“If standing for liberty and standing for the Constitution makes you a wacko bird, then count me a proud wacko bird,” Cruz said to loud applause during his keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March.
“Every time Ted Cruz is attacked by the Washington, D.C., establishment, all it does is cause Ted Cruz’s star to shine brighter with the grass roots,” says Richard Viguerie, the venerable conservative advocate and author. The open question is whether Cruz is merely a niche player who’s getting a nice pop these days or something bigger.
Cruz, 42, was born in Calgary, Alberta, where his parents — Rafael Cruz, who is Cuban American, and his Delaware-born mother, Eleanor Darragh, who has Irish and Italian roots — worked in the oil industry. They named him Rafael Edward Cruz, but he goes by R. Ted or just plain Ted. (Cruz’s foreign birth is already generating arguments about his eligibility for the presidency, even though legal experts seem to be mostly in agreement that he’d meet the “natural-born citizen” requirement because his mother was a citizen when he was born.)
Cruz, who can be an engaging public speaker, frames his father’s story as an embodiment of perseverance and an inspiration for his political career. His father fought with Fidel Castro’s forces in the Cuban Revolution and was imprisoned and tortured by the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, he tells audiences. In 1957, Cruz says, his father fled to the United States with $100 sewn into his underwear and became staunchly anti-Castro. He worked as a 50-cent-an-hour dishwasher, paid his way through college, started a small business and later became a pastor, Cruz says.
The father’s small-government political views clearly influenced the son, Viguerie says. He’s “hard-core conservative,” Viguerie said approvingly of Cruz’s father. After spending half an hour talking politics with Cruz’s father at a recent awards dinner, one of Viguerie’s colleagues quipped to the senator that he’d just “realized, we elected the wrong congressman,” Viguerie recalls.
“You’re not the first to say that!” Cruz said with a chuckle, Viguerie recalls.
As a teenager in Houston, Cruz received instruction from an organization called the Free Enterprise Institute, whose Web site says it’s dedicated to forming “conservative leaders through the study of the history and principles of the American Republic and its roots in Western Civilization. . . . [W]e also aim to impart practical knowledge to leaders, so that they can awaken the seeds of wisdom and the moral imagination in others and win the battle of ideas among colleagues and neighbors.”