By Morgan Gilbard
IOWA CITY, Iowa — When you ask Ted Cruz fans what they like about a man publicly hated by so many, one trait stands above the others: Cruz’s self-proclaimed respect for the Constitution.
“We need somebody in there or the country is going to be over. Someone that supports the Constitution,” said John Koval, who attended a Cruz rally in Iowa City on the eve of Monday night’s caucuses.
A Harvard-trained lawyer, the Texas senator tells audiences that President Obama has dismantled the Constitution through misguided policies and rash executive actions. No matter that Obama himself is a Harvard graduate and longtime professor of constitutional law.
Cruz, a champion debater in college, fires up his audiences by lambasting Washington politicians and Democrats more generally. He proclaims his faith in god and his loyalty to the Constitution. He told Iowa City audience, “Our constitutional rights are under assault every single day.”
Every Cruz fan I spoke with at the muddy Johnson County Fairgrounds on Sunday mentioned the candidate’s “Constitutional values” almost immediately. Their phrasings were so similar, the words sounded as though they had been lifted from a press release.
But what did they actually mean?
For most, Cruz’s “Constitutional values” are synonymous with the candidate’s evangelical politics. His supporters want the next president to somehow overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, a constitutional impossibility, and maintain current gun laws.
Many Cruz fans also misunderstand the policies proposed by other candidates in the race. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the leading Democrats, have repeatedly said that they would protect responsible gun-owners and hunters. But many Cruz supporters seem to equate a Democratic president with a complete seizure of firearms across the country.
Cruz does little to squelch these factual errors. Indeed, he encourages them with rhetoric just vague enough to give him plausible deniability.
“The soul of America is damaged, diminished and on the path to destruction,” the candidate said at Sunday’s rally. He rarely engages in policy discussions with voters— preferring to talk about the Bible in tones that suggest a Sunday sermon. Cruz went so far to compare ISIS’s goal of an Islamic caliphate to the Book of Revelations, a New Testament text on a potential apocalypse.
Cruz misled voters in failing to distinguish the significant differences between a caliphate run by terrorists and a democratic Muslim government. Religion is not the identifier of a terrorist. Human rights violations are. But Cruz has done little to help voters understand the difference.
“Allah does not exist! Islam’s a cult!” one spectator shouted as broadcaster Glenn Beck, introducing Cruz, tried to distinguish between peaceable Muslims and “Islamists.” Security approached the unidentified man and instructed him to be quiet. They did not kick him out.
To my eye, Cruz’s repackaging of evangelical politics into “constitutional values” is problematic on several levels. Most notably, it disregards the fact that America was founded by those escaping religious persecution. It also overlooks – or perhaps applauds – a Constitution that permitted slavery and denied the vote to everyone but white men with property.
“I was raised on the Constitution and raised on the Bible,” Cruz said proudly, ending his speech by reciting 2 Corinthians 7:14 and urging his followers to pray, “that we might pull back from the abyss.”
Cruz’s pitch helped him to a second-place ranking in the final polls before Monday’s caucus, within striking distance of the front-runner, Donald Trump, and well ahead of a crowded Republican field. The latest predictions give him a 39 percent chance of winning.