Sen. Ted Cruz has one advantage in the 2016 Republican presidential field that no one else can match: He essentially can be two places at one time thanks to the stardom of his father as a supersurrogate on the campaign trial.
Rafael Cruz, 76, a pastor, has become a celebrity with the tea party, evangelical activists, local GOP chairmen and radio talk show hosts. In the last 18 months alone, the elder Cruz has spoken at more than 60 pastors’ conferences, not including keynoting dozens of local Republican chapter dinners, home-school events and official campaign stops.
“We are at a point where we are seeing for the first time in the history of the United States many people worried their children will inherit a lesser America than they inherited — that has never happened in America,” Rafael Cruz told The Washington Times. “We need a strong constitutional conservative to move this country back to the right path, just like Ronald Reagan was able to do in 1980.”
And, of course, like any proud father, he feels that his son should be that Reagan heir.
Rafael Cruz became a key surrogate on his son’s 2012 senatorial campaign, and now he’s full-time with his new job as campaigner in chief. He’s part political scout, event surrogate, consultant, fundraiser, media personality, political bomb-thrower, mentor and get-out-the vote generator.
The elder Cruz doesn’t get paid by the campaign; he’s a volunteer. But sometimes the campaign picks up his father’s expenses. In 2012-13, for instance, the elder Cruz was reimbursed $16,700 in travel expenses and mileage by his son’s campaign. Other times, the elder Cruz is hosted by a church or other group and is reimbursed for expenses or paid an honorarium.
There is no requirement the elder Mr. Cruz disclose what he is paid from private groups, and to date neither he nor his son have offered an accounting. He said he often will stay in the home of one of his hosts to keep costs down and to get to know those he is coming to address.
“I love staying at people’s homes because I get to develop relationships with those people, and it is actually — life is all about relationships,” Rafael Cruz told The Times. “I know there are people who would rather have the privacy of a hotel room, but I don’t want to be staring at four walls at a hotel room. I’d rather be sitting around a kitchen table, having a cup of coffee and chatting with a family and getting to know them.”
White-haired, with wire-trimmed glasses and a crisp pressed suit, he is charismatic and relishes debate, even controversy.
“I would say if we are not being criticized, then perhaps we are not making an impact,” Mr. Cruz said about he and his son’s impassioned beliefs. “But we have to speak the truth. The truth will come out.”
In March BuzzFeed released an article entitled: “The 68 most controversial things Ted Cruz’s dad has ever said,” which included saying Fidel Castro used the same “hope and change” language as President Obama and other politically incorrect, oftentimes misquoted, items that have made the elder Cruz a target of the left.
“Well, actually I started to read that article and got down to No. 27, and I said ‘Well, I’ll say every one of those things again!’ So I stopped reading,” the elder Cruz laughed. “They call outrageous that we need to abide by the Constitution, that we need to follow the rule of law, honor separation of powers. This president is acting like an imperial president making laws by executive order. If those are outrageous statements, I stand by them.”
To political activists who have followed his son’s career, Mr. Cruz has become a familiar and often celebrated figure. Two years ago, the elder Cruz introduced his senator son before a Family Leadership Summit in Iowa, and afterwards attendees were buzzing more about the father than the son.
“You can tell a lot about a person by the father that they have — what kind of cloth are they cut from. I think Ted is hugely benefited by Rafael willing to go on the circuit with him and for him,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader group and a Republican kingmaker in Iowa. “Rafael’s is a compelling story — it’s an American story.”
In the speech at the summit, and many times since, the elder Cruz spoke about coming to America at 18 in order to flee the dictatorship of Batista’s Cuba. With only $100 sewn into his underwear, he took a boat to America and rode a bus for two days to Austin, Texas, where he was accepted to study at the University of Texas on a student visa. He got a job washing dishes for 50 cents an hour and taught himself English by going to the movies.
