America’s Most Israeli Politician

America’s Most Israeli Politician


I like Ted Cruz. Why?


Earlier this year, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was called to testify before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. Ted Cruz, a member of the committee, was there to greet him.

Cruz: Good morning, Secretary Mayorkas.

Mayorkas: Good morning.

Cruz: Is there a crisis at our southern border?

Mayorkas: There’s a very significant challenge…

Cruz: That’s a yes or no question. Is there a crisis?

Mayorkas, looking a bit like a man who’d just returned home to find his significant other mid-tryst with a paramour, tilted his head and adjusted his microphone before responding.

Mayorkas: Senator, there’s a very significant, there is a very significant challenge that we are facing.

Cruz: Yes or no. Is there a crisis?

Mayorkas: I believe I’ve addressed that question.

Cruz: So you’re refusing to answer.

It was all downhill from there. Cruz, perched over his desk like a peregrine falcon, confronted Mayorkas with a large poster featuring the testimony of Raul Ortiz, President Biden’s Chief of Border Patrol, who, last summer, answered the very same question Cruz was posing in the affirmative. The senator pushed the secretary with more barbed inquiries. Sitting erect and visibly uncomfortable, the secretary dodged each one.

Cruz: How many migrants died in 2022?

Mayorkas: Approaching our southern border?

Cruz: Yes.

Mayorkas: Precisely why we are seeking to exclude the smuggling organizations.

Cruz: Do you know the answer? Do you know how many died?

Mayorkas: I do not.

Cruz: You do not? Of course you don’t. I know how many died. 853… You don’t even know how many have died! What do you say to the Texas farmers and ranchers who find pregnant ladies dead on their property, who find toddlers dead on their property? What do you say to them?

The secretary tried to respond, but the senator cut him off again and again. Cruz asked how many criminals were able to sneak through the porous border, and how many civilians, Mexican and American alike, were hurt by the gangs that have made the border their base of operations. It went on for more than ten minutes, and when time was up, Cruz didn’t bother masking his contempt.

Cruz: Mr. Secretary, I want to say to you right now your behavior is disgraceful. And the deaths, the children assaulted, the children raped, they are at your feet. And if you had integrity, you would resign. And I will tell you, the men and women of the Border Patrol, they’ve never had a political leader undermine them. They despise you, Mr. Secretary, because you’re willing to let children be raped to follow political orders. This is a crisis. It’s a disgrace. And you won’t even admit this human tragedy is a crisis.

The committee’s chairman offered Mayorkas one minute to respond, but the secretary refused.

Mayorkas: What the senator said was revolting. I’m not going to address it.

Cruz: Your refusal to do your job is revolting.

It was like a courtroom scene by Aaron Sorkin, but the media reporting on the incident left little room for doubt as to which of the two men was the nefarious Colonel Jessup and who the valiant Lieutenant Kaffee. “Ted Cruz erupts” reported Newsweek, while the senator’s own hometown paper, the Houston Chronicle, accused him of shouting down the secretary and Salon alerted its readers that the senator was “slammed for ‘revolting’ hearing claim.”

Watching the exchange, I saw something different. Maybe it was the adversarial body language. Maybe it was the verbal throwdown, and the pleasure he seemed to take in sparring in front of the cameras. Maybe it was his anger, which felt real and profound. Whatever it was, at that moment Ted Cruz looked and sounded to me like America’s most Israeli politician.

There is, of course, the unmistakably Israeli bombast—which some find refreshing, but many others, including Republicans, find highly unlikeable, or even repellent. In 2016, when fellow Republican John Boehner called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh,” a spokesman for The Satanic Temple quickly released a statement saying that the group wanted “nothing to do” with the senator. In 2018, Cruz defeated his opponent, Beto O’Rourke, by only about 215,000 votes, the narrowest margin Texas has seen in three decades. In 2021, a New York Times profile was titled “How Ted Cruz Became the Least Sympathetic Politician in America”—a headline that turned no heads because it simply stated what many people already thought.

