Ted Cruz’s Secret Weapon to Win the Right
On the trail with Rafael Cruz—dad, preacher, and Ted’s ambassador to the true believers of the Right.
National Journal | June 26, 2015

“YOU REALLY HAVE to hand it to these pro­gress­ives,” the speak­er is say­ing. He’s stalk­ing the front of the chapel, pa­cing left to right, hands lift­ing and sli­cing and jab­bing at the air. “They come up with the greatest terms.” He tosses out an ex­ample: “so­cial justice.” “It sounds so good. Who would want so­cial injustice?” But what does this term, so­cial justice, mean? he asks. Where does it come from? “I’ll tell you where it comes from,” he says. “It comes dir­ectly out of Karl Marx.”

“That’s right,” comes the reply from the pews as the speak­er’s voice gains new ur­gency. So­cial justice, he ex­plains, is a scheme to di­vide so­ci­ety in­to tiny fac­tions and turn them in­to vic­tims. It makes those fac­tions de­pend­ent on gov­ern­ment handouts. It re­moves God from every­day life.

“Now, let’s try to un­der­stand this a little bit,” he con­tin­ues. “If you don’t be­lieve in God, you can’t rely upon God.”

That’s right.

“If so­cial justice des­troys in­di­vidu­al re­spons­ib­il­ity, there is no self-re­li­ance.”


“So if these people can’t rely upon God, and there is no self-re­li­ance, the only thing left”—he waits a beat—”is to rely upon almighty gov­ern­ment.”

Yessir! Amen!

It’s a warm even­ing on the first Tues­day of June, and the pews at the Grace Baptist Church in Mari­on, Iowa, are nearly filled with well over 100 people. They wear red “TED CRUZ” stick­ers, and they’ve jot­ted their names and emails on the “Cruz for Pres­id­ent” sign-up sheet in the lobby. But it’s not the Texas-sen­at­or-turned-pres­id­en­tial-can­did­ate who is in town to­night. It’s his fath­er.

Ra­fael Cruz—76 years old, ruddy faced, putty nosed, mostly bald—wears a blue pin­stripe suit, starched white shirt, yel­low-and-blue pat­terned tie, and black wing tips. He speaks with a heavy Cuban ac­cent—his Js curl­ing in­to Ys, these shortened in­to dees, re­li­gious stretched in­to ree-lih-joos. He has no notes, no tele­prompt­er. He grips a small click­er in his left hand that con­trols a Power­Point present­a­tion pro­jec­ted on the wall be­hind him. The title is “Re­claim­ing Amer­ica: Why Pas­tors (and Chris­ti­ans in gen­er­al) need to be in­volved in the polit­ic­al arena.”

Amer­ica was foun­ded on a set of Judeo-Chris­ti­an val­ues, Ra­fael tells his audi­ence, and today those val­ues are un­der siege. For this, he lays the blame at the feet of the very people in this room. Pas­tors and people of faith have been si­lent for far too long, he says. They stood idly by when the Su­preme Court in the 1960s banned school-sanc­tioned pray­er and re­quired Bible read­ings from pub­lic schools, and “as a res­ult,” rates of teen­age preg­nancy and vi­ol­ent crime “skyrock­eted.” The church did noth­ing after the high Court’s de­cision in Roe v. Wade. And Chris­ti­ans sat on their hands as the Court paved the way to na­tion­al gay mar­riage. “Pas­tor Di­et­rich Bon­hoef­fer in Nazi Ger­many said, ‘Si­lence in the face of evil is evil it­self,‘“ Cruz says. “The ques­tion is: How long are we go­ing to re­main si­lent?”

He ex­horts the crowd to stop mak­ing ex­cuses—sep­ar­a­tion of church and state (which he calls “a lie”), the pos­sib­il­ity of the IRS re­vok­ing a church’s tax-ex­empt status (“an empty threat”)—and to start elect­ing people of faith and prin­ciple to pub­lic of­fice. Everything they need to know is right there in the Bible, he says, down to how to vet a can­did­ate, wheth­er for city coun­cil or the U.S. pres­id­ency. (He quotes Ex­odus 18:21: Can­did­ates must be “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hat­ing cov­et­ous­ness.”) His voice cres­cendos, list­ing off those pas­tors who fought in the Amer­ic­an Re­volu­tion, and he asks, “Where are those pas­tors today?” The an­swer: “Hid­ing be­hind their pul­pit.”

“It is about time,” he thun­ders, “that we be­come bib­lic­ally cor­rect in­stead of polit­ic­ally cor­rect.”

Cruz’s speech lasts for close to an hour. At the end, he asks the audi­ence to join him in a cov­en­ant, an agree­ment to one an­oth­er. They re­peat after Cruz, who mashes up the fi­nal words of the De­clar­a­tion of In­de­pend­ence (“We mu­tu­ally pledge to each oth­er our Lives, our For­tunes, and our sac­red Hon­or”) with a vow to “make Amer­ica again that shin­ing city on a hill.”

He nev­er once men­tions his son. But the man who fol­lows him, a loc­al pas­tor named Dar­ran Whit­ing, an­nounces that he is en­dors­ing Ted Cruz for pres­id­ent and that every­one else should join him. Be­fore re­pair­ing to the church gym for cook­ies and cof­fee and pho­tos with Ra­fael, the audi­ence joins Whit­ing in an a cap­pella ver­sion of “God Bless Amer­ica.”


THERE IS NO ONE in Amer­ic­an polit­ics today quite like Ra­fael Cruz. He is, as you might ex­pect of any politi­cian’s fath­er, a con­fid­ant to his son; Glenn Beck, a friend of the fam­ily who meets and prays with Ra­fael every few months, de­scribes him as Ted’s “back­bone, his strength.” But in a rare role for a fath­er, he is also Ted’s most prom­in­ent and tire­less sur­rog­ate on the cam­paign trail.

Ra­fael has spent re­cent months trav­el­ing around Iowa and South Car­o­lina and Ohio and Flor­ida at a gruel­ing pace—on the road five or six days a week, three or four events per day. On his re­cent swing through Iowa, he told me he vis­ited 18 cit­ies in five and a half days. Dur­ing his travels, he speaks to some of the most hard-line mem­bers of the Re­pub­lic­an elect­or­ate—ef­fect­ively serving as an even more con­ser­vat­ive spokes­man for the most con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ate in the race.

