Ted Cruz thrives in the company of true believers

Every time security guards escorted out a young man or woman calling out questions about immigration reform at the conservative Family Research Council’s Values Voter summit, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) repeated that President Obama must be terrified, or he would not have personally dispatched these people to disrupt his speech.

“Senator Cruz, I want you to support a path to citizenship!’’ called one, a contender for the title of world’s politest heckler. “Isn’t it a moral imperative to keep families together?’’ called another.

Never one to either under-represent a problem or waste an opportunity, the guy who bashed Obamacare for 21 hours on the Senate floor responded this way: “It seems that President Obama’s paid political operatives are out in force today. And you know why? Because the men and women in this room scare the living daylights out of him!”

That got a standing ovation he answered by clasping his hands and bowing ever so slightly, so he ramped it up even further, and as a young woman in a ponytail was hustled out of the crowded ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, called, “I’m actually glad the president’s whole staff is here instead of actually doing mischief in the country.”

Heckler #6 inspired him to ask, “How scared is this president? What a statement of fear. Oh, they don’t want the truth to be heard.”

The crowd of conservative Christians — who though they may hate Washington, have lately been driving the train here — took over the heckler-handling at that point, answering #7, 8 and 9 by chanting “U-S-A!”

The freshman senator paid them the high compliment of keeping House Republicans from agreeing not to reopen the government without major concessions.

Elsewhere in the GOP, there is alarm over recent polling that shows much of the public blaming those very Republicans for the shutdown.

These truest of true believers think they deserve not opprobrium but a thank-you note. They cheer all the harder when Cruz says the House “needs to keep doing what it’s doing, which is standing strong.”

They delight in the idea that their confab has drawn infiltrators. “We’re not even allowed to have a meeting without being disrupted!’’ one woman says.

Another favored speaker on Friday morning was Cruz’s fellow tea partyer and filibusterer Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who tells the assembled that from “Boston to Zanzibar, there’s a worldwide war on Christianity,” which our government is propping up. The way the followers of Christ are under attack today, Paul says, it’s “almost as if we lived in the Middle Ages.’’

For those of you who think that’s where this crowd hails from, well, in a way that’s what they want you to think; just as liberals once thrilled to find themselves on President Richard Nixon’s enemies’ list, these conservatives encourage the media scorn, then embrace it as validation.

They’re not remotely worried, they say, about the government shutdown, or the debt ceiling, or even those polling numbers that suggest the GOP has set itself on fire in the public square.

(One woman does say she finds the debt ceiling situation “terrible,” but it turns out she was referring to the terrible prospect that Congress will cave and agree to raise it.)

A key reason they aren’t worried their guys are losing the spin war is the fact that, as St. Louis IT guy Gary Wiggins puts it, “Those aren’t my guys.”

Most are default deniers. What really concerns them is the bigger picture of moral decay. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) describes that tableau this way: “You can’t have a strong economy if it’s not built on strong values.”

Funny how much Rubio sounds like Obama when he says government can never take the place of parents and families and personal responsibility. (Though not that part about decrying “a culture that glamorizes violence” to a group that began the day with a “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” prayer breakfast salute to the Second Amendment.)

Those in the audience sound some of the same notes you’d hear from progressives, too, as they complain about “low-information voters.”

Although these self-described “values voters” are often treated as clowns, the worldview expressed here is no joke. Even if they and their leaders don’t succeed in repealing Obamacare, they have for years been pulling the mainstream to the right.

It’s always a dead-serious day if you perpetually think, as do these speakers and those who came to hear them, that our civilization is on the line “as never before.”

Adrienne Johnston, who lives in a suburb of Philadelphia but worked on the Hill during the Reagan administration, says she has decided she’d rather be living in the “late 1800s,” when people grew their own vegetables and life was simpler. Watching the president on TV the other night talking about the world from his perspective, she says, “actually made me cry.”

Why so glum? “We have no lives and no freedom if we’re dead” before having been born, says opponent Ellen Stanislewski, of Bowie, Md., director of research for the Black Pro-Life Union. (“I’m not black, but don’t let that throw you,” she says, since the correct focus, according to her, isn’t her skin color but the skin color of many women having abortions.)

To her, the right to life and to conscientiously object to Obamacare on religious grounds “is what this whole shutdown over Obamacare is all about.”

And if you felt that way, and believed in the purity of resistance, why would you ever want this shutdown to end?

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.
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