On December 7, conservative leaders such as Richard Viguerie, Tony Perkins, and James Dobson met in a private room in the Sheraton Hotel in Tyson’s Corner and voted to endorse Ted Cruz.
On the first Monday of December, inside a boardroom at the Sheraton Hotel in Tysons Corner, Va., several dozen of the nation’s most prominent conservative leaders slouched in their chairs and braced themselves for a fifth round of balloting. They were physically and emotionally drained. The activists had watched daylight come and go from the hotel’s windows, and yet they seemed no closer to a conclusion. Four times already they had voted between two candidates, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and four times the result had been the same. Cruz had a majority, but not the 75 percent supermajority required to bind the group’s membership to support him.
The initiative, spearheaded by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, had originally brought together a loose coalition of some 50 like-minded conservative leaders from around the country. Together, beginning in early 2014, the group — referred to internally simply as “The GROUP” — met every few months to discuss the state of the race, to pray for guidance, and to conduct a straw poll to see which candidates enjoyed the most support at each stage of the campaign. It had all built to this day and to this meeting, where members would vote until they reached a verdict. Once finalized, their decision would represent the culmination of an oft-dismissed undertaking that began several years earlier and aimed at one thing: coalescing the conservative movement’s leaders behind a single presidential candidate in a show of strength and solidarity that would position them to defeat the establishment-backed candidate in the head-to-head stage of the 2016 Republican primary.
Cruz was the heavy favorite coming into the December gathering; he had won each of the previous three straw polls and for two years had tirelessly courted the evangelical leaders who formed the group’s backbone. Heading into the meeting, the participants understood that Perkins, along with a number of other senior members, would be pushing hard to form a supermajority behind Cruz.
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