Ted Cruz announced he was running for president on an empty stomach. Well, almost empty.
Cruz was signing a small American flag in a sea of fans and admirers and news cameras and members of the media when I asked him what he’d had to eat on the morning of his biggest day of his political life—so far. He paused for just the briefest of moments.
“To be honest, just a cup of coffee,” Cruz said. He turned back to the flag, then paused again. “My wife wouldn’t be happy with me.”
Heidi Cruz, the blonde would-be future first lady, will probably forgive him. Even without a balanced breakfast, her husband gave a powerful, energetic speech to officially launch his campaign for president. The audience at Liberty University, the evangelical Christian school founded by the late Jerry Falwell, was primed to give Cruz the enthusiastic response his campaign wanted.
It was an overly friendly crowd, even if they weren't there by choice. Cruz’s address occured during the university’s thrice-weekly convocation, a sort of mix of worship service and school assembly that every Liberty student is required to attend. Famous speakers are a regular occurrence. Last week, South Carolina congressman Trey Gowdy came, one student told me, and a week before, “some general.” Sometimes the speakers are a really big deal, he adds. A few weeks ago, Sean Hannity stopped by.
But there hasn’t been anything at a Liberty convocation like a presidential campaign announcement, and Cruz’s was a perfect fit. The event began promptly at 10 a.m. in Liberty's Vines Center arena with a suite of worship and praise songs by the house band. Almost all the students around me sang along. Ted Cruz’s father Rafael, a preacher and evangelical celebrity in his own right, filed in, and then Heidi and the two little Cruz girls, Caroline and Catherine.
Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr, introduced Cruz, who strode in in a conservative black suit and striped tie. By the time he reached the stage in the middle of the arena, the podium and band equipment had disappeared. A thin microphone headset hugged Cruz’s right cheek.
For observers of the junior senator from Texas, the speech was vintage Cruz. He paced across the stage, circling around to look at all sides of the full arena but always pivoting back toward the array of TV cameras. He had the look and feel of a preacher, his voice rising to signal his reaching a powerful point, only to fall to nearly a whisper for a soft landing on the critical conclusion.
“The power of the American people when we rise up and stand for liberty,” Cruz said, crescendoing before dropping down to finish with, “knows…no…bounds.”
Those accustomed to the typical media portrayal of Cruz—angry, obstinate, shrill—saw a different version of the senator, an inspirational politician who asked his audience to hope and, well, imagine.
“Imagine,” Cruz said, “in 2017 a new president signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.” Cheers.
“Imagine a president that finally, finally, finally secures the borders,” he said. More cheers.
“Imagine instead of economic stagnation, booming economic growth,” he said, his voice booming on the word. A couple students sitting near me guffawed, for some reason. “Imagine young people coming out of school with four, five, six job offers,” he said. They liked that a lot.
“Imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the state of Israel,” Cruz said, getting his first standing ovation and one of his longest applause breaks.
Imagine, Cruz went on, the trials this country has faced through the years, from the Revolutionary War through the Great Depression and the end of the Cold War. (Conspicuously absent was a mention of the Civil War.) Throughout American history, he said, men like George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan led the nation through these struggles.
“You know, compared to that, repealing Obamacare and abolishing the IRS ain’t all that tough,” Cruz said with a smile.
If there was an interruption to the uplifting spirit of the event, it came just before Cruz’s official declaration. A number flashed on the jumbo screens above the stage. Cruz asked the students to “break the rules” of convocation and take out their phones to text the word “Constitution” to the number. A noticeable “huh?” was heard in my section. Do college students text words that long?