Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
In April, Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), spoke to the tea party of Hood County, which is southwest of Fort Worth, and made a bold declaration: The United States is a "Christian nation." The septuagenarian businessman turned evangelical pastor did not choose to use the more inclusive formulation "Judeo-Christian nation." Insisting that the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution "were signed on the knees of the framers" and were a "divine revelation from God," he went on to say, "yet our president has the gall to tell us that this is not a Christian nation…The United States of America was formed to honor the word of God." Seven months earlier, Rafael Cruz, speaking to the North Texas Tea Party on behalf of his son, who was then running for Senate, called President Barack Obama an "outright Marxist" who "seeks to destroy all concept of God," and he urged the crowd to send Obama "back to Kenya." [UPDATE: The video originally embedded here was made private after this story was published. However, MSNBC's Hardball played the key excerpts Thursday night; watch that segment below.]
Comments uttered by a politician's parent may have little relevance in assessing an elected official. But it's appropriate to take Rafael Cruz into account when evaluating his son the senator. Ted Cruz, the tea party champion who almost single-handedly spurred the recent government shutdown, has often deployed his father as a political asset. He routinely cites his Cuban-born father, who emigrated from the island nation in 1957, when he discusses immigration and justifies his opposition to the bipartisan reform bill that passed in the Senate. (Ted Cruz hails his father as a symbol of the "American dream" who came to the United States legally—though Rafael Cruz began his career in the oil industry in Canada, where Ted was born.) Moreover, Ted Cruz campaigns with his father; he had him in tow on a recent trip to Iowa (where the evangelical vote is crucial in GOP presidential primaries). Rafael Cruz regularly speaks to tea party and Republican groups in Texas as a surrogate for his son; during Ted Cruz's 2012 Senate campaign, his father was dispatched to events and rallies across the state to whip up support. And thanks to Ted Cruz's political rise, Rafael has become a conservative star in his own right. He has been prominently featured—and praised—at events held by prominent right-wing outfits, such as FreedomWorks and Heritage Action. What Rafael Cruz says—especially when he is speaking for his son—matters.
The elder Cruz is a North Texas-based pastor who directs a small outfit called Purifying Fire Ministries.* Rafael Cruz's inflammatory remarks and fundamentalist views have recently started to attract increased media attention. A few weeks ago, he sparked headlines when he told a gathering of Republicans in Colorado that Obama has vowed to "side with the Muslims," that Obamacare mandates "suicide counseling" for the elderly, and that gay marriage is a plot to make "government your god."
A sermon Rafael Cruz delivered in August 2012 at an Irving, Texas, mega-church has also come under scrutiny. At that event, he asserted that Christian true believers are "anointed" by God to "take dominion" of the world in "every area: society, education, government, and economics." He was preaching a particular form of evangelical Christianity known as Dominionism (a.k.a. Christian Reconstructionism) that holds that these "anointed" Christians are destined to take over the government and create in practice, if not in official terms, a theocracy. Rafael Cruz also endorsed the evangelical belief known as the "end-time transfer of wealth"—that is, as a prelude to the second coming of Christ, God will seize the wealth of the wicked and redistribute it to believers. But, Cruz told the flock, don't expect to benefit from this unless you tithe mightily. Introducing Cruz at this service, Christian Zionist pastor Larry Huch offered this bottom line: In the coming year, he predicted, "God will begin to rule and reign. Not Wall Street, not Washington, God's people and his kingdom will begin to rule and reign. I know that's why God got Rafael's son elected, Ted Cruz, the next senator." (In July, several prominent Dominionist pastors at a ceremony in Iowa blessed and anointed Ted Cruz, rendering him, in their view, a "king" who would help usher in the kingdom of Christ.)
During his sermon at this church, Rafael Cruz preached that men, not women, are the spiritual leaders of their families: "As God commands us men to teach your wife, to teach your children—to be the spiritual leader of your family—you're acting as a priest. Now, unfortunately, unfortunately, in too many Christian homes, the role of the priest is assumed by the wife. Why? Because the man had abdicated his responsibility as priest to his family…So the wife has taken up that banner, but that's not her responsibility. And if I'm stepping on toes, just say, 'Ouch.'"
