Richard McLachlan: What's driving Ted Cruz?

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US senator Ted Cruz speaks at a Republican Party dinner at Serb Hall in Milwaukee. AP photo / Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via AP
US senator Ted Cruz speaks at a Republican Party dinner at Serb Hall in Milwaukee. AP photo / Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via AP

If I were to summarise the news I'm seeing on TV in both home and laundromat, on MSNBC and Fox, it would be Trump, Trump, Trump and yet more Trump. But what about the other two? Or the mystery 'fresh face' at the Republican National Convention in July?

Speaking to Jake Tapper on CNN this Sunday morning, Reince Priebus - Chairman of the Republican National Committee - was clear that in his opinion the Republican nominee would be one of those currently running.

It'll be Trump or Cruz (forget John Kasich with his handful of delegates) - and with no irruption of a last minute candidate into the selection process in Cleveland. While all such statements are made for a reason - in the context of a Trump rampant, it's surprising how little covered is the worldview of Ted Cruz.

The context may be unfamiliar to many in New Zealand - a culture far more secular than this. Shortly after arriving here, I looked at research on Americans' religious beliefs and found Americans are pretty well evenly split on whether Jesus Christ will return to earth in the next 40 years. Twenty three per cent say He definitely will, and 18 per cent say probably. Among white evangelical Christians, 58 per cent believe this will happen.

Underlying this is that 72 per cent of all Americans believe in Heaven as a place where "where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded." Fifty eight per cent believe in Hell as a place "where people who have led bad lives and die without being sorry are eternally punished". The figures for this belief in Heaven and Hell are 85 per cent and 70 per cent for Christians generally, and 88 per cent and 82 per cent respectively for evangelical Protestants.

Ted Cruz's Cuban immigrant father Rafael, described as an itinerant preacher by some and a traveling public speaker by others, is spiritual advisor to his son's Presidential campaign. It may be worth looking to him first as a source of unmediated positions on the role of the Church - and the State.

The separation between Church and State is a largely unquestioned premise of American civil society. According to Cruz senior "We are where we are primarily because the church has been silent - has believed this lie of separation of church and state."

While it is possible the beliefs of Cruz Jnr may differ from his Dad, an organisation that rates members of Congress, using material provided by the watchdog group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, scored Ted as 100 per cent opposed to the separation of these key institutions.

The conservative National Review is clear about his father's influence - "it's Rafael Cruz's sway in his son's inner circle that makes him a power broker" - a power broker for whom America is a 'Christian nation'. His son has strongly defended the continued presence of a Ten Commandments sculpture outside the Texas State Capitol - all the way to the Supreme Court in 2005.

Ted also maintains a close relationship with highly controversial and widely criticised historian David Barton - who is the coordinator of his Keep the Promise fundraising Super PAC. A trusted Cruz advisor, Barton asserts that the USA is effectively a Christian nation because its founders were Christian.

What Barton and Cruz senior have in common, and Ted avoids mentioning in public, is adherence to an influential evangelical sect called Seven Mountains Dominionism. In order to 'reclaim' or 'take back' the lost Christian America, Christians must gain control of seven 'mountains'. These are the "seven primary institutions that shape and control our culture."

They are business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family, and religion. Dominion or control over these domains will further the implementation of biblical standards and spreading of the Gospel. Or put another way, "it is to install a "virtual theocracy" overseen by "true apostles" who will fight Satan and his Antichrist agenda."

The lack of gentleness and compassion in Cruz's speeches, referred to by conservative commentator David Brooks as 'pagan brutalism', has of late been eclipsed by the more carnivalesque utterances of Mr Trump. As Brooks said in a March 26 interview, "I have spent the last week so repulsed by Donald Trump, I had forgotten how ugly Ted Cruz could be."

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz gives a news conference after visiting the border with Mexico in Douglas, Arizona. AP photo / Ricardo Arduengo
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz gives a news conference after visiting the border with Mexico in Douglas, Arizona. AP photo / Ricardo Arduengo

Cruz is a religious absolutist and an anti-Federal Government ideologue, while Trump is primarily interested in 'the deal'. Cruz is an experienced and sharp debater and has a history of taking issues to the Supreme Court. It's hard to imagine Donald Trump arguing from principle before that body. But it appears that for many, the vulgarian is more alarming than the absolutist. And so support is moving to the senator from Texas.

The can't-quite-believe-this is-happening shotgun marriage between Ted Cruz and the Republican establishment is getting crowded. The line now includes Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Lindsay Graham, Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee, and probably Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

On Tuesday, a recent poll suggests, Cruz will beat Trump in the Wisconsin primary. Perhaps then the beliefs and associations of Senator Cruz, and the negative impact of those beliefs on his possible Presidency, will have a much-deserved meeting with the daylight. Although in this election, whatever the issue, the limelight always seems brighter than the daylight.

Richard McLachlan is a New Zealander living in New York.

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