Texas Sen. Ted Cruz scored a runaway victory in the presidential straw poll at the Values Voter Summit on Saturday, grabbing 35 percent of the vote among attendees at one of the country's highest-profile conservative gatherings, where no fewer than eight GOP presidential hopefuls came to court the crowd. Cruz had nearly double the support of the second-place finisher, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and seven times the votes for Donald Trump, who was audibly booed during his Values Voter speech but still leads the Republican field among likely primary voters who are outside of the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Cruz must be wondering what will happen when he wakes up Sunday, since his weekend got started early and has been going strong ever since. As Cruz was preparing for his Friday appearance at the summit, news broke that Speaker John Boehner would be leaving Congress in a little over a month. Cruz, who Boehner recently called "that jackass" at an out-of-town fundraiser, has made it his business to stoke discontent with Boehner among the farthest-right reaches of the House Republican conference. With Boehner apparently cowed by the struggle over the federal budget, the dream of shutting down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood must seem more achievable than ever for Cruz.
The senator from Texas unfortunately didn't get the chance to reveal Boehner's announcement to the right-wing faithful at the conference on Friday—2016 primary rival Marco Rubio beat him to it—but it was impossible to miss Cruz's glee as he took the stage and cracked jokes about the conservatives in the room striking such fear into the speaker that he'd up and quit when they came to town.
It's hardly a shock that Cruz is the fantasy president for the Values Voter crowd—this is the third year in a row he's come out on top at the conference, which is put on every fall by the advocacy arm of the Family Research Council. Its straw poll, while an excellent barometer of conservative sentiment, is less useful as a predictor of the outcome of the GOP primary process. During the poll's first year, 2007, Mitt Romney got more than a quarter of the vote, and the party's eventual 2008 nominee, John McCain, barely registered at one percent. In 2011, ahead of Romney's winning the 2012 nomination, his four percent at the summit was dwarfed by the support for Ron Paul, which reached 37 points. (The values voters refrain from holding the poll during actual election years, presumably to avoid undermining the Republican nominee who's already been selected over the summer.)
The results of this year's poll, which garnered 1,161 responses, put several mainstream Republican candidates near the very bottom: Only seven attendees wanted to see another President Bush, for example, and Rand Paul didn't fare much better with 19 votes, or about 2 percent. The Top 5 looked like this:
- Ted Cruz: 35 percent
- Ben Carson: 18 percent
- Mike Huckabee: 14 percent
- Marco Rubio: 13 percent
- Donald Trump: 5 percent
The options included all credible presidential candidates, not only Republicans, and the tally unveiled Saturday showed that Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Jim Webb received one vote each. Bernie Sanders, with five supporters, beat both Chris Christie and Lindsey Graham.