As Rafael Cruz recounted at the Hood County tea party event, he had a powerful role in shaping his son, introducing Ted, when he was in middle school, to the Free Enterprise Education Center, where the young Cruz was flooded with Austrian School libertarian economics and archly conservative interpretations of US history. Cruz excelled in this setting and went on to become part of a traveling road show of teens called the Constitutional Corroborators. They appeared at Rotary Club luncheons across the state to extol the wonders of the free market and the US Constitution. While the Rotarians ate lunch, the whiz kids transcribed from memory the articles of the Constitution on easels placed at the front of the room.
At the Hood County gathering, Rafael Cruz, in full sync with his son's political stance, attacked RINOs—Republicans In Name Only. He noted that the "wicked" were now ruling the United States. He insisted that "those death panels are in Obamacare," and that the US government wants "to take all of your money" and confiscate "our fortunes." He asserted that the Democratic Party promotes "everything that is contrary to the word of God." He also exclaimed, "Social justice is a cancer. Social justice means you are ruled by whatever the mob does. What social justice does is destroy individual responsibility."
Pastor Cruz is a fiery speaker whose rhetorical red meat is well-received by hardcore Republican and tea party audiences. He regularly has compared Obama to Fidel Castro and routinely echoes the no-surrender calls of his son. At a "freedom rally" at the Alamo in 2012, he vowed, "We've had enough compromise…enough of Establishment Republicans that don't stand for anything." Speaking to Houston Republicans in September, he decried John McCain and Mitt Romney, blasting both of the former presidential candidates for having "played dead" when challenging Obama. He blasted McCain for refusing to slam Obama regarding the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He asserted that the elderly would be harmed by Obamacare, claiming that "everywhere in the world when socialized medicine has been instituted it takes 12 to 18 months to get any kind of medical proceeding." (That is not the case with Medicare, a form of socialized health care.) He also declared, "I haven't heard Obama ask us for our consent when he's trying to ram Obamacare down our throats"—without noting that Congress voted for the Affordable Care Act. At the Hood County event, Rafael Cruz, a fervent foe of gay rights, vowed that he would be speaking "across this country to support constitutional conservatives to retake the Senate."
Whether he's at a prayer breakfast or a tea party rally, Rafael Cruz easily and enthusiastically mixes religion and politics. At an event hosted by the National Federation of Republican Assemblies in September, he contended that after the 2012 election, God told him, "If we could blame one group of people for what happened in the last election, it is the pastors." By that he meant that, for decades, too many Christian leaders have remained on the political sidelines, declining to do combat with liberals and Democrats. Consequently, he explained, prayer has been removed from schools, legalized abortion has continued, and gay marriage has come to pass in several states. He insisted that the advancement of Christianity (his fundamentalist version of it) depends on political battle, noting the need not just for a "spiritual savior" but a "political savior." (The idea of states' rights, he said, was based in the bible.) Obama, Cruz proclaimed, believes "government is your god." When Cruz was a keynote speaker at a tax day rally hosted by Texas tea partiers in April, he told the crowd that conservative Christians need to take over "every school board in this nation." At a Texas tea party rally in September 2012, he claimed that Obama has "a clear agenda…to destroy American exceptionalism"—and "to achieve a "worldwide redistribution of wealth" and "make us subject to the United Nations."
The United States as a "Christian nation"; death panels; social justice a cancer; gay rights a conspiracy; the "wicked" in charge in Washington; women inferior to men as spiritual leaders; Obama a Muslim-favoring, God-hating, Marxist Kenyan; End Times; a UN worldwide dictatorship; states' rights; free markets over all—Rafael Cruz blends the far reaches of extreme conservatism and Christian fundamentalism. He embodies the full synthesis of the tea party and the religious right. In fact, he has noted that the rise of the religious right in Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign "was the precursor of the tea party." Rafael Cruz may well be key to understanding the ideas, desires, and long-term aims that drive Ted Cruz—a politician who is exerting an outsized influence on the GOP.
