Ted Cruz, Christian Warrior Supreme

Even as we learn that on at least one occasion the scion of the Ultimate WASP Family, Jeb Bush, identified himself as “Hispanic,” an actual Hispanic proto-candidate for president, Ted Cruz, seems hell-bent on outhustling everybody for the allegiance of conservative evangelical Crackro-Americans. Per a report from Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt, Cruz ran the first campaign ads of the cycle over Eastern Weekend on programs (especially the latest biblical docum-drama, A.D. The Bible Continues, which premiered last night) with special appeal to Cruz’s fellow Southern Baptists. Cruz’s staff was very open with Isenstadt about their candidate’s dedication to Bible-thumping:

Ted Cruz’s aggressive pursuit of the evangelical vote began with a deliberate choice of venue for his presidential announcement two weeks ago: Liberty University, which bills itself as the largest Christian university in the world.

The Texas Republican senator’s strategic play for Christian conservatives comes into even sharper focus this weekend as he rolls out the first television ad of the 2016 race. Titled “Blessing,” the commercial is aimed directly at evangelical and social conservative voters in early voting states, timed for Easter weekend and slated to air during popular Christian-themed programming.

It’s an exercise in narrowcasting that telegraphs exactly how Cruz intends to win the GOP nomination against better-funded and better-known rivals. His advisers say the Liberty University backdrop, the TV ads and even his recent two-day tour of Iowa are all part of a detailed blueprint designed to tap into the power of two distinct GOP wings — evangelicals and the tea party movement.

Since probably about 80% of these two “wings” overlap, it’s an even narrower casting than Isenstadt’s account indicates. But there’s no question the Texan doesn’t have the luxury of being able to rely on any subtle dog-whistling. Mike Huckabee, after all, is an ordained Southern Baptist minister who’s been working this particular audience for eight years. Rick Perry has deep Christian Right roots. Rick Santorum is an accomplished veteran of the campaign to build counter-cultural ties between conservative evangelicals and “traditionalist” Catholics. And Bobby Jindal’s tongue has been lolling out for about a year now in his relentless pursuit of the mantle of the Christian Right’s very best friend.

So Ted’s got to just come right out and say things others may just imply. One indicator of how it’s going may well be the extent to which he deploys the powerful but perilous weapon of his deranged father, the Rev. Rafael Cruz. In “Blessing,” he plays the bit role of a drunken would-be deadbeat dad saved by Jesus. If Rafael starts speaking in his son’s ads, Ted’s campaign to become the Christian Warrior Supreme is either going really well or really badly.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.