In his Iowa caucus victory speech last week, Ted Cruz used a good deal of strong religious language. What is the effect when the Republican front runner frames dialogue in terms of his own Christian background?
What exactly does a Ted Cruz victory in the Iowa caucuses give us? Well, a Ted Cruz victory speech to start. And what exactly does a Ted Cruz victory speech contain? More than a fair share of overly religious rhetoric, of course.
The results of Monday’s caucuses – first and foremost a Trump loss – have had pundits scrambling to interpret what it all means moving forward into New Hampshire next week, as well as the rest of the primary voting season in the coming months. On Monday night, Ted Cruz’s celebration speech gave us an idea of what he thinks his big win represents. A lot of it has to do with God.
That he employed substantial Christian rhetoric in his victory speech is not at all surprising. Cruz has stressed the importance of his evangelical faith throughout his campaign. He has made his father’s background as a pastor well known, and he has constantly referenced the role faith plays in guiding his decisions – both daily and political. If the purpose of campaigning is to let voters “get to know” the candidates, that is, who they are as people, then the Cruz team has done well to present Cruz as someone firmly set in his religious values.
Cruz’s intense rhetoric appeals to a substantial and passionate electorate. Since announcing his candidacy at Liberty University back in March, Cruz has worked tirelessly to stand out as the candidate of choice for evangelical Christians – despite having to compete with the renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson. With his strong stance on religious liberties, Senator Cruz has made religion an emphasis of his platform more so than any other republican candidate. His four-point win over Trump last week seemed to be the culmination of his efforts to appeal to Christian voters – which included the formation of a “national prayer team” and countless meetings with church leaders. Cruz won in Iowa largely because more than sixty percent of caucus-goers identified as evangelical Christians, a third of which voted for him. Cruz, ever the politician, interpreted his victory with language that those who supported him can identify with.
Still, while politically expedient, Cruz’s rhetoric is far from productive; it adds nothing of substance and distracts from what should be a broader political dialogue rooted in the social and economic issues of the day.
In character, Cruz delivered a lengthy speech, taking his time to enjoy his achievement. His thirty-two minute monologue, that began before and lasted well past the end of Hillary Clinton’s speech, included dramatic statements like: “Our rights do not come from the Democratic party, the Republican party, or even the Tea Party. Our rights come from our creator. And the federal government’s role… is to defend those fundamental rights.”
His emphasis on rights goes hand-in-hand with his position as a hardline conservative. However, Cruz conflates the unalienable rights asserted in the Declaration of Independence with the political rights guaranteed to citizens in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It almost sounds like Cruz is saying it was God that gave you the right to bear arms. Surely a constitutional lawyer who attended Harvard Law School would know what his language implies. The allusion to the almighty places the conversation of rights in the abstract when truly productive political dialogue should be based on civics. Cruz’s declaration on the night of his victory leaves little room for national growth because if God said it, then that is that. This religious rhetoric removes the ability for us, within the context of our democracy, to discuss, debate, and interpret what our political rights entitle us to in an ever changing world, as well as what the government’s responsibility is to its citizens.
What is more disturbing is how dangerously prophetic Cruz was in announcing the meaning of his victory. He cited scripture, saying, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. Tonight, Iowa has proclaimed to the world, morning is coming.” He would later conclude his speech with the same phrase, “morning is coming.”
Basically, Ted Cruz just announced that God is on his side. The arrogant statement is insensitive to people of all beliefs, religious or not. If such a joyful morning is coming, it will not be through an apparently holy anointed Cruz presidential administration. Moreover, Cruz also just affirmed to a national audience that God supports carpet-bombing and opposes welcoming Syrian refugees and gay rights. And again, because Cruz has placed his candidacy in the hands of the creator, he leaves himself little room for growth. His rhetoric roots potential future conversations on policy in religion, incautiously and unrealistically making politics out to be morally black and white. If elected president, why would he be open to listening to other opinions and changing his stance on certain policy issues that could benefit the country if God chose him to lead the United States of America?
Ted Cruz should run on what he believes in. But voters should pay close attention to what he is saying, and how he says it. Cruz’s exaggerated language only detracts from productive political discourse, notwithstanding whether it is authentic or politically manipulative.