At the least, Cruz ought to have to explain whether he shares the more extreme views of his No. 1 surrogate. Asked to comment on Rafael Cruz's remarks—particularly his statement that the United States is a "Christian nation" and his call for Obama to be shipped back to Kenya—Sen. Cruz's office requested citations for these quotes. After receiving the citations, Sean Rushton, a spokesperson for Cruz, replied, "These selective quotes, taken out of context, mischaracterize the substance of Pastor Cruz's message. Like many Americans, he feels America is on the wrong track." Rushton added, "Pastor Cruz does not speak for the senator."
"People here are trying to figure out Ted Cruz," a Democratic senator recently told me. "And a lot of them are saying, 'He went to Princeton, Harvard Law—he doesn't really believe what he says.' But I think he does. All you have to do is look at his father. So much of our life is mirroring. And Ted Cruz is mirroring his father."
On Wednesday afternoon, as news was spreading that House Speaker John Boehner had surrendered and a no-conditions-attached bipartisan plan to end the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis would be approved later in the day by the Senate and House, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the tea party's disrupter-in-chief, held an impromptu press conference in a Capitol hallway to declare victory, or something like it. The fellow who led the GOP further into a PR abyss hailed the political crisis that was ending (at least for now) as "a remarkable thing" and claimed that it showed that "millions upon millions" had risen up against Obamacare. Then Cruz, the tail that wagged the Republican dog, launched into a diatribe against the Affordable Care Act: "President Barack Obama promised the American people Obamacare would lower your health insurance premiums. I would venture to say that virtually every person across this country has seen exactly the opposite happen, has seen premiums going up and up and up."
About two weeks ago, as tea partiers in the GOP-controlled House were forcing a government shutdown, some House Democrats sent a private and informal message to House Speaker John Boehner: If you need to break with the die-hard conservatives of your caucus to keep the government running and avoid a debt ceiling crisis, we might be able to try to help you protect your speakership, should far-right Republicans rebel and challenge you. This offer was conveyed to Boehner just as he was entering what has turned into the toughest stretch of his speakership, according to two senior House Democratic lawmakers who each asked not to be identified.
Throughout the latest showdown over government spending and the debt ceiling, political observers have noted that Boehner was in a fix because of the stubbornness of a band of 40 or so tea party firebrands within his caucus who have been egged on by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). These lawmakers were committed to a hostage-taking strategy (no government funding or boost in the debt ceiling, unless Obamacare was smashed and/or government spending was further slashed), and they could mutiny against Boehner were the speaker to forge a bipartisan compromise that bypassed them. There are 232 Republicans in the House—with 218 usually required for a majority—and simple math suggested that if 15 or so of the GOP radicals abandoned Boehner, he could lose his cherished top-dog position. Under House rules, a speaker can be challenged any time with a motion to vacate the speakership, and such a motion is privileged, meaning it zooms to the House floor, without winding through any committee, cannot be blocked by a speaker or his allies, and is subject to a full vote of the House.
But on Capitol Hill, math is not always simple. It would take only a single rebellious tea partier in Boehner's caucus to force a vote on a motion to boot Boehner. But such a bill, requiring a majority to pass, would probably need Democratic votes to succeed. If Boehner had the backing of half of his caucus (116 members), the coup-makers would only win if Democrats joined their effort to create a bipartisan, anti-Boehner majority. But if the Dems sat out this fight—by voting present or not showing up at all—Boehner could keep his balcony, as long as the mutinous tea partiers could not enlist a majority of the House GOP. In a much more improbable scenario, Democrats could actively protect Boehner by voting to retain him as speaker (that is, voting against the motion to vacate). If such an unlikely event were to occur, Boehner could lose the support of more than half his Republican comrades and still retain the speakership.
