The Republican party has a problem in the upcoming midterm election and that problem is general un-likability. Most conservative political pundits are willing to concede that point, but one Texas senator has apparently found a new way to boost the Republican party and his own popularity. By combining some religious rhetoric with a little bit of “Reaganite” posturing, Ted Cruz is attempting to be the Republican messiah by playing up religious persecution.
In a recent speech to the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Cruz gave a call to action to the student body that was couched in surprisingly religious terms. Sounding more like a Baptist preacher at a tent revival than a United States senator, Cruz said believers are called to action to protect religious freedom, ostensibly against the godless Obama administration. As he declared that religious liberty has never been more under attack than it is today, Cruz made a subtle case for his own leadership as speculation about a possible run for president lingers in the air.
Cruz also made the case for his own trustworthiness by saying that he is looking forward to telling the truth about events in Washington, a comment he made to reporters after his speech at Liberty University. More importantly, this kind of rhetoric is meant to separate him from other Republican hopefuls by implying that he, unlike other Washington insiders, is the only honest man in the race. This is a fact that Jerry Falwell Jr., the current chancellor of Liberty University, made plain. He commented that Cruz was bold and courageous in his work and was unafraid to stand against his own political party in support of the Founders’ original message.
There is no doubt that Ted Cruz does have his own sort of bravery when it comes to political principle. At the memorial for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa, Cruz reportedly stood up and walked out of the speech made by Cuban President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, the famous dictator. In a statement released after the event, Cruz apparently was showing his disapproval of Raul Castro’s policies, encouraging him to follow Mandela’s example and release political prisoners and hold fair and free elections.
Cruz’s father was apparently imprisoned under Fidel Castro’s regime, so the gesture at Mandela’s memorial was not only political, but personal. According to a story from Ted Cruz’s college days, he spoke to a business group in support of Castro’s revolution, but when he heard about what was really going on under the Cuban dictator’s regime, he went back and apologized for his ill-advised and ignorant remarks. It is moments like this that have gained Cruz a reputation as an honest, direct man.
There is no doubt that Ted Cruz’s reputation is well deserved, but what is questionable is whether his attempt to use that reputation to become the Republican party’s savior in the next presidential election will actually work. There is no doubt that the Republican party has suffered from its reputation of being the party of the rich, white majority. Its policy of voter suppression and inequality on taxes, as well as the plans to cut government programs that primarily serve the poor, has not helped that image at all.
Cruz himself was famously a part of that image, especially with his role in the government shutdown. He apparently sees no problem with his role in that event which adversely affected the American economy, though he is willing to blame Democrats in congress and President Obama. He also criticized Republican leadership, including Speaker John Boehner, for not standing with those Republicans who were attempting to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, which he continues to call Obamacare as a pejorative.
That opposition to Obamacare is at the center of Cruz’s attempt to rise through the Republican ranks and become a true presidential contender. In fact, the Affordable Healthcare Act is his prime target in all the talk about religious liberty. Cruz takes the view that requiring businesses to provide contraception coverage for its employees is tantamount to religious persecution. Corporations run by religious people, he argues, should not be required to go against their religious beliefs. Hence why he can make such claims about religious freedom being under attack by the Obama administration.
There is just one problem. Corporations, no matter what their supposed religious affiliation is (or whether a corporate entity can be religious at all), employ people who do not share those beliefs. So is contraception coverage really an issue of religious freedom or is it an issue of forcing a religious belief onto someone else? After all, the separation of church and state does more than just protect religion from government, it protects government and non-religious people from religion.
This is not the overarching Republican view, however, which is generally supportive both of corporate personhood and corporate religious freedom no matter what, and Ted Cruz is apparently doubling-down on it being attractive to prospective voters. His speech at Liberty University is evidence of that. It is a strategy that seems to be working for the Texas senator, as people who were watching his speech have now stated their support. But is it enough to win the White House and pull the Republican party out of the ignominy it is currently wallowing in?
Judging from recent history and the larger American public’s general dislike of Republicans at this time, the answer is no. But it looks really good to Tea Party followers and the conservative base, so Republican hopefuls, Cruz included, will not be stopping with their overblown rhetoric any time soon. With the midterm elections coming up, now is the time for ambitious Republicans to start making their move for party leadership. Ted Cruz’s strategy is obviously to appeal to the religious base of the part as he attempts to be the new Republican messiah, but it probably is not enough to win over the rest of the country.
Opinion By Lydia Webb