With the 2024 election upon us, the MAGA crowd is cheering for the second coming of its demon emperor, the Marauder of Mar-a-lago. The “intellectual right” (increasingly conflated with the “very online right”) is hailing Ron DeSantis as Trump with a better brain. Team Haley waxes poetic about civility and a return to basics. There is no competing choir of sycophants lamenting Cruz’s apparent decision to sit out presidential politics this time and focus instead on “keeping Texas red.”

But there is also a deeper level on which Cruz calls to mind political actors from the Jewish state, most recently but not only in that exchange with Mayorkas. When Trump talks about the border, his signature issue, it’s usually in hollow and inflamed propositions, saying things like Build the Wall or complaining that America is flooded by bad hombres. When DeSantis talks about the border, he sounds like he’s firing straight out of the think tank, issuing proposals like Florida’s Senate Bill 1718 that would require employers to use special software to verify the eligibility of employees and impose fines on those who fail to comply. You can argue about the efficacy of such proposals, but read it—or any other statement by DeSantis—and you won’t find much by way of moral outrage, because the Florida governor is an instrumentalist who sees nothing but problems calling out for solutions, which requires little more than his hand on the levers of power. Nor will you find much moral outrage in Trump, a man who strikes even his most ardent supporters as a cynical nihilist who may occasionally wage and win the right fights but rarely, if ever, for the right reasons.

Not so Cruz. Clashing with Mayorkas, he was not only tossing around facts and figures about the border with a debater’s—or a trial lawyer’s—command. He seemed genuinely incensed by what he viewed as a moral wrong: The laws being ignored, America’s sovereignty and security being compromised, and, most important, throngs of innocents suffering as a result of bad policies. His wasn’t the rage politicians manufacture when they’re mugging for the cameras. His was the sort of rage you see in church, or shul, or wherever good and evil are still earnestly discussed. Because Cruz’s vision of America’s future isn’t merely a set of arguments about policies and prescriptions. It’s rooted in a sense of calling from on high, the belief that the nation was divinely chosen to shine a light unto the nations, a singular and sacred mission that makes each failure feel that much more searing and urgent.

It’s easy to miss it, especially if you don’t have the benefit of being an immigrant and growing up with a radically different political framework, but Ted Cruz is practicing a different kind of politics, and—like it or hate it—it’s an interesting departure from the modus vivendi that got us into this gridlock. As you might’ve noticed, political assent in America no longer conforms to old ideas about political norms, personal likability, or partisan fealty. The Roman-like Caesar who can employ personal magnetism to seduce the masses and flights of intellectual oratory to impress the elites is extinct in America. There is more room now for an Old Testament figure—the castigated believer who lives alone with his vision for years in the wilderness before it’s his time. Perhaps there is space, in other words, for a kind of politician that still strikes many Americans as weird, even annoying, but which Israelis understand and sympathize with instinctively—the covenantal kind.

Try not to laugh—but that, my friends, is Ted Cruz.

Cruz’s political faith was forged at the knee of his father, Rafael. The elder Cruz was born in Matanzas, a shore town about 50 miles east of Havana. The name means “massacre,” a testament to a 1510 rebellion involving local fishermen drowning Spanish conquistadors in the bay, and the spirit of uprising was alive and well in Cruz senior. As a teenaged boy in the late 1950s, he was militating against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. He was a follower of Fidel Castro along with Che Guevara— the future dorm room icon of the third worldist politics that Ted Cruz would spend his days skewering on Twitter, the elitist social media website to which the Senator is firmly addicted.

After a brief stint in jail, Rafael Cruz managed to obtain a student visa to study at the University of Texas. He came to America with $100 sewn into his underwear. He learned English from going to movies, which he could afford only by taking a string of dishwashing jobs. He also spoke passionately at every Rotary and Kiwanis club that would have him, convincing his new friends and neighbors to lend their ears and dollars to the Revolución. Later, he would make a point of revisiting all these same venues and apologizing, admitting that Castro’s regime was a hideous tyranny. The only way to oppose it, he now preached, was through faith and freedom, the twin pillars on which the United States of America was erected.