His audi­ences range from a dozen people at a Pizza Ranch in Dubuque to a hun­dred or more at a tea-party meet­ing in South Flor­ida. Large or small, these ap­pear­ances add up to something sig­ni­fic­ant for Ted’s cam­paign: They con­sti­tute ex­actly the type of hand-to-hand politick­ing among the GOP’s most loy­al voters that is needed to win in places like Iowa. And Ra­fael knows how to ap­peal to this crowd. “All things be­ing equal, if Ra­fael Cruz is in the same room with oth­er cam­paign sur­rog­ates, among the tea party he wins every time,” says Drew Ry­un of the Madis­on Pro­ject, a con­ser­vat­ive group that gave Ted Cruz the first PAC en­dorse­ment of his 2012 Sen­ate run.

Ra­fael es­sen­tially gives the same two speeches over and over again. In churches, it’s the “Re­claim­ing Amer­ica” present­a­tion on why people of faith need to ramp up their in­volve­ment in polit­ics. In non­re­li­gious set­tings, it’s a more dir­ect pitch for his son, a stem-winder that blends an­ec­dote, healthy doses of Amer­ic­an his­tory re­frac­ted through a right-wing lens, and some un­abashed sales­man­ship. (Pre-or­der Ted’s forth­com­ing book on Amazon right now, he told a crowd of Iow­ans, and get 32 per­cent off!)

Rafael Cruz speaking at the 2013 FreedomWorks Youth Summit in Washington, D.C.   Flickr/Gage Skidmore  .

Rafael Cruz speaking at the 2013 FreedomWorks Youth Summit in Washington, D.C. Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

The morn­ing after I see him at Grace Baptist, I hear the more polit­ic­al speech. His first stop of the day is the city-coun­cil cham­bers in Monti­cello (pop­u­la­tion 3,811). This ven­ue wasn’t ori­gin­ally on the sched­ule, but when the loc­al county GOP chair heard that Ra­fael Cruz would be passing through in early June, he asked if he would stop in town. Ra­fael hap­pily ob­liged.

He ar­rives at 8:30 a.m., chip­per and vig­or­ous, ac­com­pan­ied by his mind­er and driver for the week, the Cruz cam­paign’s Iowa dir­ect­or, Bry­an Eng­lish. Be­fore this audi­ence—con­sist­ing of a few dozen seni­or cit­izens and a loc­al news­pa­per pho­to­graph­er—he de­scribes his son’s pas­sion for the Con­sti­tu­tion as “a fire in his bones.” That fire, he in­sists, “is as alive today as it was 30 years ago.” Ra­fael tells the story of the time when then”“Su­preme Court Chief Justice Wil­li­am Rehnquist in­ter­viewed Ted for a clerk­ship po­s­i­tion. What Rehnquist really wanted to know, Ra­fael says, was how Ted man­aged to get re­com­mend­a­tion let­ters from both Mi­chael Lut­tig, one of the most con­ser­vat­ive jur­ists in Amer­ica (for whom Ted clerked), and Alan Der­show­itz, the lib­er­al Har­vard Law School pro­fess­or (un­der whom Ted stud­ied). “I think that speaks to how Ted can uni­fy Amer­ica,” Ra­fael says.

For the most part, though, he speaks not of polit­ic­al unity but of ideo­lo­gic­al war­fare. A few hours after his ap­pear­ance in Monti­cello, he is in the base­ment of a farm-themed res­taur­ant in nearby Dyers­ville, be­fore a crowd of maybe a dozen geri­at­ric tea-parti­ers. At every stop, he takes ques­tions from the audi­ence; here, the Q-and-A opens with a man in the audi­ence yelling out, “Maybe you should run for vice pres­id­ent!” Later, an­oth­er audi­ence mem­ber asks, “How does Ted Cruz fit with the na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Party?” 

“This may not be the an­swer you want,” Ra­fael re­sponds, “but un­for­tu­nately, the na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Party has been back­ing the wrong kind of people for the last 40 years.” For too long, the party has thrown its weight be­hind “mushy mod­er­ates” who stand for noth­ing and can’t win elec­tions. He puts Ger­ald Ford, George H.W. Bush, John Mc­Cain, and Mitt Rom­ney in this cat­egory. “Every time they pick a mushy mod­er­ate, we lose,” he adds. “And they don’t want to learn the les­son.”

He says he doubts the Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment will see the fool­ish­ness of its ways. “I be­lieve the RNC [Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee] this time again will go try to back a mushy mod­er­ate,” he pre­dicts. “That is a sure way for us to lose.” (Later, he will tell the audi­ence mem­ber one on one that “the RNC is part of the prob­lem.”) The solu­tion, he says to the crowd, is to rally the grass­roots and unite con­ser­vat­ives of all stripes be­hind a can­did­ate who will take the coun­try in a com­pletely “dif­fer­ent dir­ec­tion.” It’s what Ron­ald Re­agan did, and it’s what his son will do if he wins. “Now, if you’re rep­res­ent­ing the RNC, you prob­ably don’t like my an­swer,” Cruz says with a chuckle. “But if you’re rep­res­ent­ing the tea party, you prob­ably love it.”

It’s a vin­tage Ra­fael Cruz mo­ment, the type of line that plays in­cred­ibly well be­fore the red-meat crowd in the Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies but could be­come a li­ab­il­ity if Ted picks up mo­mentum and ap­pears to be with­in reach of the nom­in­a­tion. This is the same Ra­fael Cruz of the BuzzFeed list­icle “The 68 Most Con­tro­ver­sial Things Ted Cruz’s Dad Has Ever Said”; the same Ra­fael Cruz who com­pares Barack Obama to Fi­del Castro, who says the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion uses minor­it­ies “as pawns,” who says Hil­lary Clin­ton is an “Al­in­sky­ite,” who says gun con­trol is a ploy to “im­pose a dic­tat­or­ship upon us,” who says Planned Par­ent­hood was cre­ated “for pop­u­la­tion con­trol in the black neigh­bor­hoods,” who says cli­mate change is “ho­cus-po­cus,” and who says mar­riage equal­ity is part of a lar­ger “agenda to des­troy America.”