As things look now, a tea party uprising in the House against Boehner would not be a guaranteed success. Boehner appears to have support from much of his caucus, which includes legislators who are angered by the tea partiers' to-the-brink tactics and lawmakers who just like Boehner. There's no clear sign that the Cruz-controlled faction within Boehner's ranks could win over their colleagues for an attempt to oust Boehner. And there would be the tricky matter of finding a successor. The 1997 coup against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich failed partly because the plotters could not agree on his replacement. If the tea partiers did manage to throw Boehner from the train, he could run for speaker again. In that event, Boehner could stage a comeback by obtaining the votes of 201 of his 232 GOP colleagues, enough to overcome the 200 Democratic votes that would presumably go to Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. This assumes none of the mad-as-hell tea partiers opposing Boehner would go so far as to vote with the Dems for Pelosi. (The vote for a new speaker is held by all members of the House, and the winner needs an absolute majority of the votes cast.) Or here's a twist: In the vote for a new speaker, the Democrats could take another walk—which would lower the number of votes Boehner would need for restoration.
The bottom line: The tea partiers would not be in full control, if they were to initiate an anti-Boehner effort. Pelosi and her Democrats could have opportunities to affect the outcome. Certainly, Boehner would be loath to accept any assistance—even passive help—from the Democrats. It would compromise him greatly within GOP and conservative circles and dramatically undermine his already diminished ability to control his GOP crew. If it appeared that Boehner had made any common cause with the Ds, a small mutiny could turn into a wider revolt. Instead of retaining his speakership due to Democratic machinations, Boehner might well prefer to skedaddle to days of well-paid lobbying and nights of fine wine.
So how did Boehner respond to the message? "He said, 'I'll get back to you,'" a senior House Democrat says. Asked to comment on this informal offer, Michael Steel, Boehner's spokesman, said, "That's silly."
On Monday, I took a shot at Sarah Palin after she wrote, "To suggest that raising the debt limit doesn't incur more debt is laughably absurd. The very reason why you raise the debt limit is so that you can incur more debt. Otherwise what's the point?" In a tweet, I noted, "No, you do it so you can pay the debt you accrued." That is, the government's debt is not created by the extension of borrowing authority; it is created when Congress establishes entitlements or passes spending bills that require government borrowing. If you sign a tuition contract with a college for your kid and need to take out a loan to cover all or part of it, you assume a debt when you enter into that agreement, not when you go to the bank and ask for an extended line of credit. Put another way, raising the debt ceiling does not change the amount of money the US government owes.
Nevertheless, a mass of conservative trolls rushed to Palin's defense and howled about my tweet. Looking for further edification on this matter that I could share with the Palinites, I sent her quote to Mark Zandi, the prominent economist who was one of the policy advisers to the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008, and asked him to evaluate it. Zandi, who is now chief economist of Moody's Analytics, emailed back with a bigger message:
The point is that with each passing day the debt limit is not increased the more damage it will do to our economy. If lawmakers don’t raise the debt limit by November 1, the economy will fall back into recession. If they can't raise it by the end of November, we will be dooming our economy and the entire global economy to a wrenching economic downturn with implications for years if not decades to come.
Whoa. This is a rather dire prediction, suggesting the very real possibility of global economic catastrophe. While the email doesn't address Palin's description of the debt limit, it does undercut her charge that President Barack Obama is shamefully "scaremongering the markets with his talk of default." More important, Zandi's note is a reminder that all those tea partiers who have pooh-poohed the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling—including Palin—are risking the country's future by continuing their always-fervent crusade against Obama.
In March, the Republican Party released a 97-page report on its future prospects that chairman Reince Priebus had commissioned following the 2012 election. The party called the study its Growth and Opportunity Project report, but most members of the politerati referred to it as an autopsy. The hard-hitting study—authored by Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, former Bush II press secretary Ari Fleischer, and a few other prominent GOPers—fingered what had gone wrong for the Rs and provided a roadmap for the coming years. But the party's recent excursion into the government shutdown/debt ceiling quagmire shows that few members of its national wing absorbed the lessons the party's coroners had assembled.
After convening in-depth focus groups of voters in Iowa and Ohio who used to call themselves Republicans, polling Republican Hispanic voters, consulting assorted pollsters, and surveying political practitioners at the local and national level, the group made some obvious conclusions. Noting the nation's changing demographics, it maintained that the GOP had to reassess its relationship with Latinos: "If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence." Ditto concerning young voters: "A post-election survey of voters ages 18-29 in the battleground states of Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and Colorado found that Republicans have an almost 1:2 favorable/unfavorable rating. Democrats have an almost 2:1 favorable rating." And the members of the GOP's morgue brigade asserted that GOP governors had been doing a better job in promoting a positive image of the party than congressional Republicans. The party's "messaging," they observed, was hurting it.
