Who's Ted Cruz? Getting to Know the Next Senator from the Tea Party

Cross-posted at AlterNet

The power center that Dick Armey and FreedomWorks have been aggressively building in the U.S. Senate around reigning extremist Jim DeMint will almost certainly welcome Ted Cruz in January. The Republican convention gave most Americans their first look at Cruz, who has become a Tea Party folk hero after crushing the establishment candidate, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in a bitterly contested primary.

Ted Cruz loves to portray his victory as an upwelling from the grassroots, as he did during his Tuesday night speech from the platform. “I have the honor of standing before you this evening for one reason, because thousands upon thousands of grassroots activists stood united, not for a candidate, but for the sake of restoring liberty.”

It is certainly true that his impressive come-from-behind primary victory captured the fervor of anti-government Tea Party activists as well as conservative evangelicals that Cruz has been courting for years at religious right gatherings. But it wasn’t an act of spontaneous combustion. Pouring gasoline on the prairie fire were national right-wing super PACs and Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks. Club for Growth Action dropped millions into the race on Cruz’s behalf; Jim DeMint’s Tea Party-backing Senate Conservatives Fund also kicked in with seven-figure spending. (DeMint has since cut his formal ties to the group so that it could create a super PAC.) A FreedomWorks spokesperson said after Cruz’s primary that wins by candidates like Cruz would “force Romney to the right.”

Cruz also benefitted from endorsements by an impressive roster of right-wing figures. During the primary he bragged that he was the only candidate this year supported by all four of his favorite senators: DeMint, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Pat Toomey. he Cruz campaign used video of a Palin campaign visit for its GOTV efforts. After his primary win an excited Breitbart blogger quoted Sarah Palin’s celebration on Facebook. She wrote that Cruz's victory was a win "both for Ted and for the grassroots Tea Party movement," and that the “message of this race couldn't be clearer for the political establishment: the Tea Party is alive and well and we will not settle for business as usual. Now, it's on to November!”

While the media accurately describes Cruz as a darling of the Tea Party and its corporate backers, he also had strong backing from religious-right figures. Cruz has campaigned for support at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit and the Freedom Federation’s Awakening conference, where he said “we are engaged in spiritual warfare every day.” James Dobson and David Barton are among the religious-right leaders who backed Cruz; Rick Santorum endorsed Cruz on Glenn Beck’s television show.

Cruz embodies Ralph Reed’s desire to merge the Tea Party and religious right. In his convention speech, Cruz talked about the Tea Party movement as a “Great Awakening” – a not-so-subtle shout-out to religious-right leaders who are calling for a spiritual great awakening that they believe will turn the nation back to God and its Christian roots. At Rick Santorum’s event on Wednesday afternoon, Cruz mocked media conversations about divisions between different “chunks” of Republicans, declaring the party united. “We’re all here because we believe in values and principles bigger than ourselves,” he said.

“I personally have spoken to tens of thousands of Tea Party activists, and I happily consider myself one of them, and do not know a single Tea Party activist anywhere who is not going to show up in November, pull the lever for Mitt Romney, and help defeat Barack Obama.” (If Cruz were interested, he could have easily met activists unlikely to vote for Romney right there at the convention, where some Ron Paul delegates are justifiably bitter about the shabby strong-arm treatment they and Paul got from Romney’s GOP.)

It’s no wonder the far right is so excited about Cruz. He was everywhere in Tampa – from the platform, to a pre-convention rally sponsored by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition to a Wednesday afternoon kick-off for Rick Santorum’s new group.

Cruz is also on message with the truth-be-damned approach that characterizes this convention. He repeatedly denounced Barack Obama as the “most radical president” in American history and promoted in spectacular fashion one of the week’s big lies: that Barack Obama is waging a war on religious freedom. Obama, he said, was telling American Catholics to “change your religious beliefs or I will use my power as president to shut down your hospitals.”