That’s one Ra­fael Cruz. There’s also the Ra­fael Cruz that his son, Ted, de­scribes: the polit­ic­al refugee who be­came a clas­sic story of im­mig­rant suc­cess, who “came here seek­ing free­dom” and went on to “achieve the Amer­ic­an dream,” as Ted put it in 2013; or the per­son who, mid­way through life, found Je­sus, thereby trans­form­ing him­self in­to a more loy­al, more re­spons­ible, more fam­ily-ori­ented man. “Were it not for the trans­form­at­ive love of Je­sus Christ,” Ted Cruz said in his pres­id­en­tial an­nounce­ment speech at Liberty Uni­versity in March, “I would have been raised by a single mom without my fath­er in the house­hold.”

It’s easy to view Ra­fael, in short, as a set of ex­treme clichés about con­ser­vat­ism or the im­mig­rant ex­per­i­ence or evan­gel­ic­al Chris­tian­ity. As I learned about him, though, I began to real­ize that his story was far more com­plic­ated than you would know from just listen­ing to what he and Ted say on the stump. It’s full of suc­cess and fail­ure, booms and busts, love and death and re­gret. It’s a messy, wind­ing, em­in­ently hu­man story—one that, de­pend­ing on your point of view, either makes Ra­fael a hy­po­crit­ic­al sur­rog­ate for Ted or an au­then­t­ic, com­pel­ling, re­lat­able one.

On my last even­ing in Iowa, I watch Ra­fael speak to a crowd of 80 at a Chris­ti­an church in Wa­ter­loo. The church’s in­teri­or has rock-con­cert-style speak­ers hanging from the ceil­ing and a wall of mul­ti­colored stage lights. After an in­tro­duc­tion by a loc­al act­iv­ist hell-bent on plug­ging his new doc­u­ment­ary about the IRS, Cruz rises, click­er in hand, to give the same speech from the night be­fore: Karl Marx, Di­et­rich Bon­hoef­fer, Ex­odus 18:21, and so on.

Af­ter­ward, Ra­fael and Eng­lish, his cam­paign chap­er­one, hang around for ques­tions and pho­tos be­fore head­ing to­ward the exits. I catch up with them out­side. For three weeks, I’ve pestered Ted’s cam­paign to let me in­ter­view Ra­fael, and since ar­riv­ing in Iowa, I’ve re­peatedly asked him in per­son for a form­al in­ter­view as well. Now I ask again.

“You didn’t get enough ma­ter­i­al here?” he says cheer­fully.

I ask yet an­oth­er time, but Eng­lish brushes me off. Take it up with the cam­paign’s press sec­ret­ary, he says.

Ra­fael and I trade con­tact in­form­a­tion. He tells me to send him my story when it comes out. Then he puts a hand on my shoulder. “Just tell the truth, my friend,” he says, be­fore I trudge off to my rent­al car. “All you can do is tell the truth.”


EVEN­TU­ALLY, Ra­fael did talk to me, and we ended up spend­ing a couple of hours on the phone, much of it filling in the de­tails of his dra­mat­ic life story. He was born and raised a block from the beach in Matan­zas, an hour east of Havana. His fath­er cut cane on a sug­ar plant­a­tion, worked at a fruit stand, ran a gro­cery store, and sold ap­pli­ances for RCA. (The year that tele­vi­sion first came to Cuba, Ra­fael says, his fath­er sold the most sets of any­one on the is­land.) 

He grew up fish­ing and go­ing to base­ball games, but not long after Gen­er­al Ful­gen­cio Batista seized con­trol of the Cuban gov­ern­ment in a coup, he joined the un­der­ground res­ist­ance as a teen­ager. The move­ment’s lead­er was a cha­ris­mat­ic law­yer hid­ing out in the moun­tains named Fi­del Castro. Ted Cruz once de­scribed his fath­er as “a guer­rilla, throw­ing Mo­lotov cock­tails and blow­ing up build­ings.” (Ra­fael says they only threw Mo­lotov cock­tails at build­ings that were empty or after hours.) Giv­en up to Batista’s forces by an in­form­ant, Ra­fael was beaten for three or four days, his teeth bashed in, blood and mud cov­er­ing each inch of his white suit. “By the grace of God,” he likes to say, the army re­leased him in the hopes he would lead them to oth­er mem­bers of the res­ist­ance. He had to flee the coun­try.

A straight-A stu­dent, Ra­fael ap­plied to three Amer­ic­an uni­versit­ies and chose the first one that ac­cep­ted him, the Uni­versity of Texas, Aus­tin. A law­yer friend fin­agled an exit per­mit to get him out of the coun­try, and with a stu­dent visa is­sued by the U.S. Con­su­late in Cuba in hand, he ar­rived in the States in the fall of 1957 with $100—$846 in today’s dol­lars—to his name and know­ing, de­pend­ing on the telling, either very little or no Eng­lish. He washed dishes and worked as a short-or­der cook at a Toddle House diner near cam­pus, eat­ing enough free food be­fore, dur­ing, and after his eight-hour shift to last the oth­er 16 hours. In or­der to learn Eng­lish, he spent his first month in Amer­ica—be­fore classes began—camped out every even­ing in a movie theat­er watch­ing films non­stop un­til clos­ing time. “I would sit at the movies try­ing to as­so­ci­ate words with ac­tions and words with the ob­jects,” he told me. “If some­body picked up a glass and called it ‘glass,’ I would say that thing you drink out of was called ‘glass.’ I learned Eng­lish like a baby.”

