February 10, 2014
Bursts of applause had already interrupted Rafael Cruz repeatedly, but the loudest cheer of the night came when the Cuban-born pastor finally made the Barack Obama-Fidel Castro comparison the crowd had been waiting for.
"He acts no different than
that bearded guy I left behind in
Likening the president to
Castro has become something of a trademark for the elder Cruz, and it's actually
one of his milder comments. The 74-year-old from suburban
His son, the conservative grassroots darling and often-mentioned 2016 presidential prospect, also relishes controversy - thrusting himself into the teeth of last year's government shutdown battle. But public officials, even combative ones, are usually wary of loose-cannon family members as too politically dangerous.
Not Cruz. His father is a highly visible face of his political operation, someone who can talk directly to his conservative base and delight them with bombshells that the senator himself can't drop. And the father could be a key factor in his son's political future.
In comments to the Associated Press, Ted Cruz and his staff acknowledged Rafael's place as an occasional political surrogate when asked about more than $16,700 in travel expenses and mileage reimbursement his Senate campaign paid the elder Cruz in 2012 and through December of last year. Cruz and his office, however, have otherwise attempted to side-step some of Rafael's most explosive comments, maintaining in the past that he doesn't speak for his son and was taken out of context or joking.
The elder Cruz insists he isn't worried about the possible political implications of what he says.
"I have a burden for this
country and I feel that we cannot sit silent," he said in an interview as he
shook nearly every hand in a crowd of 300-plus following his speech in
He's also unapologetic: "It's time we stop being politically correct and start being biblically correct."
Bespectacled and bald except for wispy patches of gray along the sides of his head, Cruz has two false teeth and a booming voice and ferocious onstage presence that makes him seem taller and more physically imposing than he actually is. He heads what Ted Cruz's office describes as a "one-man" religious shop known as Purifying Ministries - but it's not affiliated with the better-known group founded by gospel televangelist Benny Hinn.
His main job, though, is
Still, some wonder how Rafael Cruz would fit in the atmosphere of a national campaign Cruz may one day mount. In 2008, then-candidate Obama had to distance himself from his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, because of Wright's past sermons featuring anti-America rants.
Though Ted may agree with
his father's message, "it's the way he put it," said Allan Lichtman, a
presidential historian at
Asked if he'd ever suggest that his father cool it, Ted Cruz responded in an email only, "I love my Dad, and I'm proud to be his son."
Rafael Cruz fled
It's a story Ted Cruz supporters know by heart - both men repeat it at nearly all public appearances.
"He's the real thing. He's
not just a front. He believes what he says," said Henry Churchwell, a retiree
who heads the
The elder Cruz told the Madisonville crowd that the death panels that "everybody maligned" when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin spoke out about them have now begun under the White House's signature health care law. If Republicans don't "retake the Senate in 2014, I don't know if we have a country in 2016," he said.
When he meets with preachers, Rafael encourages them to endorse conservative candidates from the pulpit - in defiance of federal bans on nonprofits engaging in political campaigning.
"I lost my freedom once," he
said of leaving