He describes this election in the fear-mongering end-of-the Republic terms favored by the far right. “As dangerous as these last three and a half years have been, stop for a moment and think about what a second term under Barack Obama would look like. He would truly be unrestrained. If Barack Obama were reelected in November, we would look back to these last three and a half years as the halcyon days of the moderate Barack Obama.”

Cruz’s policy positions are what you would expect for a man backed by both the religious right and the Koch right. He is a hard-core opponent of reproductive choice who backed Rick Perry’s push to defund Planned Parenthood – and Perry’s dishonest attempt to portray the resulting crisis of access to healthcare for more than 130,000 poor women as a consequence of the Obama administration playing politics.

Cruz, who pledges to “repeal every single word of Obamacare” shares with his Tea Party colleague Sen. Mike Lee of Utah a radically restrictive view of the role of the federal government. Cruz has been a senior fellow at the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies, a project of the anti-regulatory Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is funded by the Koch brothers and other right-wing foundations and energy interests. As a Center fellow he has written about how states can band together to undermine federal power.

His opposition to LGBT equality goes well beyond marriage. On his Web site he says he “has fought on the federal level to defend marriage between one man and one woman as the fundamental building block of society,” and he worked with the state attorney general to send a letter to Congress urging that it strengthen the Defense of Marriage Act; the letter dismissed states’ rights concerns. During the primary, Cruz attacked former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert for marching in the city’s gay pride parade. And, notes the Dallas Voice, “On his Web site, Cruz boasts that as Texas’ solicitor general he helped block a gay Beaumont couple from obtaining a divorce from their Vermont civil union.”

In his convention speech, Cruz wrapped himself in the legacy of civil rights heroes like Martin Luther King – who would never have supported Cruz’s insistence that “jobs don’t come from the government.” The 1963 event at which King gave the speech Cruz cited was known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – it was a demand for government help in creating jobs. It’s dishonest to posthumously enlist MLK in Cruz’s Tea Party crusade against government.

Cruz is undoubtedly a smart and effective advocate, a Princeton and Harvard-educated lawyer who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. As Texas solicitor general, he brought numerous cases before the Supreme Court, where he won some significant cases involving church-state issues. As People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch blog has reported, he is also on the “National Board of Reference” for a law school being created at Louisiana College with the help of the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund.

The school is designed to join law schools at Liberty and Regent in turning out lawyers committed to transforming American law to conform to the Religious Right’s worldview. Joining Cruz on the board is an array of Religious Right leaders, including Barton, Dobson, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the Southern Baptists’ Richard Land, and Tim and Beverly LaHaye.

The Texas Observer had this to say about Cruz after he won the primary:

Ideologically and rhetorically Cruz passes the Tea Party screen test: He’s paranoid and conspiratorial, whispering nonsense about Shariah law and Agenda 21. Cruz routinely calls President Obama “the most radical president this country has ever seen.”… Cruz, despite his coronation as a “tea party intellectual,” is a thoroughbred wingnut.

While Romney was not the choice of many Tea Party activists, Cruz is backing the nominee enthusiastically. They have at least one thing in common: a lack of concern about telling the truth. The nonpartisan Politifact labeled a “pants on fire” lie Cruz’s claim that Obama “began his presidency going on a worldwide apology tour.” Politifact ruled as false a Cruz claim about the cost of health care reform. He was also cited for making false claims about his primary opponent.

Part of Cruz’s electoral appeal is his story about his hard-working immigrant father, who fled Cuba and put himself through college washing dishes. (Cruz describes his father as having fought in the Cuban revolution and been imprisoned and tortured; his dad left Cuba in 1957, well before Castro’s forces ousted the dictator Batista, but Cruz probably benefits from keeping it vague enough that people assume his father fled Castro’s tyranny.) Cruz is quite consciously following in the path of Marco Rubio, another son of Cuban immigrants who got to the Senate after beating a more establishment GOP candidate with Tea Party backing. Cruz’s ambitions, however, must stop short of the presidency, since he was born in Canada. Whew.