Eventually, Mr. Cruz worked his way through school, earning a degree in math and chemical engineering, and started an oil and gas exploration company. After turning his life over to Christ, he recommitted himself to his wife and family and began teaching his son Ted about American exceptionalism, helping him memorize the Constitution, introducing him to free market scholars like Milton Friedman and ingraining in him that there is no better country to live in.
After telling his story with the delivery of a seasoned pastor, Mr. Cruz stepped down from the stage in Iowa two years ago to thunderous applause and a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. His speech was so well received that the younger Mr. Cruz joked he was breaking one of his cardinal rules never to follow his dad.
“Rafael’s story is one of faith, family and freedom lived out,” said Mr. Vander Plaats, who recalled the event and has since invited the elder Cruz to speak at other engagements. “And Rafael has such a passionate way of telling it. He has a lot of wisdom. He’s lived the American dream.”
The elder Cruz started speaking to conservative activists when his son couldn’t make a campaign event in 2012 in West Texas.
“In the early months, we didn’t have much of a campaign. One day, I couldn’t make an event, so he [Rafael] drove out to West Texas alone — no staffers, nothing — and he spoke on my behalf,” Ted Cruz said in a 2013 interview with the National Review. “A few hours later, I called and asked how it went. He said, ‘Even surrogates for the other candidates were asking for Cruz yard signs.’”
The elder Cruz started getting politically active during the Carter administration, citing the stagflation, unemployment, gas shortages and weak foreign policy as his inspirations.
In the early 1980s he joined the Religious Roundtable, a Judeo-Christian organization which, together with Moral Majority, founded by Jerry Falwell, worked to mobilize millions of Christians across the U.S. to help elect Ronald Reagan to office. It was Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University where Ted Cruz made his presidential announcement.
When the elder joined the state board of the Religious Roundtable, his son was about 10 years old. Dinner table discussions revolved around Republican politics, faith, the Constitution and the principles of democracy and the free markets, the father said.
“You have to realize I came from a dictatorship. I came from seeing the impact of communism upon the country I was born in,” the elder Cruz said. “So I’m a constitutionalist, and so is he [Ted]. He grew up loving the Constitution.”
Before Ted started high school, Mr. Cruz got his son involved with the Free Enterprise Institute through one of his business associates. Soon the younger Cruz was reading the works of Friedman, Hayek, Bastiat, Mises, the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers, Rafael recalls proudly. The group brought in a memory specialist and taught five students, including Ted, to memorize the Constitution, and then Rafael would quiz him.
During the four years the younger Cruz went to high school, he’d tour Texas Rotary clubs — 80, to be exact — where they would set up easels in front of the room for the students to write out the Constitution and give 30-minute speeches about free enterprise economics or U.S. founding principles.
“So I’ll tell you, before he [Ted] left high school, he was passionate about the constitution, about free markets, about limited government, about the rule of law,” Rafael Cruz recalled. “And that passion became like fire in his bones.”
That’s why the elder Cruz was thrown when, in high school, someone asked his son what he wanted to become, and he answered he’d like to go into computer science specializing in robotics or artificial intelligence.
“I said, ‘Ted, you’re a people person. You’d be crazy locked up in a cubbyhole.’ And I said, ‘And all you talk about is the Constitution,’” the elder Cruz recalled. “And so he said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ So off he went to Princeton to study public policy.”
And so the elder Cruz went on to cheer him at big debate tournaments at Princeton, his graduation from Harvard Law School and his clerking for then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The father can recall all of his son’s milestones — even the title of his school thesis and key parts of his recommendation letters — with loving admiration and pride. When the younger Cruz took his oath of office for U.S. Senate, his father cried.
“It’s really bone-chilling, when you think about it. Here’s a man who has overcome such obstacles, and through his faith and commitment to the American cause, he has a son at the doorstep to the highest office in this land,” said Robert Stovall, chairman of the Bexar County, Texas GOP, which has hosted Rafael to speak. “As a father you must be so proud, and as a son you must be so proud of your father. It’s just inspiring. You can hear it in their voices when they speak.”