Good morning Austin:
Here is a candid shot of Ted Cruz having Easter dinner with his wife and children.
It is a screen grab from the first official paid political ad of the 2016 presidential campaign, and a remarkable ad it is.
It is about the power of the “transformative love of Jesus Christ” in Cruz’s life, and it appeared in the primest of prime time – at just before 9 p.m., on the most Republican spot on the television dial – the FOX News Channel – two hours into the broadcast of the three-hour movie, Killing Jesus.
Political sweet spots don’t get much sweeter than that.
Except maybe during the Good Friday broadcast of Killing Jesus, and Cruz had that covered as well.
Amid commercials for anti-itch cream, the abundance of awe-inspiring national parks in Utah, the hospitable business climate in New York State (!), and an appeal from that very model of the modern Democratic president – the West Wing’s Martin Sheen – to give so that no child in Appalachia should go to bed hungry, the Cruz ad ran twice on each each broadcast of Killing Jesus.
I will admit that, as a Jew, tuning in a show with that title inspires a certain deeply embedded trepidation. Where they going with this? Who made this movie? Is this another Mel Gibson production?
Well, no. From the FOX promotion:
Tune in tonight to watch “Killing Jesus,” a re-telling of the political and historical conflicts that led to the crucifixion, based on the best-selling book by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.
And it originated with National Geographic Channel. Nothing here seems pogrom-worthy.
The Cruz ad, called Blessing, opens, “Were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would have been raised by a single mom without my father in the house.” As that line is being delivered, Cruz is seen hugging his father Rafael, now a pastor, who returned to his family those many years ago, thanks to Jesus.
Here is the ad:
The ad excerpts Cruz’s March 23 announcement for president at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., which bills itself as the world’s largest Christian University. It was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who also founded the Moral Majority.
Cruz’s speech at Liberty was explicitly Christian in its focus, evangelical in tone and delivery, and very personal.
When my dad came to America in 1957, he could not have imagined what lay in store for him. Imagine a young married couple, living together in the 1970s, neither one of them has a personal relationship with Jesus. They have a little boy and they are both drinking far too much. They are living a fast life.
When I was three, my father decided to leave my mother and me. We were living in Calgary at the time, he got on a plane and he flew back to Texas, and he decided he didn’t want to be married any more and he didn’t want to be a father to his 3-year-old son. And yet when he was in Houston, a friend, a colleague from the oil and gas business, invited him to a Bible study, invited him to Clay Road Baptist Church, and there my father gave his life to Jesus Christ.
And God transformed his heart. And he drove to the airport, he bought a plane ticket, and he flew back to be with my mother and me.
There are people who wonder if faith is real. I can tell you, in my family there’s not a second of doubt, because were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would (not) have been saved and I would have been raised by a single mom without my father in the household.
The ad concludes with Cruz saying:
God’s blessing has been on America since the very beginning of this nation. Over and over again, when we’ve faced impossible odds the American people rose to the challenge.This is our fight, and that is why I’m running for president of the United States.
Cruz was the first name-brand candidate to formally announce his candidacy for presidency, and, right now, still the only one. But Sen. Rand Paul is expected to announce his candidacy in his home state of Kentucky on Tuesday, and hit the early primary and caucus states with kickoff appearances the rest of the week. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will announce his plans next Monday.
But Cruz had Easter all to himself. And he seized full advantage.
I had a story in Sunday’s paper about how Dan Patrick seemed to be treading into new rhetorical territory in the history of Texas politics in describing himself as a “Christian first” in his inaugural address after being sworn in as lieutenant governor in January.
It now appears that on the national presidential scene, Cruz is pulling a Patrick.
When Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, launched his 1988 presidential campaign in 1986, he talked a lot about God, but made no explicit mention of Jesus. But here was Cruz, in his announcement and his first ad, aired on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, talking explicitly about Jesus by name.
“I was very excited by it,” Patrick said of Cruz’s speech.. “I would have given a very similar speech.”
