Meet Ted Cruz’s ‘Secret Weapon’: An Old Man Who Wants to Scare the Hell Out of America

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Cruz speaks with his father at the Freedom 2015 Conference in Des Moines, Iowa
Ted Cruz speaks with his father Rafael Cruz at the Freedom 2015 National Religious Liberties Conference.Photo: MARK KAUZLARICH/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Americans have an unwholesome fascination with the families of political leaders, perhaps reflecting a suppressed desire for the Royal Family we lost in the Revolutionary War. Sometimes that is a terrible imposition on the normal people who find themselves tied to a spouse or parent or child who sees the next president of the United States in the bathroom mirror each morning. But sometimes pols and family members alike eagerly take advantage of the opportunity to offer “two for the price of one,” or burnish the pol’s perceived character as reflected in the worshipful eyes of her or his dependents, or pander to some constituency with an attachment to one or more of said dependents. 

There is some of all these motives evident in the extremely aggressive involvement of Reverend Rafael Cruz in his son’s presidential campaign, with an additional factor: The good Reverend evidently believes the nation is on the brink of totalitarian control by “Marxists” who want to destroy Christianity via the pernicious doctrine of church-state separation and the lurid temptations of the welfare state.  And he is simultaneously an ambassador to and spokesman for people who view conservative politics as a vehicle not for policy ideas but for spiritual warfare against the Father of Lies Himself, operating through imps like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Rafael Cruz is at the same time an immensely energetic 76-year-old, and a man whose exact means of self-support are and have often been a bit hazy.  He went through serial busts and booms in the oil business before retiring to a largely itinerant religious gig. His professed “ministry” — not registered until 2012, when he was in fact spending nearly all his time promoting Ted’s Senate campaign — seems to live a shadowy existence. Its name was changed last year from the terrifying-to-seculars Purifying Fire Ministries to Grace for America, apparently (according to a profile written by Yahoo’s Holly Bailey) to avoid the impression that Cruz was working for or with Suzanne Hinn, wife of televangelist and “miracle healer” Benny Hinn, who had a similarly dubbed “ministry.”

But no matter: The fertile borderland between conservative politics and fundamentalist/charismatic Evangelical Christianity has provided Rafael Cruz with all the pulpits and credentials he has needed, and he’s been deployed by his son’s presidential campaign almost full-time to Iowa, where Ted may well be in the process of outflanking past conservative Evangelical heroes Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, and a longtime favorite of the churched, Dr. Ben Carson.

Rafael’s “personal story” is central to his political utility. He was, as anyone catching his act will immediately be informed, a youthful resister of the Batista regime in Cuba, tortured for his opinions, who fled the country to the U.S. and worked his way to a math degree from the University of Texas, all the while cheering the Castro insurgency from afar.  Alas, Castro was the first of many hidden Marxists who pushed Cruz in the direction of becoming an anticommunist hardliner and free-enterprise zealot, long before his conversion to born-again Protestant Evangelicalism (from being a non-observant Catholic) gave him the key ingredient to his current, all-encompassing worldview. As a Bible-obsessed oil man, he was on the fringes of the Christian right in its formative years, all the while raising his precocious son Ted with a messianic fervor to plan a life in public service.  There’s less mention of his stormy personal life — including two divorces — though one pre-salvation juncture when he left Ted and his mom has become part of the customary redemption tale every good Evangelical preacher is expected to present.

You’d think Rafael could now step back and watch his son proudly from a comfortable distance, but he’s more involved in Ted’s career than ever. When he’s not spreading his distinctive prophecy that godless liberals intend to suppress religion and substitute an all-powerful state (he is best known for comparing Barack Obama to Castro, without the slightest bit of self-restraint), he is imploring conservative Evangelical ministers to become as fully political as he is. Otherwise, you see, they will become complicit in the horrors afflicting this country, just like the Germans who sat in their pews instead of fighting Hitler (an analogous devil-figure Cruz uses nearly as often as Castro). 

Watching him warm up the crowd at the 2013 Family Leader Summit, the premier Christian right event in Iowa, I made this observation about Rafael that still seems accurate today:

[Here] was a minister who again and again blasted his fellow clergy for failing to be as fully engaged as possible in right-wing politics. He dated the slide towards national degeneracy to the 1963 Supreme Court decision banning school prayer, the “massacre of 55 million babies” to Roe v. Wade, and the introduction of full-on socialism in America to the administration of Jimmy Carter (!), held in abeyance solely by the mobilization of Christians on behalf of Ronald Reagan.

Somehow, this septuagenarian has found time to pen (or at least authorize) his own book for the presidential campaign season, reflecting his independent celebrity. It’s titled, appropriately, A Time for Action: Empowering the Faithful to Reclaim America. The publisher is WND Books, the imprint owned by the famous conservative conspiracy-theory-oriented website World Net Daily. And the foreword is by Glenn Beck. The publisher’s blurb says its message is that “people of faith should actively participate in the political process in order to combat the debilitating and deceptive progressive mantra that there should be a separation of church and state.”

This quasi-Dominionist ideological thrust is unsurprising coming from the father of a presidential candidate whose super-pac coordinator is none other than David Barton, the Texas-based pseudo-historian who has convinced a whole generation of conservative Evangelical activists that the Founders — even the well-known church-state separatist and heresiarch Thomas Jefferson — were self-consciously trying to create a Christian Nation that has been slowly eroded by left-wing crypto-Marxist termites in the last century and this one. Nobody — not Ben Carson or Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum — is going to get to Ted Cruz’s religio-political right so long as his fiery old man is in the field. It will be fascinating to see what the campaign does with Rafael if Ted does get the nomination. The Texas Senator claims his general election strategy will be to mobilize the “54 million evangelicals” [sic!] who allegedly “sat out” the 2012 elections. If that’s the case, you’d expect Rafael Cruz to be front and center, lashing lazy Evangelicals to get in gear to save the country from God-hating, baby-killing Marxists like Hillary Clinton. But it’s hard to say what swing voters (and even moderate Republicans) will think when they get a load of this strange and passionate man who molded his son into the ultimate conservative Christian Soldier. He could well take away the late Billy Carter’s dubious honor of being the most unfortunate family member of an aspirant to the presidency. In many respects, Rafael Cruz makes Billy Carter look like the Dalai Lama.