It’s no accident that Texas senator Ted Cruz sounds like a minister on the stump. His father, Rafael, is an evangelical pastor, after all. And as the Republican presidential candidate displayed before the faith-focused crowd at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference in Washington this week, his pastoral pedigree may be paying off.
“The Word tells us,” Cruz said Wednesday afternoon, rounding back toward the podium like a preacher returning to the Bible during a sermon. “ ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh the morning.’ And I’ll tell you this.”
Cruz’s voice became more intense and purposeful. “Morning is coming,” he said. “Morning is coming.”
It was by far the best received address among the three presidential candidates speaking at the conference Wednesday at Washington’s Omni Shoreham hotel. Cruz had been preceded by his fellow senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, and they all hewed closely to their stump speeches. Paul and Rubio performed well, though the latter stumbled over a few frequent lines that he ought to have down pat. But Cruz’s soaring rhetoric, his focus on religious liberty, and his natural affinity for the crowd made him a standout on the conference’s first day.
Among the folks here, Cruz is a rock star. His entrance to the stage was met with the most raucous applause. He opened his address by requesting a moment of silence to reflect on the murders of nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. It was a long and poignant pause, from which Cruz segued into his speech by telling the group it is a “new morning” and diving right into the issue he said would be the most important of the election.
“I believe 2016 will be the religious liberty election,” Cruz said. “Religious liberty has never been more threatened in America than right now today."
The former solicitor general of Texas touted the “decades” he has spent “fighting to defend religious liberty.” Cruz cited one case defending a monument to the Ten Commandments on the Texas state capitol lawn (“We went to the Supreme Court, and we won”), and another defending the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (“We went to the Supreme Court and we won”).
In private practice, Cruz said, he did pro bono work to defend a veterans’ memorial on federal land in the Mojave Desert. “A lone white Latin cross, erected over 70 years ago to honor the men and women who gave their lives in World War I.” The ACLU had successfully petitioned to have the monument taken down in several federal courts.
“They said you could not gaze upon the image of a cross on federal lands,” Cruz said as members of the crowd shook their heads in disbelief. “Well, I’ll tell you this. They were right on one thing. The cross has power.” Cruz helped take the case to the Supreme Court and—you guessed it—he won. And the crowd in Washington went wild.
Speaking of Supreme Court cases, Cruz was the only candidate Wednesday to spend time on the issues surrounding the upcoming decision on gay marriage. He even touched on the religious freedom law in Indiana that touched off a national firestorm earlier this year. Critics of the law claimed it gave the state’s business owners the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Cruz rightly noted a nearly identical federal law aimed at protecting the free exercise of religious beliefs had been supported decades earlier by prominent Democrats as well as Republicans. But Cruz called out some unnamed Republican rivals for not vigorously defending Indiana’s law.
“I’ll tell you what was saddest: just how many Republicans ran into the hills,” Cruz said, as several members of the audience nodded in agreement. “I think Indiana was, as Ronald Reagan would have put it, a time for choosing. As William Barrett Travis of Texas put it when he drew a line in the sand, you choose which side of the line you’re on. More than a few Republicans, sadly even more than a few Republicans running for president in 2016, chose that moment somehow to go rearrange their sock drawer.”
Cruz paused, turned, and faced the crowd head on. “I’ll tell you this. I will never, ever, ever shy from standing up and defending the religious liberty of every American.” The crowd went wild.