The political partnership between Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and his father, Rafael, is a rising force in conservative politics. To most observers, it seems like part of a familial game plan that has been in the works for years.
But according to Senator Cruz, it actually began quite recently with a phone call. “My dad poured himself into my Senate race last year,” he recalls. “In the early months, we didn’t have much of a campaign. One day, I couldn’t make an event, so he drove out to West Texas alone — no staffers, nothing — and he spoke on my behalf. 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.’”
Ever since, Cruz has kept his father, a 74-year-old pastor, involved with his political shop, using him not merely as a confidant and stand-in, but as a special envoy. He is Cruz’s preferred introductory speaker, his best messenger with evangelicals, and his favorite on-air sidekick — a presence who softens his edge. This past Sunday, the pair sat for a joint CNN interview, one full of aw-shucks asides.
This summer, father and son have also been traveling together throughout the country, speaking to conservatives in Iowa and elsewhere. Their roadshow has enthralled many on the right and startled Cruz’s potential 2016 rivals. No one else in the emerging GOP field has an ally like the charismatic elder Cruz.
There was Rafael Cruz in Des Moines, Iowa, last month, speaking to ministers at the Marriott hotel and collecting business cards in the lobby; a month later, he was in Ames, Iowa, pacing the stage at a conservative summit and drawing cheers for his broadsides against President Obama. His fiery speech at a FreedomWorks event in July drew heavy praise from talk radio.
Rush Limbaugh especially loved how Rafael Cruz compared the president’s “hope and change” message to Fidel Castro’s appeal decades ago. “This guy is knocking it out of the park!” Limbaugh exclaimed.
Conservative leaders agree. Bob Vander Plaats, a top Iowa conservative who hosted the Cruz duo last month, calls Rafael Cruz’s speeches “inspiring” and says the image of a father and son laboring together resonates with values voters. Former senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who now runs the Heritage Foundation, is another admirer. He has worked alongside Rafael Cruz this month to rally against Obamacare.
“Rafael actually called me and volunteered to contribute to Heritage’s ‘defund Obamacare’ tour, and it has been amazing to be with him,” DeMint says. “He opens with a prayer, which gets as much applause as anything else, and then he gives a call to action, talking about how his freedom was taken away in Cuba and how important it is that we never lose our freedom here.”
As part of that tour, Rafael Cruz attended his son’s town-hall meetings in Texas last week, where he called out the Republican establishment for not backing a fall standoff over Obamacare’s funding. “There is a great disconnect between promises and action,” he told a Dallas crowd, not far from his home in Carrollton. “If there’s one thing I’m proud of about my son, it’s that he’s doing exactly what he told each and every one of you that he’d do.”
Attendees there went wild for him, loving his punchy, often politically incorrect rhetoric. They leapt to their feet as he closed his remarks and a soaring rock track began to play. A minute later, Senator Cruz emerged from backstage and strolled toward the dais with his arms open. Father and son embraced as fists pumped. Another episode of Cruz-apalooza had begun.
Beyond his oratory, though, it’s Rafael Cruz’s sway in his son’s inner circle that makes him a power broker. His son trusts his father’s political instincts, and instead of hiring a big-name Republican strategist to shepherd his ascent, he uses his father for the kind of guidance you’d expect from a consultant.