Evangelical Christians hold tremendous sway in the Iowa caucuses next January, and Cruz is not the only candidate staking a claim to the vote. The last two winners of the caucuses – former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 – banked on that support, and both may be running again this time.
But Cruz is the latest model and, as is his wont, the brashest.
Compare his ad, for example, to this warm-and-fuzzy Huckabee ad that he put out in Christmas 2007 with its unsubtle but still ostensibly subliminal cross.
And here is another in which Huckabee talks about his faith, but still without mentioning Jesus.
Cruz’s aggressive approach seems to be paying off in Iowa.
From CNN’s Ashley Killough in Cedar Falls, Iowa:
As aides politely tried to rush Ted Cruz from an event in Cedar Falls to one in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, the presidential candidate continued shaking hands with anyone who wanted to meet him.
Finally, after the selfies and conversations started to die down, his aides managed to move him closer to the door when a tall, burly man stopped him.
“Senator,” he said, “can I pray with you real quick?”
“Yeah,” Cruz said, as he clasped the man’s upper arm and the two bowed their heads.
It was one of the many moments when Cruz connected with voters on a religious level last week, as the senator from Texas hit the trail in Iowa for the first time as a presidential candidate.
Being the only official contender in the race, Cruz drew large crowds during his two-day swing across the state. He’s counting on Iowa, known for its vocal and active evangelical base, to propel him forward in what’s expected to be a tough competition among a crowded field of GOP candidates.
Cruz, himself, displays a pastoral swagger when he is speaking on stage and working a room. The senator regularly avoids using a podium, instead favoring pacing the stage with a wireless microphone, a scene reminiscent of a Sunday morning sermon. When he meets with people after events, he embraces each one’s hand with both of his, softens his usually theatric tone and looks people square in the eye — a familiar interaction between churchgoing Christians and their pastors.
The past two winners of Iowa’s caucuses rose to victory with support from the Christian right, and Cruz, who announced his bid last month at the well-known Baptist school Liberty University, is aiming to energize that same base and claim the coveted state as his prize.
Evangelicals make up a large segment of Iowa’s Republican voter bloc. According to a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll from January, 44% of likely 2016 Republican caucus-goers said they were born-again or evangelical Christians.
“If you look at available places for the party to expand the vote, it doesn’t exist in the middle, it exists in the evangelical vote,” said Rick Tyler, a top Cruz adviser. “It isn’t a pond, it’s an unfished ocean of available voters who are conservative.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he expects to see record turnout among evangelicals in 2016 no matter who the nominee is or what that person says.
Now there is plenty of push-back to the notion that Cruz is employing what will be a long-term winning strategy beyond Iowa.
From Paul Waldman, at the liberal American Prospect, on Sunday’s ad.
Wait, why were you running again? Because the American people rise to challenges? Or because “this is our fight”? And what is our fight?”
OK, so we shouldn’t expect too much specificity from a 30-second ad. But it’s pretty clear that at least at this point Cruz is presenting himself as the most Christian candidate (Cruz is a Southern Baptist). I get that his religious faith is very important to him, but as a political strategy, even in a party made up in significant part of evangelical Christians, taking Jesus as your running mate is a sure loser.
We know that because so many people have tried it before and failed. That’s what Rick Santorum did in 2012, and what Mike Huckabee did in 2008. It doesn’t succeed for a couple of reasons. First, the evangelical voters to whom it’s primarily aimed are a large part of the party’s voters, but not so overwhelming a part that they swamp everyone else. For instance, in 2012, evangelicals voted 4-1 for Mitt Romney, but they were only 21 percent of the electorate. Which means that they made up only about a third of Romney’s voters. That’s a lot, but it isn’t so many that you can get the Republican nomination if evangelicals is all you’ve got.