He had not, however, lost his re­volu­tion­ary zeal. As a stu­dent, Ra­fael railed against the Batista re­gime—and the U.S. gov­ern­ment that sup­por­ted it—and spoke out in fa­vor of Castro at Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. He and five oth­er Cuban stu­dents pro­tested Wash­ing­ton’s de­cision to grant asylum to mem­bers of the Batista gov­ern­ment fol­low­ing Castro’s takeover in Janu­ary 1959. The stu­dents marched through the heart of Aus­tin car­ry­ing a flag com­mem­or­at­ing Castro’s move­ment; Ra­fael wore a sign that read, “Batista’s gang have paved their way in­to the U.S. with Cuban bod­ies.” The stu­dents de­livered a let­ter to the Aus­tin Amer­ic­an vow­ing that grant­ing asylum to Batista’s men “will leave a per­en­ni­al stain upon the prin­ciples and ideals of the Amer­ic­an na­tion.”

Ra­fael’s story caught the at­ten­tion of a colum­nist for The Daily Tex­an, the cam­pus news­pa­per. The res­ult­ing piece re­coun­ted his cap­ture and tor­ture in Cuba, the death of a close friend by Batista’s men, and his jour­ney to Texas. The story de­scribes Cruz as “slightly built,” not­ing that he wore “glasses and has a scar un­der his right eye. He shows a bashed nose and half of his up­per den­ture is miss­ing.” Cruz spoke broken Eng­lish but “con­versed in an ar­tic­u­late, well-bred Span­ish.” Ra­fael, the colum­nist wrote, “ex­al­ted” Castro, fiercely dis­put­ing that the new lead­er was a com­mun­ist. “Castro is a man of edu­ca­tion,” he said. “He’s not am­bi­tious for power.”

Cruz re­turned to Cuba in the sum­mer of 1959 to vis­it his fam­ily. The trip changed everything he be­lieved about Castro. “That same man that had been talk­ing about hope and change,” he says in his stump speech, “was now talk­ing about how the rich were evil, about how they op­pressed the poor, and about the need to re­dis­trib­ute the wealth.” The Castro gov­ern­ment closed news­pa­pers and ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions, seized land and busi­nesses. Ra­fael’s moth­er, a sixth-grade teach­er, feigned in­san­ity, scream­ing and foam­ing at the mouth, to get out of her teach­ing job after the Castro re­gime ordered that all stu­dents be taught Marx­ism. Ra­fael left Cuba after three weeks and nev­er went back. He told me that he re­turned to the ven­ues in the United States where he’d praised Castro and apo­lo­gized. (His sis­ter, So­nia, who was later tor­tured for fight­ing the Castro re­gime, joined Ra­fael in Texas in 1962, fol­lowed by their par­ents in 1966 or 1967. Ted Cruz says So­nia is as fiery as his fath­er; he af­fec­tion­ately calls her “mi tia loca“—”my crazy aunt.”)

Ra­fael gradu­ated from U.T.-Aus­tin with a bach­el­or’s in math in 1961. When his stu­dent visa ex­pired, he was gran­ted polit­ic­al asylum in the United States. He worked on soft­ware for the pet­ro­leum in­dustry at IBM and at a con­sult­ing firm. He took a job in New Or­leans, which is where he met Elean­or Dar­ragh, who grew up in a blue-col­lar, Ir­ish-Itali­an fam­ily in Delaware. The first in her fam­ily to go to col­lege, Elean­or stud­ied math at Rice Uni­versity and was one of a few wo­men in the bur­geon­ing field of com­puter pro­gram­ming. She and Ra­fael mar­ried in 1969. Ted Cruz once told a crowd that his moth­er re­fused to learn typ­ing, a com­mon pro­fes­sion for wo­men in that era, so that when male col­leagues asked her to type up notes for them, she could reply: “I would love to help you out, but I don’t know how to type. I guess you’re go­ing to have to use me as a com­puter pro­gram­mer in­stead.” The couple fol­lowed the oil in­dustry to en­ergy-rich Cal­gary, the Hou­s­ton of Canada. They star­ted their own soft­ware com­pany, R.B. Cruz and As­so­ci­ates, pro­cessing seis­mic data for small- and me­di­um-sized oil com­pan­ies so they could more quickly loc­ate new oil reser­voirs. 

Gil­lian Stew­ard, a one­time friend of the Cruzes in Cal­gary whose then-hus­band worked with Ra­fael and Elean­or, re­mem­bers the couple well. Re­served but easy to be around, Elean­or was the brains of the op­er­a­tion, while Ra­fael was the back­slap­ping sales­man who charmed pro­spect­ive cli­ents over lunch at Primo’s, the city’s lone Mex­ic­an joint. There wer­en’t a lot of Cubans in Cal­gary back then, Stew­ard says, but Ra­fael nev­er seemed ill at ease in his ad­op­ted home. (He even took Ca­na­dian cit­izen­ship.) “It didn’t seem to both­er him that he was an un­usu­al type,” she told me. In Decem­ber 1970, Elean­or gave birth to her son, Ra­fael Ed­ward, at the hos­pit­al across the street from their Span­ish-style flat.

Dur­ing this time, the Cruz fam­ily began to show signs of strain. Ra­fael drank too much and stayed out late, lead­ing to con­front­a­tions with Elean­or. “I caused a lot of prob­lems in my mar­riage be­cause of my drink­ing,” he told me. In 1974, Ra­fael walked out on Elean­or and Ted, sold most of his shares in his and his wife’s busi­ness, and flew to Hou­s­ton. As Ted said at his rol­lout speech at Liberty Uni­versity, his fath­er “de­cided he didn’t want to be mar­ried any­more, and he didn’t want to be a fath­er to his three-year-old son.” (I spoke briefly to Elean­or on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions, but the Cruz cam­paign told her not to co­oper­ate for this story, des­pite her want­ing to be help­ful.)

Ini­tially, re­li­gion wasn’t much of a factor in the Cruz fam­ily’s life. But in Hou­s­ton, dur­ing the peri­od away from his fam­ily, a friend in the oil busi­ness took Ra­fael to a Baptist church. There, he told me, “I sur­rendered my­self to Christ.” Soon after, he re­united with his wife and son—an epis­ode that Ted casts as evid­ence of the hand of God in his life.


