Led By Reverend Cruz, Texas Tea Party Not Swayed By Dropping National Polls

By David Martin Davies
October 23, 2013
David Martin Davies
Rev. Rafael Cruz, father of Ted Cruz, at a Tea Party rally in Floresville, Texas.

FLORESVILLE, Texas — Republican Ted Cruz gained national notoriety in recent weeks. A freshman Senator from Texas, he’s a Tea Party favorite and let the recent Republican attempt to defund health care reform.

It didn’t work, and now national polls show the Tea Party is losing popularity with moderate voters. But not so much in Cruz’s home state. Back in Texas, it’s not just Ted Cruz but also his father, Rafael, who are drawing crowds of admirers.

At the Floresville Community Center, near San Antonio, a crowd sings the patriotic hymn "America The Beautiful" in referent tones.

It was a Saturday afternoon of singing patriotic songs and listening to a fire-and-brimstone political speech.

“Outside of the Bible, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the greatest documents ever written by man,” said the Reverend Rafael Cruz, father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

The estimated 250 people who attended the Tea Party event applauded enthusiastically and cheered the Cuban refugee who first immigrated to Canada and later Texas.

“I told my son, 'you know Ted, when I faced oppression in Cuba I had a place to flee. But where are we going to go? There is no other place. That’s why we have to fight for America!'” the elder Cruz told the crowd.

The heart of Cruz’s speech was about the evils of the separation of church and state — which he said was not the founder’s intent. But he also told stories of his famous son and how when he was a high school student he would travel around Texas to Rotary Clubs. While the members ate lunch he would stand in front, writing out on an easel from memory the entire U.S. Constitution. And then he would give a speech about the virtues of the American free enterprise system.

Those were skills Senator Cruz would later put to use on the floor of the Senate.

“Madam President, I rise today in opposition to Obamacare,” was the opening remark Cruz delivered when he delivered a 21-hour long speech. He didn’t stop the Affordable Care Act that day, but he did start a campaign to defund the federal government and toy with breaching the nation’s debt ceiling.

And he launched himself as one of the most controversial politicians in Washington D.C.

Cruz’s strategy failed, and has since sent the poll numbers of both him and the Tea Party into a national nose dive. But he remains undeterred and pledges to continue the fight. And it’s a fight his father has joined. 

Back at the Floresville event, Cruz’s father wraps up his speech by asking the audience to join hands and repeat after him, taking a public oath for the Tea Party cause.

“Relying on the protection of divine providence … We mutually pledge to each other … Our Lives … Our Fortunes … And our sacred honor … To restore liberty to this country.”

There’s even talk that Rev. Cruz is considering a run for office, challenging incumbent Republican John Cornyn in a primary. Cornyn has run afoul of Tea Partiers and may be vulnerable on the right. 

And Rev. Cruz could depend on the votes of the Tea Partiers like Tom Shumaker. He says the Texas Tea Party is on the upswing.

“We’re finding that that people are coming out, as you can see here today,  are coming out in greater numbers," Shumaker said. "More recently they are starting to get more active again.”

This hard swing to the right is inspiring other Texas politicians. In the 21st Congressional District, Tea Party candidate Matt McCall is challenging conservative Republican Lamar Smith.

“I think that the winds of change they are a blowing,” said McCall.

He says that Smith’s voting record looks like a true conservative’s on paper but McCall said what really counts for today’s Tea Party is how the nation’s debt has grown in the 27 years Smith has been in office.

"When he came into office the debt was $2.2 trillion, this year it’s now $17 trillion," McCall said.

But where does this swing leave Texas GOP moderates, who once felt they had a home in the Republican Party?

One answer could be found on the Bexar County courthouse steps in San Antonio on Monday. Judge Carlo Key announced he was quitting the GOP and joining the Democrats.

”I can not be a member of a party that is proud to destroy the financial lives of hundreds of thousands of federal employees in a vain attempt to provide health care to millions of Americans across the country,” said Key.

Key’s party switch was hailed by Texas Democrats as a small step toward turning the state blue; but for Cruz and the Tea Party, Texas has never been more red.