Secondly, no one’s going to get all of them in the primaries, or even nearly all. Even if you’re looking for the most devout candidate, there will be plenty of contenders to choose from, including Scott Walker (whose father was a Baptist minister), maybe Huckabee (himself a Baptist minister), possibly Bobby Jindal (who holds prayer rallies), and definitely Rick Perry (who’s “not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian“). Even if Cruz succeeded in becoming the top choice of Christian conservatives, that would still leave him a long way from the nomination.
Somebody always tries to be the Christian candidate, and that person never gets the nomination. But maybe Cruz is just starting out by establishing his religious bona fides, and then he’ll move on to win more people over with his compelling policy ideas.
And here from Steve Chapman, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, in the libertarian magazine, Reason, under the headline, Ted Cruz’s New Campaign Slogan: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.” Why catering to the Born-Again GOP is a losing strategy
President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill making “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto, but his approach to religion was not excessive in its rigor. “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious belief,” he once declared, “and I don’t care what it is.”
He might have been taken aback at the spectacle presented by fellow Republican Ted Cruz Monday in Lynchburg, Va. The Texas senator sounded less like he was running for president of the United States than for president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Invocations of the Almighty have long been a normal and harmless part of American political rhetoric. Even Barack Obama, whom many people continue to believe is a Muslim rather than a Christian, ends his speeches, “God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”
But Cruz takes this custom to a novel extreme. He was not paying the normal tribute to general and widely held Christian beliefs. He was informing a narrow slice of Protestants, “I’m one of you.” Most religious expressions by politicians are inclusionary. His was the opposite.
Politically this sounds like a losing long-term strategy, since white evangelicals (the chief target of his appeal) make up a small, shrinking group. Today, they are only 18 percent of the population—just slightly more than the percentage with no religious affiliation. Cruz’s message will alienate at least as many people as it will attract.
It puts him in a geographic box as well as a sectarian one, since white evangelicals disproportionately live in the South. It hinders him with younger voters, who are the least likely to be born-again Christians.
But in the short run, or the Republican primaries, his born-again appeals may help him compete against candidates like Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, Rick Santorum, a religious culture warrior, and Scott Walker, son of a Baptist minister. One of them is bound to use this campaign slogan: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.”
It’s hard to believe that white Southern evangelicals once took a very different view of politics. In 1960, when Democratic candidate John Kennedy needed to address concerns about his Catholic faith—something no president had shared—he spoke to Protestant pastors in Houston.
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” he proclaimed. “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation on him as a condition to holding that office.”
When he was done, his audience applauded. If a politician were to say the same thing to modern evangelicals, they would be more likely to sit in stony silence.
Cruz is unabashed in implying that his religious views are an excellent reason to vote for him. He also thinks they are, and should be, inseparable from his views on policy. He won’t get much argument in GOP debates.
On CNN’s State of the Union, anchor Jim Acosta Sunday had this exchange about Cruz with Rabbi Matt Gewirtz of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey, and Father Edward Beck, CNN religion commentator.
ACOSTA: Ted Cruz was the first to jump in. He announced his candidacy at Liberty University, which is a university who was founded by Jerry Falwell. How did that strike you, to see a candidate for the presidency of the United States launch his campaign from a university that is essentially founded by Christian conservatives?
GEWIRTZ: I think it would have worked well in the ’90s and maybe pre-2001. I think it’s tone deaf now.
I think it’s tone deaf because I do not think faith is under attack. What I do believe is I have members of my congregation who so badly want to embrace faith. When they hear the kinds of things they’ve heard during the last couple of weeks it makes them think, if that’s what faith is about, then I don’t want any part of it. That they want spiritual life, they want inner life.
And, you know, before 2001 it was a luxury to think of the Terri Schiavo’s of the world. Who would think about those kinds of wedge issues that worked really well to get people elected. But guess what, since then I think it’s 36 states have now passed gay marriage laws. And I think either America’s beginning to move on or beginning to see that people of all stripes have a place around the table.
