Probably one of the most unlikely scandalettes of the 2016 primary has to be the National Enquirer "exposé " of Senator Ted Cruz's alleged serial infidelity. Nobody knows to this day where the story originated, although some reporters suggested after it was run that the Rubio campaign had shopped it to them earlier in the cycle. But Donald Trump is known to be quite close to the publisher of the Enquirer (a man aptly named David Pecker) so it's always possible the story was run for his benefit. Cruz denied it and it faded in the excitement of the campaign, at least for now.
But whatever its provenance, the story was interesting not so much because it's unbelievable that any politician might have a zipper problem (it's almost a requirement for office) but because it was the very pious Cruz being accused. This is the man, after all, whose first victory speech began with "God bless the great state of Iowa, let me first of all say, to God be the glory."
Cruz announced his candidacy at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University where he laid out his vision for the country. And he told a story that he tells on the trail all the time:
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 anymore 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 (ph) Baptist Church, and there my father gave his life to Jesus Christ.
And God transformed his heart. And he drove to the airport, he bough 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 have been saved and I would have been raised by a single mom without my father in the household.
It may seem odd that his "testimony" is his father's story but it makes sense. Cruz himself was a very smart kid who grew up in Texas and went to Princeton and then Harvard Law which doesn't provide quite the same pathos as his daddy's tale of sin and redemption. And his dad is definitely important to his career -- he's a genuine evangelical preacher and wingnut firebrand, well known on the conservative speaking circuit. He brings with him all the authentic street cred his son could possibly need in this crowd.
Cruz's campaign strategy was built on the foundation of support from the ultra-conservative evangelical base of the Republican party; this recent Pew Poll shows that nearly half of his total voters are white observant evangelical Christians, most of whom attend Church at least weekly. By contrast Trump gets a share of evangelicals but more mainline protestants and Catholics who attend church less than once a week.(This article by Jeff Sharlet in the New York Times Magazine about Trump and prosperity gospel types is fascinating. I'm not even sure they're really social conservatives.)
I wrote about Cruz's original strategy (based upon Carter's peanut brigade) a while back, in which he had planned to sweep the southern states and build up a big lead, just as Hillary Clinton has done on the Democratic side. It didn't work out for him because it turns out that a lot of the southern conservatives he was counting on were mesmerized by a decadent, thrice married New Yorker. Who would have ever guessed? But he has shown tremendous tenacity, hanging on long after all the Big Boys of the Deep Bench fell by the wayside and it's now a two man race to the finish.
The adultery accusations don't seem to have hurt Cruz with his base voters, although it's possible we haven't yet seen the effects in more socially conservative states. But Cruz has built up a lot of credibility in that crowd over the years. He's won the straw poll at the Values Voter Summit three years in a row. Two years ago he made a huge splash in anticipation of announcing his run for president by giving a rousing speech in which he declared, “We stand for life. We stand for marriage. We stand for Israel!" which sums up the foundation of the evangelical right's philosophy.
Cruz is an anti-abortion warrior of the most strident kind. He wants to ban abortion with no exception for rape or incest. He unctuously explains it this way:
"When it comes to rape, rape is a horrific crime against the humanity of a person, and needs to be punished and punished severely. But at the same time, as horrible as that crime is, I don't believe it's the child's fault. And we weep at the crime, we want to do everything we can to prevent the crime on the front end, and to punish the criminal, but I don't believe it makes sense to blame the child."
He holds the same view of a 12-year-old girl being forced to give birth to her own sister: tough luck.
He has led the charge against Planned Parenthood in the Senate, urging a government shutdown if the president didn't agree to defund it. And he's gone farther than that:
"If I'm elected president, let me tell you about my first day in office. The first thing I intend to do is to rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by Barack Obama. The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these videos and to prosecute Planned Parenthood for any criminal violations."
Ted Cruz is a lawyer and ex-attorney general of Texas who has argued cases before the Supreme Court. Unlike Donald Trump when, he makes a statement like this, he cannot claim to be ignorant of the fact that the president instructing the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation on anyone would be the very definition of abuse of power and quite likely an impeachable offense.
His dismissive comments on contraception, meanwhile, are insulting to every woman:
“Last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America. Look, when I was in college, we had a machine in the bathroom, you put 50 cents in and voila. So, yes, anyone who wants contraceptives can access them."
He's equally adamant about gay marriage, and insists that he will work to overturn last year's landmark Obergefell ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country, just as he will work to overturn Roe vs Wade. He says:
“It’s not the law of the land. It’s not the Constitution. It’s not legitimate, and we will stand and fight.”
Again, this is a man who argued cases before the Supreme Court and presumably knows very well that marriage equality is the law of the land.
He has defended a ban on late term-abortions and a display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol. He argued that the pledge of allegiance should include the words "Under God." According to this astonishing article by David Corn in Mother Jones, he even defended a state ban on dildos, arguing the state had an interest in "discouraging…autonomous sex," comparing masturbation to hiring a prostitute or committing bigamy and declaring that no right exists for people to "stimulate their genitals." (His college roommate tweeted a hilarious reaction to that story yesterday.)
He's all in on the "religious liberty" legal theory as defined by the Manhattan Declaration and enjoys keeping company with some of the most radical dominionists in the nation, including David Barton, the junk historian who also runs Cruz's number one super PAC, Keep the Promise. That super PAC is funded by a couple of Cruz's megabucks donors, Texas energy barons Farris and Dan Wilks, both of whom are ultra conservative Christians. He's even tight with the bigots who spearheaded the recent sweeping anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina, congressional candidate and evangelical pastor Mark Harris and the former HGTV twins the Benham brothers, whose show was cancelled over their anti-gay activities. And then there is his father Rafael Cruz, who is counted among the most militant extremist preachers in the country and who believes his son was sent by God to turn America into a theocracy.
Ted Cruz's confrontational political philosophy is revolutionary. His policy agenda is at the farthest edge of conservative movement thinking, even including gold buggery and the abolition of the IRS and half a dozen other agencies and functions of the federal government. His foreign policy advisers include anti-Muslim cranks like Frank Gaffney. His ideology is doctrinaire right wing conservative. And he is a fanatical conservative evangelical Christian whose beliefs place him at the fringe of an already non-mainstream worldview.
It's not surprising that people would have a hard time believing that such a man would be a serial adulterer. But when you think about it, he would hardly be the first conservative Christian leader to be undone in such a way. (In fact, it's so common you have to wonder if it isn't an occupational hazard.) So far, he's weathered the storm. But he is a fully realized right wing radical deeply embedded in the conservative Christian right. If any of it turns out to be true, Cruz will have a very long way to fall.