Cruz Courts Tea Party and Channels Trump in Kingwood
On the campaign trail outside Houston, Ted Cruz delivers a bombastic defense of anti-gay Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis
As noted American political philosopher Matthew McConaughey has said, in the service of selling Lincolns, “sometimes you’ve got to go back to actually move forward.” So it is that presidential candidate and Texas Senator Ted Cruz wound up back home in Houston on Thursday, eschewing Iowa corn and South Carolina barbecue to refresh his mutual love affair with Texas tea party activists, his sights set on winning the Texas primary on March 1.
His little statewide tour took him to same-day events in Ft. Worth, Tyler and Kingwood, where he rallied the faithful and proved once again that no one in state or national politics can speak to the Texas tea party id like he can. But Cruz, normally a tightly controlled speaker, seemed a little more passionate and looser than usual at the Kingwood Tea Party’s Constitution Day Celebration & Freedom Rally. In front of a crowd of some 700 people, he spoke for a frothy half-hour following remarks by recently indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
A significant portion of Cruz’s speech was devoted to laying out the five things he’d do on his first day in office. Each section — and sometimes each clause in a sentence — was drowned out by raucous applause, as if Cruz was delivering a State of the Union address.
Few entertainers have so natural and seamless a relationship with their core audience. They know his jokes, finish his sentences and make helpful suggestions: “If I’m elected,” Cruz charged, revving up near the start of his speech. “When!” shouted members of the crowd. Cruz stretched out his arm: “Amen!”
First thing he’ll do on his first day, he said, is rescind every “illegal and unconstitutional order” that has been enacted by the president’s stooges. The Department of Justice, once Eric Holder’s den of intrigue and villainy, has become hopelessly misdirected and politicized under President Barack Obama’s reign, Cruz said. The Obama DOJ is the most “lawless and partisan” the country has ever seen, and he’d return the noble agency to its rightful path.
After depoliticizing the DOJ, Cruz said, he’d instruct it to “open an investigation into Planned Parenthood.”
And then: “The third thing I intend to do on the first day in office,” Cruz started, before an audience member interrupted: “Make more bacon?” (Cruz recently cooked bacon on the barrel of an assault rifle in a promotional video made with the help of a conservative media outlet.)
Cruz chuckled but got quickly back on track. The third thing he’d do “is instruct the U.S. Department of Justice and the IRS and every other federal agency that the persecution of religious liberty ends today!” he said, his voice rising to a shout. Members of the military would be able to exercise their faith freely during his presidency, and he’d kill the assault against the Little Sisters of the Poor.
But another incident was foremost in his mind, as it was for many conservatives this week.
“Let me talk about what happened today with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis,” Cruz said. Davis, a county clerk who voluntarily went to jail for contempt of court rather than issue a same-sex marriage license, has become a cause célèbre for a number of GOP presidential contenders in the last few days.
“Today, for the first time in history, a Christian woman was put in jail for standing up for her faith. This is fundamentally wrong. This doesn’t happen in America. I’ll tell you, I am proud to stand unequivocally with Kim Davis,” Cruz said.
Davis, as it turns out, is not the first Christian woman in history to be jailed for a tenet of her expressed faith. Cruz knows this: He talks passionately and frequently about the trials of overseas Christian communities, even though he doesn’t seem to know how to talk to them when he meets them. But even if he meant American history, Davis isn’t even the first conservative Christian woman of 2015 to go to jail, and there’s a rich and long tradition of faithful folk in America choosing civil disobedience to honor their beliefs, on the right, left, and everywhere between.
It’s hard to know exactly what Cruz meant. He probably misspoke. But whatever he was trying to say, it went over well.
It made a mockery of the law, Cruz continued, that Davis could be sent to jail for disobeying the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. He called Obergefell an “illegal, unconstitutional, illegitimate decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Cruz is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law, a man who has argued cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the state of Texas. A giant oil painting of himself arguing at the high court hangs in his Capitol office. Yet here he was loudly proclaiming that the authority of the nation’s highest court could — and should — be nullified by minor county officials. And in the same breath in which he applauded Davis’ one-woman stand against the American legal system, he condemned Obama’s “lawlessness” in his use of executive actions: “When President Obama resigns, then we can talk about Kim Davis,” Cruz said, talking about Kim Davis.
The Davis case is important, Cruz suggested to the crowd, because you could be next.
“If I had told you six months ago that they were gonna come and take us Christians and lock us up in jail,” he said, “media voices would have dismissed that as crazy, lunatic rantings. The threat to religious liberty has never been greater.”
For the rest of Cruz’s very busy first day in office, he promised to “rip to shreds” the nuclear deal with Iran, and order the U.S. Embassy in Israel to relocate to Jerusalem. And he’d do it, too. The difference between him and the rest of the Republican candidates, Cruz said, is that “when I tell you I’m gonna do something, I’m going to do exactly what I say.”
“That’s day one. There are 365 days in a year. Four years in a presidential term. And four years in a second term,” he said. That’s when he would tackle Obamacare, Common Core, and national defense. “By the end of eight years, there are going to be a whole lot of newspaper reporters, editors and journalists that will have checked themselves into therapy.”
The crowd cheered again. As one measure of the high esteem in which the Kingwood Tea Party holds the fourth estate, the event’s “media room” was located in the building’s nursery, where members of the liberal media could sit in tiny chairs and cribs and bawl about the new conservative ascendancy.
While most of the reporters at the event took advantage of a media availability with Cruz outside the Nathaniel Center for Cultural & Biblical Education, Ken Paxton — who’s currently looking for a lawyer to help him navigate felony securities fraud charges — rose to give a short speech inside, ruminating on the meaning of Edmund Burke’s admonition not to do nothing in the face of evil, taken from an article he said his wife gave him.
Afterward, the Kingwood Tea Party emcee hugged him. “This man stands with us,” she said. To Paxton, neck-deep in legal difficulties, she summed up the well-wishes of the crowd: “When you need us to stand up, we will stand up with you,” she said to applause.
The hot thing in Republican politics right now is Trumpism, a political style that eschews policy for forcefulness and authenticity. Cruz has been friendly to Trump, but he’s also the only other candidate who can ape Trumpism with any real feeling. He was doing a version of it long before Trump started running. He’s a very smart man, and a man who wants to be thought of as smart, but he has no compunction about saying things that he probably does not truly believe, e.g., that a Supreme Court decision can be “illegal, unconstitutional, illegitimate.”
Cruz has embraced Trump and the political moment he represents in a calculating way. It’s clear he hopes to eventually pick the Trump campaign carcass clean and adopt Trump’s movement for his own. Maybe he can!