RA­FAEL CRUZ’S SECOND great awaken­ing took place some­time in the late 1970s—not a spir­itu­al re­birth but a polit­ic­al one. It’s a staple of his stump speech. “Some of you may re­mem­ber the Carter years,” he told a crowd in Monti­cello, Iowa. “Double-di­git un­em­ploy­ment, double-di­git in­fla­tion, double-di­git in­terest rates, lines around the block to get gas­ol­ine.” The Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion, he went on, began to “in­sti­tute policies that re­minded me of that bearded dic­tat­or I left back in Cuba.” (Iron­ic­ally, Elean­or Cruz had voted for Carter in 1976, a source of ten­sion between her and Ra­fael.)

The 1980 cam­paign, and Ron­ald Re­agan spe­cific­ally, left a deep im­print on the Cruz house­hold. The talk around the din­ner table fo­cused heav­ily on polit­ics, on why voters needed to toss out “this left­ist pro­gress­ive Jimmy Carter,” as Ra­fael puts it. He re­calls that Ted loved to sit with his par­ents and watch Re­agan speak on tele­vi­sion. Once, Ra­fael men­tioned a chance en­counter with a high school class­mate of Ted’s: “He said, ‘You know, it’s weird, when Ted was 15, 16, all he talked about was Ron­ald Re­agan.‘“

Through a cli­ent of Ra­fael’s, Ted hooked up with the Free En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, an or­gan­iz­a­tion that in­tro­duced middle and high school stu­dents to the works of con­ser­vat­ive and liber­tari­an thinkers like Adam Smith, Lud­wig Von Mises, Milton Fried­man, and John Locke. With the help of Rolland Storey, a re­tired oil ex­ec­ut­ive who foun­ded the in­sti­tute, Ted and four oth­er star pu­pils formed a group called the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Cor­rob­or­at­ors—for which they mem­or­ized all 4,543 words of the Con­sti­tu­tion us­ing mne­mon­ic devices and traveled throughout Texas writ­ing it out from memory in front of Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and af­ter­ward giv­ing speeches ex­tolling the vir­tues of free mar­kets.

Ted, Ra­fael re­calls, got a sig­ni­fic­ant schol­ar­ship from Prin­ceton and picked up odd jobs as a cam­era­man and a stand­ard­ized-test tu­tor to pay his tu­ition. “We helped with whatever we could,” Ra­fael told me. “After a while, he ba­sic­ally said he’d just take care of it.” In­deed, as Ted’s star was rising throughout high school and col­lege, his par­ents’ life was com­ing apart. The suc­cess­ful seis­mic-data soft­ware com­pany Ra­fael and Elean­or had star­ted in the mid-1970s, Ex­plorer Seis­mic Ser­vices, went un­der a dec­ade later, after the price of oil plummeted. “We star­ted los­ing money, got totally cash poor, and in the end, we even lost our home,” Ra­fael says. Both he and Elean­or took com­mis­sion-based jobs selling in­sur­ance, soda ma­chines, and nu­tri­tion­al sup­ple­ments. “That’s how we sur­vived,” he re­calls. 

In May 1993, the couple sep­ar­ated, court re­cords show. Ra­fael filed for di­vorce after sev­er­al years. His di­vorce pe­ti­tion cites “dis­cord and con­flict of per­son­al­ity” without any chance of re­con­cili­ation as the reas­on for the di­vorce. The pe­ti­tion sug­gests that Ra­fael had little to his name at the time: a few thou­sand dol­lars in a bank ac­count and some fre­quent-fli­er miles but no prop­erty, no pen­sion, no car, no fur­niture.

In his stump speeches and present­a­tions, Ra­fael rarely, if ever, men­tions his di­vorce or this dif­fi­cult peri­od of his life. (Elean­or, who lives in the same apart­ment com­plex as Ted and Heidi Cruz, told me that she and Ra­fael “bur­ied the hatchet” and are now friends who get din­ner when Ra­fael is in Hou­s­ton.) In Iowa, in re­sponse to a wo­man’s ques­tion about Ted’s cit­izen­ship, I heard Ra­fael refer to Elean­or as “my wife.” After an­oth­er ap­pear­ance, when a pas­tor asked Ra­fael about his fam­ily, he ex­plained that he’d been di­vorced for 20 years. “I was trav­el­ing a lot out­side of the coun­try when Ted was in col­lege, com­ing and go­ing every few weeks,” he said. The travel des­troyed his mar­riage. The di­vorce, he told the pas­tor, “is one of those things I re­gret.”


IN A RE­CENT IN­TER­VIEW with the Chris­ti­an Broad­cast­ing Net­work, Ra­fael spoke of how he would stand over his young son, pro­claim­ing the word of God. He told him: “You know, Ted, you have been gif­ted above any man that I know. And God has destined you for great­ness.”

Hear­ing him speak today, Ra­fael re­tains the same un­flap­pable be­lief in his son’s tra­ject­ory. On the cam­paign trail, however, I nev­er saw him talk about his first fam­ily—a story that fur­ther com­plic­ates his life’s nar­rat­ive.

Pub­licly, he says little about his life dur­ing this time, nev­er men­tion­ing his first wife, Ju­lia Ann Gar­za, or the couple’s two daugh­ters, Miri­am and Rox­ana, born in 1961 and 1962, re­spect­ively. His first mar­riage was stormy, and he and Gar­za di­vorced after three years. “That was a very rough mar­riage,” he told me. “I was a sopho­more in col­lege, and I was very im­ma­ture.” (Gar­za, a col­lege pro­fess­or, died in 2013.) The couple’s two daugh­ters, Miri­am and Rox­ana, lived with their moth­er dur­ing the school year, but they spent some sum­mers with Ra­fael and Elean­or in Canada. Miri­am and Rox­ana were eight and nine years older than young Ted, but that didn’t stop Ra­fael and Elean­or from in­sist­ing that the girls drag Ted along with them when they went out to meet their friends. “When you have a 6-year-old with you, it lim­its the mis­chief you can get in­to,” Ted Cruz told me re­cently.

