he signed the state’s anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill in a closed-door session. The nationwide outcry and resulting economic blow quickly blunted any Pence for President talk.
But the message wasn’t plain enough for Cruz.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) April 24, 2016
Politico adds, in a piece about how Cruz got Indiana wrong:
Outside the diner (in Plainfield, Indiana), 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.
On the trail, while plenty of arch-conservative voters agreed with Cruz, some of the anti-Trump voters he was courting wondered why he kept talking about bathrooms.
“How is that supposed to work, making sure that men who identify as women aren’t in the bathroom?” asked Michelle DeFrancesco Bythrow, a 48-year-old music teacher at Notre Dame. “Are there going to be monitors outside?”
DeFrancesco Bythrow ended up supporting Cruz, but she was in the minority. More voters heard Cruz sound the alarm about trans rights, and remembered the backlash to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was passed in a panic about gay marriage opponents being sued for not serving same-sex weddings; it succeeded largely in causing a business backlash, spurring Gov. Mike Pence (R) and his Republicans to amend it, and Pence’s poll numbers to tumble.
The appearance of cruelty toward a small group of people, there and during the Indiana primary, seemed to make the difference.
But just like Pence and, more recently, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, Cruz misjudged the complexities of an issue that is evolving before our very eyes. As McCrory observed in an interview on the very same day as Cruz suspended his campaign: “Society is changing quickly and anybody who gets in the way is in trouble. And I might be in trouble.”
Indiana Republicans, already once burned by getting on the wrong side of that moral arc weren’t eager to trod the path again. “Today, vast swaths of the state’s Republican electorate, from Indianapolis to West Lafayette, have retreated from the culture wars,”wrote Indianapolis Monthly editor Adam Wren. “And like the 50s-era diner itself, Cruz’s dogged socially conservative message seems anachronistic—and perhaps a little tin-eared.”
Lawmakers looking to pass these so-called discriminatory “bathroom bills” should take note. It’s not a winning issue.