ACOSTA: Father Beck, what do you make — because I think it’s fair to say that Ted Cruz is wearing his religion, his faith on his sleeve. I don’t think that’s a slam on Ted Cruz. Do you find that to be authentic when you see candidates, political candidates wearing their faith on their sleeves?
BECK: I think perhaps it may be authentic for them but polls show Americans don’t want it. Americans want to keep that separation. And so I think that they do it at their own peril because people are going to say, `look, if that’s what it’s going to be about for you, just bringing your faith into every decision, then you’re not going to represent the vast majority of the country. And therefore, you may not be our candidate.’
And this from the Friendly Atheist blog:
As expected (and just in time for Easter), it’s all about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
And that’s reason 1 of 28934233829 why he’s not getting my vote.
suggests that Cruz’s strategy is even more fundamentally flawed than his targeting evangelicals.
Sen. Ted Cruz was born in 1970, six years after events refuted a theory on which he is wagering his candidacy. The 1964 theory was that many millions of conservatives abstained from voting because the GOP did not nominate sufficiently deep-dyed conservatives. So if in 1964 the party would choose someone like Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, hitherto dormant conservatives would join the electorate in numbers sufficient for victory.
This theory was slain by a fact — actually, 15,951,378 facts. That was the difference between the 43,129,566 votes President Lyndon Johnson received and the 27,178,188 that Goldwater got on the way to winning six states.
The sensible reason for nominating Goldwater was not because he could win: As Goldwater understood, Americans still recovering from the Kennedy assassination were not going to have a third president in 14 months. The realistic reason was to turn the GOP into a conservative weapon for a future assault on the ramparts of power. Hence in September 1964, William F. Buckley told an audience of young conservatives to anticipate Goldwater’s defeat because he had been nominated “before we had time properly to prepare the ground.” The candidacy had, however, planted “seeds of hope, which will flower on a great November day in the future.” Sixteen Novembers later, they did.
Today, however, there is no need to nominate Cruz in order to make the GOP conservative. Cruz sits in a Senate that has no Republicans akin to the liberals Goldwater served with — New York’s Jacob Javits, Massachusetts’s Edward Brooke, Illinois’s Charles Percy, New Jersey’s Clifford Case, California’s Thomas Kuchel. When Jeb Bush, the most conservative governor of a large state since Ronald Reagan (by some metrics — taxes, school choice — Bush was a more conservative governor than Reagan), is called a threat to conservatism, Republicans are with Alice in Wonderland.
Announcing his candidacy with characteristic fluency before the Christian students and faculty of Liberty University, Cruz noted that “roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting” and imagined “millions” of such voters surging into the electorate. Cruz, like Shakespeare’s Glendower (“I can call spirits from the vasty deep”), hopes his rhetorical powers can substantially change the composition of the Republican nominating electorate. Skeptics of Cruz’s summoning respond like Hotspur: “But will they come when you do call for them?”
(Subsequent to Cruz’s announcement, PolitiFact Texas did its own check of of his claim that “roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting,” and found it “mostly false.”)
This watercolor was painted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
As I explained in Sunday’s story:
He offers a card on which is printed a watercolor of what appears to be Jesus Christ as the Statue of Liberty. It is titled “His Nation.”
Patrick painted it on a cruise aboard the Queen Mary from London to New York about five years ago on which he and his wife, Jan, dined with a renowned watercolorist who offered to give them lessons each day of the cruise.
For his second painting, Patrick attempted an avant-garde Statue of Liberty in the style of Andy Warhol, but couldn’t get the face right so dabbed it with a damp paper towel to remove some paint and start over. As it dried, he said, the face of Jesus emerged.
I just looked at that and looked, and said, `Wow.’ That’s a true story. I couldn’t repaint that if you paid me a million dollars,” said Patrick.
“Where is the original?” I asked Patrick.
“You know I don’t know where the original is,” Patrick said. “It’s got to be around the house somewhere.”