The power center that Dick Armey and FreedomWorks have been aggressively building in the U.S. Senate around reigning extremist Jim DeMint will almost certainly welcome Ted Cruz in January. The Republican convention gave most Americans their first look at Cruz, who has become a Tea Party folk hero after crushing the establishment candidate, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in a bitterly contested primary.
Ted Cruz loves to portray his victory as an upwelling from the grassroots, as he did during his Tuesday night speech from the platform. “I have the honor of standing before you this evening for one reason, because thousands upon thousands of grassroots activists stood united, not for a candidate, but for the sake of restoring liberty.”
It is certainly true that his impressive come-from-behind primary victory captured the fervor of anti-government Tea Party activists as well as conservative evangelicals that Cruz has been courting for years at religious right gatherings. But it wasn’t an act of spontaneous combustion. Pouring gasoline on the prairie fire were national right-wing super PACs and Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks. Club for Growth Action dropped millions into the race on Cruz’s behalf; Jim DeMint’s Tea Party-backing Senate Conservatives Fund also kicked in with seven-figure spending. (DeMint has since cut his formal ties to the group so that it could create a super PAC.) A FreedomWorks spokesperson said after Cruz’s primary that wins by candidates like Cruz would “force Romney to the right.”
Cruz also benefitted from endorsements by an impressive roster of right-wing figures. During the primary he bragged that he was the only candidate this year supported by all four of his favorite senators: DeMint, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Pat Toomey. he Cruz campaign used video of a Palin campaign visit for its GOTV efforts. After his primary win an excited Breitbart blogger quoted Sarah Palin’s celebration on Facebook. She wrote that Cruz's victory was a win "both for Ted and for the grassroots Tea Party movement," and that the “message of this race couldn't be clearer for the political establishment: the Tea Party is alive and well and we will not settle for business as usual. Now, it's on to November!”
While the media accurately describes Cruz as a darling of the Tea Party and its corporate backers, he also had strong backing from religious-right figures. Cruz has campaigned for support at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit and the Freedom Federation’s Awakening conference, where he said “we are engaged in spiritual warfare every day.” James Dobson and David Barton are among the religious-right leaders who backed Cruz; Rick Santorum endorsed Cruz on Glenn Beck’s television show.
Cruz embodies Ralph Reed’s desire to merge the Tea Party and religious right. In his convention speech, Cruz talked about the Tea Party movement as a “Great Awakening” – a not-so-subtle shout-out to religious-right leaders who are calling for a spiritual great awakening that they believe will turn the nation back to God and its Christian roots. At Rick Santorum’s event on Wednesday afternoon, Cruz mocked media conversations about divisions between different “chunks” of Republicans, declaring the party united. “We’re all here because we believe in values and principles bigger than ourselves,” he said.