AMES, Iowa – To understand how Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ticks, it helps to meet his dad. Rafael Cruz, who tells a personal tale of persecution, torture and imprisonment in Cuba, immigrated to the United States with $100 in his underwear and a burning desire for freedom. The elder Cruz spoke to the conservative crowd at the Family Leadership Summit here Saturday, pulling them to their feet with his enthusiastic and impassioned call for action – his speech was so well received his son joked that in speaking after Rafael Cruz, he was breaking one of his cardinal rules to never follow his dad.
Rafael Cruz said while he was optimistic when he first came to America, but the America under the Carter administration left him disillusioned until he started meeting with a conservative religious group, which also pulled him into politics as the Reagan era began. It was then, he said, that Ted Cruz, at the age of 8 or 9, began learning about politics.
By high school, he was reading "The Federalist" and "The Anti-Federalist Papers" and memorizing the Constitution; he even would travel around Texas with some of his friends giving speeches – about 80 throughout high school, his father said – about conservative economics and the foundation of American government.
"Our conversations around the dinner table centered on politics everyday and I don't know how many times I said to my son, 'You know Ted, when I lost my freedom in Cuba I had a place to come to. If we lose our freedoms here, where are we going to go?'" said Rafael Cruz.
But, he intoned, he's worried about freedoms in America today. A pastor, Rafael Cruz said that for too long preachers in America have hidden behind their pulpits as social change has rippled through society. He cited the removal of school prayer in the early 1960s as a cause of social ills.
"As a result, teen pregnancy skyrocketed; promiscuity skyrocketed; vandalism skyrocketed; drop-out rates in high school skyrocketed," he said. "In 1973, Roe v. Wade was passed. The church remained silent. And more than 55 million babies have been massacred through abortion. How long are we going to remain silent? It is high time that pastors stop hiding behind the pulpit."
The crowd, representing some of the most socially conservative voters in Iowa, roared their appreciation. Rafael Cruz walked to-and-fro on the stage, gesturing to emphasize his points. American history, too, he said, teaches lessons about the dangers of socialism, communism and the practice of wealth redistribution.
"If you look at the beginning of this country, when the pilgrims came to this country, the first year they had a communistic experiment," he said, explaining his version of events.
"They said, 'OK, we're going to take the land, we're going to work the land together and share in the fruits of our labor,'" Rafael Cruz said. "They almost starved to death. Almost half of them died that first year. But you know something? They were smart enough to recognize that socialistic experiment did not work."
Pivoting toward the present, Rafael Cruz took aim at President Barack Obama and what Cruz perceives as his push toward communism, which harkens back to Cruz's days in Cuba.
"When you hear this attack on religion, it's not really an attack on religion, the fundamental basis is this: socialism requires that government becomes your God," Rafael Cruz said. "They have to destroy all loyalties except loyalty to the government.
"That's what's behind homosexual marriage; it's really more about the destruction of the traditional family than about exalting homosexuality because you need to destroy also loyalty to the family."
Eliminating or defunding the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature health care law, has been his son's top legislative priority since he took office in January. Rafael Cruz laid out the dire ramifications of the law as he sees it in no uncertain terms.