The social conservative vote matters a lot in today's Republican caucuses in Iowa. Just look at the previous winners: Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. Neither are making much of a dent in Iowa, not because they've changed or because the social conservatives have changed, but rather we have the wild card of Donald Trump, and we've got Ted Cruz heavily catering to the social conservative vote (to the point of completely flip-flopping his position on criminal sentencing reform). Cruz is grabbing the social conservative votes in the state, leaving Santorum and Huckabee with crumbs and complaints.
Immigration, jobs, and fears of terrorism are dominating the debates in the Republican primaries, and there's been much less discussion of domestic social conservative issues. Abortion has been brought up several times due to the Planned Parenthood scandal, but there's not that much differentiation among the top Republican candidates in their desire to federally defund the health provider. Gay issues have barely been raised at all. To the extent that they have, it's been entirely about gay marriage recognition, with candidates typically saying it should be up to the states to make the decision. The Republican candidates are not particularly fond of the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision mandating legal recognition of same-sex couples.
While gay issues are not as dominant in this election as they have been in previous cycles, that doesn't mean Republican candidates are ignoring appeals to opponents of gay marriage in order to get out the vote for the caucus. Over the weekend, both Cruz and Trump, the frontrunners for today's vote, made appeals to marriage traditionalists.
This isn't a new or sudden gesture for Cruz. He staked out territory in opposition of the Obergefell decision long before the Supreme Court ever ruled, calling for legislation or even a constitutional amendment guaranteeing that states have the authority to decide whether to recognize same-sex marriage. At a rally in Iowa on Sunday, Cruz brought out Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson to call gay marriage "evil" and "wicked" and added "They want us to swallow it, you say. We have to run this bunch out of Washington, D.C. We have to rid the earth of them." Well, that's some creepy rhetoric. Watch the clip below:
Meanwhile Trump has cultivated a lengthy history of pro-gay support on many issues (detailing a dimension of the "New York values" criticism Cruz has directed Trump's way). Trump had previously described the Obergefell decision as the law of the land, but on Sunday, when asked by Fox News if it was time to move on and stop fighting it, he said he would be "very strong at putting certain judges on the bench that could maybe change things. … I disagree with the Supreme Court from the standpoint that they should have given the state … it should be a state's rights issue." He weirdly declares that it was a "very surprising" ruling, which is just not true, given that both supporters and critics predicted accurately it was coming. Ultimately he affirms he would consider Supreme Court justices that would overrule the Obergefell decision. Watch the video below (the relevant exchange begins at 8:10):
I predict a Republican president is not going to get Obergefell overruled any more than a Democrat will get Citizens United tossed. But neither argument is based on practical considerations. It's all about stirring up that outrage and drawing in the votes.