When pieced to­geth­er, in­ter­views, pub­lic re­cords, court fil­ings, and oth­er clues point to two very dif­fer­ent paths in life for Ra­fael’s first two chil­dren. Rox­ana, the young­est, was smart, an over­achiev­er. Blurbs in loc­al news­pa­pers noted that she had won a schol­ar­ship to join a sci­entif­ic tour of the Galapa­gos Is­lands run by the Uni­versity of Flor­ida and was va­le­dictori­an of her high school class. She stud­ied mi­cro­bi­o­logy in col­lege and trained in Mex­ico at the Uni­versity of Monter­rey’s med­ic­al school and at New York Med­ic­al Col­lege. A re­gistered Demo­crat, Rox­ana works as an in­tern­ist in the Dal­las area. She and her hus­band didn’t re­spond to in­ter­view re­quests. I vis­ited their home out­side Dal­las, but her hus­band said they wer­en’t talk­ing to re­port­ers and told me to leave. When I men­tioned Rox­ana’s Demo­crat­ic af­fil­i­ation to Ted Cruz, he replied curtly: “Her polit­ics and mine have al­ways been quite dif­fer­ent.” It was by far the shortest an­swer of our 20-minute con­ver­sa­tion.

By con­trast, Ra­fael’s eld­est daugh­ter, Miri­am, lived what Ted Cruz de­scribed to me as “a troubled jour­ney” and “a dif­fi­cult path.” In Septem­ber 1984, she mar­ried Larry Mayko­pet in Hou­s­ton, giv­ing birth to a son, Joseph Mayko­pet, four months later. The fam­ily later moved to Pennsylvania, but the mar­riage didn’t last. Miri­am filed for di­vorce in 1990. Court re­cords show that Larry spent time in a min­im­um-se­cur­ity pris­on in Illinois in the mid-1990s.

Miri­am her­self had re­peated run-ins with the law. She was ar­res­ted and charged with nu­mer­ous minor crimes, in­clud­ing re­tail theft, con­spir­acy to sell stolen goods, re­ceiv­ing stolen prop­erty, dis­orderly con­duct for fight­ing, pub­lic in­tox­ic­a­tion, and mak­ing a false re­port to law en­force­ment. She was rep­res­en­ted mostly by pub­lic de­fend­ers, and the courts filed mul­tiple judg­ments against her over a 10-year span for fail­ing to pay fines, costs, and resti­tu­tion res­ult­ing from her vari­ous charges. She struggled to pay rent, and the IRS served her with a fed­er­al tax li­en in March 2007 for al­most $11,000.

In May 2011, Miri­am died from an ac­ci­dent­al over­dose of pre­scrip­tion drugs, med­ic­a­tion pre­scribed to her for anxi­ety and severe back pain. At the time of her death, she was fa­cing tri­al for mul­tiple pending civil charges. “She struggled her whole life with al­co­hol and drug ad­dic­tion,” Ted told me. “She made a lot of poor de­cisions that made her life much, much more dif­fi­cult.”

Her son, Joe, who turned 30 in Janu­ary, told a re­port­er for Mc­Clatchy news­pa­pers that he had been “close” with his Uncle Ted grow­ing up and de­scribed their re­la­tion­ship as “a nor­mal uncle/neph­ew re­la­tion­ship.” He said, “My uncle has prob­ably been one of the big­ger male fig­ures in my life.” (I tried to reach Mayko­pet, but his phone num­ber was dis­con­nec­ted.) When I asked about Miri­am, Ra­fael re­layed the par­tic­u­lars of her troubled life but did little re­flect­ing. “That’s life,” was the most he would ven­ture. 


RA­FAEL CRUZ COULDN’T have chosen a more fit­ting com­ing-out mo­ment. It was April 15, 2009. At the time, he was a nobody in Texas polit­ics; Ted was only slightly bet­ter known, as the state’s former so­li­cit­or gen­er­al and a tal­en­ted law­yer who’d been giv­ing talks to young con­ser­vat­ives groups while mak­ing noises about get­ting in­to polit­ics. But through a grass­roots act­iv­ist named Ken Emanuel­son, Ra­fael scored an in­vit­a­tion to speak at the first ma­jor TEA Party rally—back when “TEA” stood for “Taxed Enough Already”—on the front steps of Dal­las City Hall. No one knew what to ex­pect, and Ra­fael was told to get up there and tell his life story. That would be enough. 

As it turned out, thou­sands of people showed up. And Ra­fael brought down the house with his story of es­cap­ing Cuba—he elided the fact that it was Batista, not Castro, he had ini­tially fled from—and be­com­ing a de­votee of Ron­ald Re­agan. “We can do it again,” he pro­claimed. “We are not go­ing to cower down and suc­cumb to so­cial­ism.” The crowd ate up every word.

In the com­ing years, Ra­fael’s stature among Texas con­ser­vat­ives grew as he be­came the go-to spokes­man for his son’s 2012 Sen­ate cam­paign against heav­ily favored Lt. Gov. Dav­id Dewhurst. Look­ing back, it al­most seems that the nearly sim­ul­tan­eous rise of Ted and Ra­fael in Texas con­ser­vat­ive circles was sym­bi­ot­ic. For Ted, hav­ing a dad who was a tea-party star proved quite con­veni­ent. After all, in a primary to be de­cided by the red­dest of Re­pub­lic­an voters in Texas, Ted—who claimed just 2 per­cent sup­port in early polls—did not ne­ces­sar­ily have an ideal bio­graphy. Two Ivy League de­grees, a Su­preme Court clerk­ship, a lead role in writ­ing a de­cidedly mod­er­ate im­mig­ra­tion plat­form for George W. Bush’s 2000 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, jobs in Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, a wife em­ployed by Gold­man Sachs: His bio screamed es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­an.

Ra­fael first stepped in to speak at an event in West Texas that his son couldn’t make, and he was a hit. “A few hours later,” Ted told Na­tion­al Re­view, “I called and asked how it went. He said, ‘Even sur­rog­ates for the oth­er can­did­ates were ask­ing for Cruz yard signs.‘“ Ra­fael went on to wear many hats—the hype man in­tro­du­cing his son at ral­lies, cam­paign ad­viser, body double of sorts. “Ra­fael has his own fol­low­ing,” says Steve Mu­n­is­teri, the former chair of the Re­pub­lic­an Party of Texas. “People will say, ‘We just want to come to see Ra­fael Cruz.‘“ With his fath­er’s help, Ted nar­rowly forced a run­off and went on to win the primary by 14 points. Kat­rina Pier­son, a prom­in­ent tea-party act­iv­ist and friend of Ra­fael’s who ran for Con­gress in 2014, says, “A lot of people will tell you Ra­fael’s the main reas­on they love Ted.”

