The whole political-media world has gone bananas since Ted Cruz accused Donald Trump of having “New York Values,” then spent Friday glibly mock-apologizing for the charge. Trump delivered a powerful response in Thursday’s debate, citing the heroism of New Yorkers after the Sept. 11 attacks. But it was the New York-centric media that was driven to distraction by the charge and responded in kind. The general consensus was that Cruz had gone too far, painted with too broad a brush in criticizing “New York values,” and probably hurt himself.
This is almost certainly wrong because it misreads Cruz’s self-interest and the attitudes of his supporters and those he'd like to attract. Helpfully, the new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll can illuminate exactly what Cruz is up to—and why he keeps on mocking “New York values” even after absorbing so much criticism.
Iowa Republicans, it may not shock you to learn, care a lot about values in general and about Ted Cruz’s values in particular (we asked). Among likely caucus-goers—including those who support candidates besides Cruz—78 percent said they found it attractive that Cruz is “guided by Christian values in opposing abortion and gay marriage.”
Evangelical voters, who are heavily represented in Iowa’s Republican electorate, were even more predisposed toward Cruz’s values: 95 percent found them attractive.
But there is a group that is even more ardently attracted to Cruz’s “values” than evangelicals, and that’s people for whom Cruz is their top choice of candidate. A stunning 98 percent of Cruz’s Iowa supporters—more than any other candidate—say they find his “Christian values in opposing abortion and gay marriage” to be attractive. If there’s an antithesis to “New York values,” that’s it right there. Cruz himself appeared to be making that point Saturday in a video he tweeted of a 1999 Trump appearance on NBC's Meet the Press.
But Cruz doesn't have anything like a hammerlock on Iowans who take a dim view of “New York values.” A robust 82 percent of Trump's supporters describe themselves as “values voters.” And let's remember, Cruz's lead over Trump in the Iowa Poll has diminished from 10 points in December to 3 points. Cruz needs to shore up his support and, ideally, weaken Trump's. A fight over “values”—especially those branded to Trump's hometown—looks like a perfect wedge issue to make this happen.
On Friday, with great relish, Cruz delivered a long, insincere “apology” to New Yorkers “Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo and Bill DeBlasio” that included the following:
I apologize to the millions of New Yorkers who have been let down by the liberal politicians in that state….I apologize to all of the pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-2nd Amendment New Yorkers who are told by Gov. Cuomo that they have no place in New York because that’s not who New Yorkers are.
Cruz liked his apology so much that he also tweeted out video and text of it. This all produced the intended effect. As the Boston Globe's Matt Viser pointed out, the fight over New York values is “the first time in the GOP race that someone not named Trump has set the agenda.”
Of course, what Cruz is doing isn’t apologizing, but pandering. And he isn't speaking to New Yorkers, at least not primarily. When he mentions “pro-life” and “pro-marriage” voters, the ones he's addressing are in places like Iowa and South Carolina. He's trying to draw for them a distinction between himself and Trump. And based on our poll, there’s every reason to presume that, at least in Iowa, he'll succeed.