Report: Ted Cruz tells New York donors at fundraiser that gay marriage isn't a top three priority; Update: Huckabee hits Cruz

After that audio of Cruz questioning Trump’s judgment at a private fundraiser leaked a few weeks ago, Mike Allen of Politico promised more was coming. Promise kept.

Here’s how he answered when someone stood up at a fundraiser in Manhattan on December 9th and told him he agreed with him on nearly everything — except gay marriage. What sort of priority would the fight against SSM be for President Cruz, he asked? The exchange:

Cruz: “My view on gay marriage is that I’m a constitutionalist and marriage is a question for the states. And so I think if someone wants to change the marriage laws of their state, the way to do so is convince your fellow citizens — and change them democratically, rather than five unelected judges. … Being a constitutionalist is integral to my approach to every other issue. So that I’m very devoted to.”

Same questioner: “So would you say it’s like a top-three priority for you — fighting gay marriage?”

Cruz: “No. I would say defending the Constitution is a top priority. And that cuts across the whole spectrum — whether it’s defending [the] First Amendment, defending religious liberty, stopping courts from making public policy issues that are left to the people. …

“I also think the 10th Amendment of the Constitution cuts across a whole lot of issues and can bring people together. People of New York may well resolve the marriage question differently than the people of Florida or Texas or Ohio. … That’s why we have 50 states — to allow a diversity of views. And so that is a core commitment.”

There’s nothing new here except the detail about SSM not being in the top three of his to-do list. It’s no secret that Cruz is a federalist on marriage. Last year he proposed a constitutional amendment that would take marriage law away from the courts and hand it back to the states, a notable deviation from the sort of Federal Marriage Amendment traditionally backed by social cons. The FMA would declare that marriage is between a man and a woman as a matter of constitutional law, which means no gay marriage anywhere in the United States. Cruz’s amendment would let blue states go their way and red states go theirs. If you’re an evangelical in Des Moines who likes Cruz, presumably you’ve already made peace with that. (Cruz has talked about this on national television, for cripes sake.) And if you haven’t made peace with it, good news: You can read Cruz’s answer here, if you wish, as a sly way of saying that fighting SSM will be a top priority for him without really saying it. It falls under the rubric of “defending the Constitution,” but obviously he doesn’t want to stress that when he’s asking for money from a group of rich, socially liberal New York lawyers. The lesson of Cruz’s 2013 legalization amendment to the Gang of Eight bill is that he’s a man who positions himself carefully on sensitive issues. Was that a poison pill designed to wreck the bill (yes, if you’re a conservative) or a legit attempt to bring illegals out of the shadows (yes, if you’re a swing voter)? Is Cruz’s “constitutionalist” approach to gay marriage designed to roll back the new institution (yes, if you’re a conservative) or to let left-leaning states experiment with it (yes, if you’re a swing voter)?

Frankly, I wonder if gay marriage is a top-three issue even for evangelicals in Iowa. Terrorism has shot to the top of Republican priorities; immigration has been the hottest issue of the primary to date; and the economy is a perennial when people are asked what the most important issue to them is. When Gallup offered Americans a laundry list of issues to prioritize a few weeks ago, “gay rights issues” didn’t even crack one percent. Cruz apparently makes no bones about this on the trail either:

To believe Cruz will be damaged by this is to believe that Iowa’s GOP caucusgoers are every inch the media stereotype of them as caring about “values” (and ethanol) and nothing more. In fact, just two days before Cruz made the remarks about SSM at his fundraiser, a group of top Christian conservatives were voting in Virginia to make Cruz their consensus choice for the GOP nomination. They did that not only knowing his position on gay marriage, I assume, but also knowing that Cruz himself is sufficiently comfortable with gays to have held a widely reported campaign event at the apartment of a gay couple earlier this year. Huckabee and Santorum will try to make hay of this because they’re desperate to find an angle of attack on Cruz, but even if they do, Cruz has an easy rejoinder. Besides personally advocating for traditional marriage, which Cruz continues to do, what power does the president have over SSM? He’s not involved constitutionally in any amendment process that might overturn SCOTUS’s Obergefell decision. The best Huck and Santorum can do is try to pin him down on whether he’d appoint Supreme Court justices who’ll overturn that ruling. Cruz will probably say yes, as that’s consistent with his “give marriage back to the states” approach. It’ll cause a little awkwardness for him in the general election, but there’s no other likely GOP nominee who’d answer differently — except maybe Trump. Someone should ask him.

Frankly, I’m half-convinced at this point that Team Cruz itself is leaking these audio clips. Think about it. The clip of Cruz criticizing Trump’s judgment was a clever way to jab Trump while also technically maintaining their ceasefire. Cruz didn’t attack Trump publicly after all … although of course he did, once the audio was leaked. Trump hit him back a few times but that feud was over by the time of the debate a few days later. Cruz’s message about Trump’s judgment was out even though it hadn’t been formally released. Now we’ve got a new clip at a moment when the race is essentially between Cruz and Trump and jittery center-righties are beginning to reckon with the possibility that Cruz is their only chance to stop you know who. If they back him, would he be hard right or center-right-ish as president? Conveniently, this clip suggests center-right-ish. Go figure. I don’t think Team Cruz really leaked the clip (they seem annoyed at Politico’s story on social media, for whatever that’s worth), but it’s curious that Cruz opponents are 0 for 2 in damaging leaked-audio hits thus far, no?

Update: Fresh from the inbox, here’s that Huckabee attack on Cruz now.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee released the following statement this morning.

“Conservatives are being asked to ‘coalesce’ around yet another corporately-funded candidate that says something very different at a big donor fundraiser in Manhattan than at a church in Marshalltown. Shouldn’t a candidate be expected to have authenticity and consistency, instead of having to look at a map to decide what to believe and what to say?

“One reason I do respect Trump is that whether you agree with him or not, he doesn’t pretend with his principles or change his message depending on his location or audience. If issues like marriage and the sanctity of life are truly issues of principle and not just politics, then there should not be geographical boundaries to what is right and wrong.”

Is there any evidence that Cruz has said something in Marshalltown that he hasn’t said in Manhattan? There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary, as I just explained.

Update: Almost forgot re: Huck’s statement: On what planet is Donald Trump, former Democratic donor, a model of ideological principle and consistency? Because it’s not this one.

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