LYNCHBURG, Virginia — Standing atop a octagon-shaped stage, Senator Ted Cruz delivered a sermon to launch his 2016 presidential campaign.
It was a raucous crowd of students and Liberty University community members that had arrived to watch the occasion, whooping and hollering and shouting agreement at strategic points.
“I want to talk to you this morning about reigniting the promise of America,” Cruz said.
“AMEN!” exclaimed someone in the first row.
It won’t be the last political speech that sounds like a televangelist special.
The Texas Republican prefers to speak without a podium in order to wander like a ringmaster and play to the crowd. As he ascended to begin his remarks, a stagehand scrambled to pull a heavy Liberty University lectern off the stage.
Cruz’s campaign launch had more the feel of a teen Saturday night Christian worship concert than, for example, the grand, formal setting of the Old State Capitol in Illinois, where Barack Obama launched his presidential campaign in 2007.
In fact, Cruz’s speech was preceded by 25 minutes of worship music—were it not for the lyrics, you might have felt like you were at a loud Jonas Brothers concert, pulsing bass and all. Attendance at convocation was mandatory for students, so Cruz was guaranteed a full house.
Cruz started with an introduction of his parents: mother who was a pioneer in computer science, and his father, who left Cuba.
The Texas senator spoke at length about how his father had abandoned his mother and him when Cruz was 3, before converting to Christianity and returning to the family.
It was every bit the core of his sermon: a tale of sin and then redemption, as fitting for the Texas senator as the delivery and intonations of televangelist Joel Osteen.
“There are people who wonder if faith is real. I can tell you in my family there is not a second of doubt. For were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would have been raised by a single mother without a father in the household,” Cruz told the crowd.
It was a fitting setting: Cruz, the Christian Baptist, launched his campaign at Liberty University which was founded in the ’70s as a Baptist college by Jerry Falwell Sr. It has has grown to become the largest evangelical Christian university in the world.
Cruz riffed on the aspirational imaginations of the crowd. Imagine a better economy, or a better education for every American child, or a government that upholds the Second Amendment, he said, gesturing. This instead of the government you have know, he added.
“Imagine a simple tax.” “Imagine a president that finally, finally, finally secures the borders.” “Imagine young people with four, five, six job offers.”
“Instead of a government that seizes your emails and your cellphones.” “Instead of a federal government that seeks to dictate school curriculum through common core.” “Instead of the joblessness, instead of the millions forced into part-time work.”
It was the cadence of a televangelist, all the way down to the mic hooked up to his ear and wrapped down the right side of his face, wandering to all eight sides of the stage to talk to different segments of the deeply Christian crowd.
“We’ve been excited about Ted Cruz for some time,” said attendee Bryce Hardy, near the front row, who said he preferred either Cruz or Kentucky Senator Rand Paul for the nomination. “They’re willing to go against the grain. They don’t appear wishy-washy. ‘This is who I am, take it or leave it.’ I like that mentality.”
Randy Marroquin, a student, and Brenda Sheets, a retired Liberty University graduate, had met in the front row of the Cruz event. They were already cheerfully filling out the Cruz cabinet: Scott Walker would be good for VP, they said, with Benghazi committee chairman Trey Gowdy as attorney general and neurosurgeon Ben Carson as head of Health and Human Services.
“I won’t support Jeb Bush,” Sheets said. “He’s for amnesty, he’s for common core.”
And at the end of his remarks Cruz called for the crowd to text his campaign so they have their contact information: text the word ‘constitution’ to 33733, the senator urged.
“God isn’t done with America yet,” Cruz said.