Do you remember who the first Republican to enter the 2016 presidential race was? It wasn't all that long ago, but 15 GOP candidates later, it seems like a bit of a distant memory. It was, in fact, far-right Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. And on Tuesday, Cruz rolled out a nearly four-minute campaign spot that pushed familiar themes for his candidacy: religious freedom and opposition to same-sex marriage. In the video, Ted Cruz says he's inspired by an anti-gay couple for refusing to rent out their venue for a gay wedding.
Cruz characterized this as the couple standing up for their religious freedom. It's a pretty surprising strategy in the year 2015, with gay rights increasing enjoying broad levels of support with the American public. Back in May, Gallup's tracking poll showed 60 percent of Americans approving of marriage equality, the highest figure ever.
It makes a bit more sense when you consider the type of voters Cruz is likely to court, obviously. He's a hard-charging proponent of faith in politics, with his very first campaign ad referring to "the transformative power of Jesus Christ." But all the same, you open yourself up to a lot of criticism and derision with this kind of stuff. Rick Perry's infamously anti-gay ad in 2012, titled "Strong," turned him into something of a punchline.
In Cruz's case, it's all about the religious freedom angle. And indeed, people are entitled to religious freedom under American law. But being anti-gay for religious reasons doesn't necessarily protect people from charges of bigotry, either — though Dick and Betty Odgaard of Iowa, the couple in Cruz's video, deny that they're any such thing. Betty said:
It was devastating to hear that we were bigots, we were homophobes, we were haters ... I just kept thinking, they don't know us, how than they be calling us all these horrible, horrible things when they don't know what's in our hearts. We have no hatred toward gay people.
The Odgaards are Mennonites — a Christian religious sect that's seen fissures emerge lately over the issue of same-sex marriage. Opposition to marriage equality isn't monolithic within the faith, but it's clear enough how the Odgaards feel about it. The video concludes with a plug for Cruz's "Rally for Religious Liberty," which is scheduled for August 21.
Cruz's embrace of this cause is very much in line with his wildly controversial stance on the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling. Namely, he thinks that states should just ignore it. Here's what he told NPR's Steve Inskeep after the ruling came down.
The Courts have the authority to decide cases and controversies between particular individuals. But there is no obligation on others in government to accept the Court as the final arbiter of every constitutional question. Indeed, every officer takes an oath to uphold the Constitution
That should surely be mentioned in any discussion of how Cruz views "religious freedom." His desire isn't just to protect Americans with discriminatory religious beliefs — it's also the wholesale stripping of same-sex marriage rights around the country. Whether this kind of tack will get him very far is impossible to say, but it sure seems unlikely, at the very least.
Images: Ted Cruz/YouTube (2)