Vo­lun­teers and staffers from Ted’s Sen­ate cam­paign de­scribe Ra­fael as a wise, old fath­erly fig­ure to them. “My mom was young when she had me, and I was raised by my grand­par­ents from early on, so he’s been my filler-in,” Pier­son says. “He has so much guid­ance be­cause of all the things he went through.”

As he stumped for his son statewide and con­tin­ued speak­ing after Ted’s win, the thumb­nail bio­graphy that fol­lowed Ra­fael from event to event offered few de­tails about his life out­side of polit­ics. He was the dir­ect­or of Puri­fy­ing Fire Min­is­tries, out of Car­roll­ton, Texas, north of Dal­las. He was a pro­fess­or of the Bible and theo­logy at either the Ad­vance Bible In­sti­tute or the Ad­vance In­sti­tute. And he was the pres­id­ent of a Span­ish-lan­guage Bible trans­la­tion com­pany named King­dom Trans­la­tion Ser­vices.  

Today, wherever he goes, Ra­fael is in­tro­duced as a pas­tor or a rev­er­end, either with Puri­fy­ing Fire Min­is­tries, an out­dated af­fil­i­ation, or with a more re­cently formed or­gan­iz­a­tion named Grace for Amer­ica. (Though he is nondenom­in­a­tion­al, he has been iden­ti­fied over the years with a move­ment known as Chris­ti­an Domin­ion­ism. In a 2012 ser­mon pos­ted on­line, Ra­fael preached that Chris­ti­ans are “anoin­ted” to “take domin­ion” of every as­pect of life on Earth—”so­ci­ety, edu­ca­tion, gov­ern­ment, and eco­nom­ics”—and to one day take con­trol of the gov­ern­ment and cre­ate a theo­cracy. He has also spoken about an end-time wealth trans­fer, in which God will re­dis­trib­ute the wealth of the world from non­be­liev­ers to be­liev­ers in the lead-up to Christ’s second com­ing.) I asked Ra­fael about some of his af­fil­i­ations. He told me that Puri­fy­ing Fire and Grace for Amer­ica are merely the names for his trav­el­ing preach­ing busi­ness, which is based out of his apart­ment. He was or­dained by Ral­ph Hol­land, a Chris­ti­an mis­sion­ary based in the Dal­las area; the pro­fess­or­ship, he told me, refers to a short stint teach­ing the Bible in Span­ish as part of a now-de­funct pro­gram run by Hol­land.

As for King­dom Trans­la­tion Ser­vices, it was es­tab­lished in early 2012, ac­cord­ing to county re­cords. Ra­fael told me he star­ted the com­pany to put an of­fi­cial name on the side busi­ness he’d con­duc­ted for more than two dec­ades, trans­lat­ing everything from re­li­gious doc­u­ments to leg­al con­tracts for vari­ous cli­ents. The web­site for Au­dio Bible, a Flor­ida-based com­pany, sells three of his Span­ish-lan­guage Bible re­cord­ings ran­ging from $32 to $63 in price. Ra­fael told me that today he uses King­dom Trans­la­tion Ser­vices for the “little bit” of trans­la­tion he still does for a few cli­ents.

Ra­fael does not ap­pear to have got­ten rich in his role as a preach­er, pro­fess­or, and trans­lat­or. In 2008, the IRS filed a fed­er­al tax li­en against him for more than $16,000 in de­lin­quent taxes. Ra­fael told me that he was in the middle of ne­go­ti­at­ing a pay­ment plan with the IRS when the li­en was filed and that Ted loaned him the money to pay off the li­en right away.

For the most part, Ra­fael told me, he lives on the cheap and gets by on his monthly So­cial Se­cur­ity check, with the oc­ca­sion­al hon­or­ari­um or speak­ing fee for his preach­ing gigs and the odd trans­lat­ing job. His son’s cam­paign pays his travel costs when he’s stump­ing for Ted. If he had his way, Ra­fael says, he’d be work­ing full-time for his son, an idea he once pitched to Ted. “I said, ‘I would love to work for you in the Sen­ate,‘“ Ra­fael re­calls. “He said, ‘Dad, I can­not hire you. There’s something called the anti-nepot­ism rule in the Sen­ate.’ He said, ‘I can’t hire a re­l­at­ive.‘“ How, then, did John Kennedy ap­point his broth­er, Bobby, to serve as at­tor­ney gen­er­al, Ra­fael wanted to know? “You know what Ted said? ‘That’s why we have the rule, Dad.‘“


“YOU’RE A GLUT­TON for pun­ish­ment,” Ra­fael Cruz says after see­ing me in the audi­ence and walk­ing over to shake my hand. A few weeks after trail­ing him in Iowa, I’ve re­joined his road show at the sprawl­ing Cal­vary Chapel in Fort Laud­er­dale, a 75-acre cam­pus that fea­tures a K–12 school, Chili’s-style res­taur­ant, and base­ball dia­mond. He’s here work­ing South Flor­ida’s I-95 cor­ridor for four 16-hour days of speeches, lunches, ra­dio ap­pear­ances, and pep talks. He hasn’t seen the in­side of his Dal­las condo in weeks. “I had to pack two suit­cases this time,” he says.

The set­ting is dif­fer­ent, but Cruz sticks to the two scripts I heard in Iowa. He launches in­to his “Re­claim­ing Amer­ica” present­a­tion to an audi­ence of 40 at Cal­vary Chapel, rip­ping in­to pas­tors who “hide be­hind their pul­pits” and ex­hort­ing Chris­ti­ans to rise up and vote the Demo­crats out of of­fice. Dur­ing the Q-and-A, he slams Pres­id­ent Obama’s Cuba policy (“ab­so­lutely dis­astrous”) and calls for great­er for­ti­fic­a­tion of the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der (“We can­not keep the gate open and al­low an­oth­er 9/11 to hap­pen”). The Q-and-A ends, and every­one bows their heads and closes their eyes for a par­ti­cip­at­ory group pray­er, in which one audi­ence mem­ber ac­cuses the pres­id­ent of re­pla­cing Chris­ti­an pray­er with Is­lam­ic pray­er in the White House and an­oth­er rails against “the com­mun­ist me­dia sys­tem in this coun­try.”