And not just the United States. Ted Cruz says he was kneeling in front of his TV set at the age of five when he saw the first reports of a daring raid halfway across the world: Israeli commandos had landed in Entebbe, Uganda, rescued 102 out of 106 civilians taken hostage by Palestinian and German terrorists, and eliminated all seven hijackers as well as more than 100 Ugandan soldiers assisting them before safely returning to Israel. The memory of the news bulletins he saw that day would stay with him for the rest of his life.

“To me, and this is a five-year-old looking at it, what the Entebbe raid told me about Israel was that you may take Israeli citizens hostage, and if you do, those Israelis may lose their lives, but you’re gonna die,” the senator told me as we rolled down the highway together in the back of a pick-up truck on a recent Sunday in his home state. “And to me, that was a very Texas foreign policy.”

As he grew up, Cruz maintained his passion for policy, conviction, and the ways they interact. He graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School—both times Magna Cum Laude—and took off a few clerkship positions, including with Chief justice William Rehnquist. In private practice, he was involved in preparing the case for Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and in the aftermath of the shambolic 2000 election, he helped assemble the Republican team to argue Bush v. Gore, for which he was rewarded with a handful of administration positions. In 2003, he became Texas’s Solicitor General, and made national headlines for appearing before the Supreme Court and successfully defending the constitutionality of a monument depicting the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol.

He had a similar high profile case in 2004, this time arguing against a challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, in 2012, after another stint in private practice, he ran as the Tea Party’s candidate in the Republican Party’s primaries, and won. The Washington Post called his accomplishment “the biggest upset of 2012,” and Cruz had no problem crushing his Democratic opponent in the general elections. His decade of service in the Senate won him no friends, with most of his party’s senior leaders repeatedly criticizing his language and legislative proposals alike as being beyond the pale of politics as usual, most notably his enthusiastic championing of the 2013 Federal government shutdown. He made a strong showing in his 2016 bid for president, but was bested by Trump and chose to cooperate with the president despite being the target of some of Trump’s most rank insults. In 2021, he was among the leaders of the effort to delay the electoral vote on January 6 to allow Republican lawmakers in six states more time to contest Biden’s election following allegations of voting fraud. When a pro-Trump gaggle stormed the Capitol, Cruz issued repeated condemnations, but has since emerged as a staunch voice for arguing that the FBI and the Department of Justice are applying what he called “wildly disparate standards” in handling the January 6 culprits as opposed to rioting members of Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

Ted Cruz is practicing a different kind of politics, and—like it or hate it—it’s an interesting departure from the modus vivendi that got us into this gridlock

At some point in this long and storied career, Cruz became best-known, and derided by Congressional colleagues in both parties, as an obnoxious know-it-all who believes he was chosen by God for some mission—which isn’t wrong.

“There are two nations and only two nations on earth that were formed as havens for those fleeing persecution and seeking freedom,” Cruz told me. “America and Israel. Israel’s very existence, the modern state of Israel was formed so that Jews across the globe would have a place to which they could go, to flee if need be the horrific scourge of antisemitism that has cursed history for millennia, to flee the immediate atrocity of the Holocaust. And, like Israel, America was also founded by people fleeing religious oppression, fleeing those that would not allow them to live according to their faith, according to their conscience. And we came to a new land where our nation was founded on the proposition that Jefferson famously penned: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ Those are extraordinary words. Those were revolutionary words, and only America and Israel embody that promise.”

When Cruz speaks like this, it is easy to hear his father talking. Speaking in Washington, D.C. in 2014 after being introduced by his famous son, Rafael Cruz thundered that America’s future is intertwined with its faith, and that, just like ancient Israel, it will rise or fall only if it is wise to tether its policies to its religious beliefs.