Clearly, this point has been ignored by the Republicans who have pushed the party toward a government shutdown and a possible default. (Ted Cruz, this means you.) As Republican leaders on Capitol Hill—read: Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell—scurry to prevent a tea party-caused default if the debt ceiling is not lifted later this week, here's a look at five key passages of the report that have gone unheeded by the Republican radicals in the House and Senate who have positioned the GOP as the party of hostage-taking.
THEN: "The GOP today is a tale of two parties. One of them, the gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself, and unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future….Public perception of the Party is at record lows."
NOW: Since the report came out, these record lows have become lower. Last week, Gallup reported that the Republican Party was viewed favorably by only 28 percent of Americans, down 10 points from the previous month. The polling company noted, "This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992."
THEN: "At the federal level, much of what Republicans are doing is not working beyond the core constituencies that make up the Party."
NOW: While tea partiers have cheered on Cruz and House Republicans who have demanded ransom for funding the government or preventing default—be it thwarting Obamacare or insisting on more spending cuts—this strategy has not played well with the general public. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 24 percent approve of the performance of Republicans in Congress and 70 percent disapprove. (Democrats had a 36/59-percent split.)
THEN: "The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.
"Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac, we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us. We need to remain America’s conservative alternative to big-government, redistribution-to-extremes liberalism, while building a route into our Party that a non-traditional Republican will want to travel. Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism."
NOW: The shutdown was pursued by the Republicans who consider themselves conservative purists—and who have been supported and encouraged by outside groups seeking more conservative purity within the GOP. This political crisis occurred because a faction of the GOP in Congress was reinforced by far-right activists and advocates.
THEN: "Our job as Republicans is to champion private growth so people will not turn to the government in the first place. But we must make sure that the government works for those truly in need, helping them so they can quickly get back on their feet. We should be driven by reform, eliminating, and fixing what is broken, while making sure the government’s safety net is a trampoline, not a trap.
"As Ada Fisher, the Republican National Committeewoman from North Carolina, told us, 'There are some people who need the government.'"
NOW: In recent weeks, several congressional Republicans pressing for a shutdown and for leveraging the debt ceiling have celebrated the shutdown and given the impression they see government as the enemy. That NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported that 52 percent of Americans believe government "should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people." Forty-four percent said government "is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals."
THEN: "As part of the Growth and Opportunity Project’s effort, focus groups were conducted in Columbus, Ohio, and Des Moines, Iowa, to listen to voters who used to consider themselves Republicans. These are voters who recently left the Party.
"Asked to describe Republicans, they said that the Party is 'scary,' 'narrow minded,' and 'out of touch' and that we were a Party of 'stuffy old men.' This is consistent with the findings of other post-election surveys."
NOW: In the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 53 percent blamed the GOPers for the shutdown. (Only 31 percent pointed the finger at Obama.) Seventy percent said they believed the Republicans were "putting their own political agenda ahead of what is good for the country." Given that most respondents believed the shutdown was causing harm to the nation, it's a fair bet that the actions of the GOP are seen by many as "narrow minded" or "out of touch."
When the GOP autopsy was released seven months ago, conservatives—especially those who oppose immigration reform—howled that Priebus and establishment Republicans (including Karl Rove) were trying to neuter right-wingers and dilute the core ideology of the Grand Old Party. But it turns out they had little reason to worry. The report that Priebus hailed at the time—and its primary message about messaging: Don't let extremists drive our bus—has had no discernible impact on House Speaker John Boehner, the tea partiers in his House Republican caucus, Sens. Cruz (R-Tex.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Rand Paul (R-Ken.), and other GOPers who have pressed for ideologically-fueled conflict. Yet given that the current polls show Republicans have fallen deeper into the Mariana Trench of public opinion, it seems that the morticians were right. It's too bad for them that their autopsy turned out to be DOA.