The next morn­ing, Cruz is the Palm Beach County Tea Party’s guest of hon­or at a loc­al lib­rary. His warm-up act is a New Zeal­ander named Tre­vor Loud­on, the au­thor of Barack Obama and the En­emies With­in (the cov­er fea­tures a ham­mer and sickle) and The En­emies With­in: Com­mun­ists, So­cial­ists and Pro­gress­ives in the U.S. Con­gress. When Loud­on re­com­mends that Ted Cruz an­nounce his pres­id­en­tial Cab­in­et now—Michele Bach­mann for Com­merce, Rand Paul for Treas­ury, Scott Walk­er for Labor, and Al­len West for De­fense, for starters—the crowd of 30 squeals with de­light.

Ra­fael, for his part, evokes Hitler’s rise to warn against churches that don’t get polit­ic­ally act­ive: “Hitler was very smart. Hitler went to the pas­tors and pat them in the back, and he said, ‘Look, you take care of their souls, I’ll take care of the rest of it.’ … The church bought it hook, line, and sinker, and as a res­ult of that, 6 mil­lion Jews were mas­sacred.” Many faith lead­ers and their wor­ship­pers are no wiser today, he con­tends: “Un­for­tu­nately, in the North­east, the Jews are Demo­crats first and Jews second. And this is what has happened to a great many in the Cath­ol­ic Church.”

Once again, it was the Ra­fael Cruz of You­Tube no­tori­ety, the Bible-thump­ing fire-breath­er who seems bound to even­tu­ally cause his son’s cam­paign ma­jor trouble. (In fact, two days later, Talk­ing Points Memo would pub­lish a three-minute clip of Cruz’s com­ment about North­east Jews, cap­tured by the Demo­crat­ic op­pos­i­tion-re­search shop Amer­ic­an Bridge.) 

The polit­ic­al per­il of such rhet­or­ic speaks for it­self, of course. And yet, after trail­ing him across two states, eight cit­ies, and ten events, I came to be­lieve that there was something more to Ra­fael Cruz than his pro­voc­at­ive sound bites. The truth was, I found a like­able side to the guy. He is grand­fath­erly, quick to make a joke, a happy war­ri­or. Un­like his son—whose de­bat­ing bril­liance and light­ning-quick reas­on­ing can make him seem al­most ro­bot­ic—Ra­fael isn’t stiff. He makes easy small talk and has one-on-one polit­ic­al skill in abund­ance. In­deed, in a state like Iowa, where so much of the caucus res­ult is de­cided via the slow work of per­suad­ing in­di­vidu­al voters, it seems pos­sible that Ra­fael’s true gift to his son might not be his abil­ity to speak to very con­ser­vat­ive audi­ences but rather the gen­er­al bon­homie he brings to the cam­paign trail.

After one of his night­time talks, he asks about my even­ing plans. Find a cheap motel, I reply, maybe grab a beer. “Re­mem­ber,” he tells me jok­ingly, “you can’t soar with the eagles in the morn­ing if you hoot with the owls at night.”

Corny? Totally. But also sort of en­dear­ing. And he was that way not just with me, a re­port­er writ­ing a pro­file of him, but with the eld­erly ladies and Obama-hat­ing tea-parti­ers and any­one else who hung around after his ap­pear­ances. On his way out of an event once, he put an arm around one of his Flor­ida chap­er­ones, a tea-parti­er named Dan­ita Kil­cul­len, and gently asked her, “Can I put you in a little suit­case and take you with me?”

The last time I see Ra­fael Cruz speak is on the far west­ern fringe of Miami, where civil­iz­a­tion ends and the Ever­glades be­gin. The ven­ue is called Ran­cho Be­ju­cal, an ex­panse of farm­land with horses, loom­ing palm trees, and an open-air thatch-roofed pa­vil­ion at the front of the prop­erty with a stage on one end and a can­tina serving beer and tra­di­tion­al Cuban fare on the oth­er. I’m late ar­riv­ing, and I can hear Cruz thun­der­ing in Span­ish through the car win­dows. It’s well over 90 de­grees, the hu­mid­ity pud­ding-thick. The crowd is al­most en­tirely Cuban. The men and wo­men sit around pic­nic tables in the pa­vil­ion’s shade, fan­ning them­selves with Styro­foam plates and Panama hats.

In the­ory, this should be friendly ter­rain for Cruz—a Cuban émigré speak­ing to a hun­dred of his fel­low Cubans. Yet the crowd is hot and rest­less, and the ap­pear­ance soon takes an un­ex­pec­ted turn. Cruz is talk­ing about light and liberty when, mid­sen­tence, a pint-sized bald man in big sunglasses bounds on­stage and rips the mi­cro­phone from Cruz’s hands.

“Your son is a fas­cist!” he yells in rap­id-fire Span­ish. “An anti-Latino! A Cruz by chance! I for­give you for giv­ing him your last name, but he doesn’t de­serve it! I hope this man’s son is nev­er pres­id­ent!”

The em­cees in­ter­vene and Cruz man­ages to say a few fi­nal words be­fore shuff­ling off­stage, re­placed by a band that hast­ily launches in­to Cuban coun­try songs. There’s an­im­os­ity from oth­ers, too; one couple gets in Cruz’s face and calls Ted an ex­trem­ist.

I catch up with Cruz and his mind­er as they’re walk­ing to the car af­ter­ward. Des­pite look­ing flustered on­stage, he is back to happy-war­ri­or mode when I ask him about the scuffle. “What I said to him is that we still have the free­dom in this coun­try to have someone dis­agree with you,” he says. “He couldn’t do that in Cuba.”

He says a few more things about free speech and the great­ness of Amer­ica and then climbs in­to a white SUV with a “Ted Cruz 2016” stick­er on the trunk. His next event is at a Baptist church an hour and a half away. If he doesn’t leave now, he’ll be late.