“When Judea had a righteous king or Israel had a righteous king, the whole country followed the Lord,” he said. “When Israel or Judea had a wicked king, the whole country went to idolatry. As the government went, so went the people… I think we cannot separate politics and religion; they are interrelated. They’ve always been interrelated.”

It’s a worldview that clarifies the bitter acrimony between Cruz, his colleagues, and his opponents. Instrumentalist conservative politicians who believe they can be crafty and cold-blooded enough to transform or outmaneuver Washington politics—a gelatinous blob where federal bureaucrats, tech companies, corporate and industry lobbies, and other interested parties melt into each other for the benefit of the few and the frustration of the many—usually don’t last for very long or make much of an impression. A Republican who wants not only to win elections but also to positively transform American politics, Cruz believes, needs to be covenantal—the way Reagan was.

Just what does Cruz mean by covenantal, a term that ordinarily has no concrete political meaning? The concept, like all deeply held beliefs, is intricate, but it comes back to the idea that a nation might–or could–or does–exist in a covenantal relationship with God, an idea that he also applies to the United States. If you believe, like woke progressives do, that America is steeped in the Original Sin of slavery and can only redeem itself by prostrating before the rest of the planet; or if you believe, like Curtis Yarvin, the influential blogger who is a Machiavelli for the MAGA crowd, that the only way to cure America of its ills is to erect a European-style monarchy stateside; or if the idea of a covenant between God and particular nations and peoples (and not others) strikes you as a thinly disguised form of murderous ethnic exceptionalism, you likely think of Cruz as either a hypocrite or a dangerous lunatic, and probably as some mixture of both.

But if, on the other hand, you’re not a political player but merely a normal American voter—like, say, the 4.2 million Texans who handed Cruz his reelection in 2018—Cruz’s covenantalism is a major draw, a foundational pillar of a belief system that reaffirms the Founding Fathers’ convictions and sees America as a special place. And covenants, unlike contracts, aren’t a one-and-done deal; they have to be reaffirmed every century or so, and no reaffirmation is like the other. Americans entered the covenant when they fought for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They renewed it again about 100 years later when they waged civil war so that all, and not some, may be free, and then again a century hence to finish the sacred work of civil rights. If you believe it’s time to step up and renew the covenant—not only assert a set of narrowly held ideological convictions, but once again charge America with the mighty spiritual current that shocked it into birth and kept the city on the hill illuminated, Ted Cruz promises something much more precious than winning at politics—he promises a very different politics.

Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Rechavam Ze’evi, Yitzchak Rabin—these men weren’t “politicians” in any way that corresponds with the contemporary American understanding of this term. They didn’t enter the public arena only because they were obsessed by power, nor did they have clear ideological convictions that mapped onto obvious partisan divides. These (largely secular) men had something else, though: an almost mystical belief in their country’s covenantal destiny, and an understanding of themselves as custodians of a special national mission handed down from history, or tradition, or God. Their job wasn’t just to win elections, as they saw it, but to implement a vision determined by a higher authority—meaning if they had to first spend decades as figures of ridicule and hatred before achieving their goal, that was just fine. Begin, leader of the hard-core Irgun and enemy of David Ben-Gurion, emerged after decades in opposition to lead the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt and Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. Rabin, forced to resign in disgrace in 1977 after he was implicated in a personal financial scandal, emerged 15 years later as the unlikely herald of talks with the Palestinians that came closer than any before or since to establishing peace. Sharon, also forced to resign in disgrace in 1983 after he was implicated in Begin’s disastrous Lebanon war, emerged 18 years later as the unlikely leader of the Israeli withdrawal and disengagement from Gaza.


These unlikely turns of history can easily strike an observer as the work of some higher power, which is precisely what Cruz believes about much of American history. “I do believe God’s providential hand has been on America from our founding,” he told me. “Just look at the extraordinary assemblage of geniuses who came together in America’s founding to author our Constitution and lead our government.”

This worldview, he told me as we were making our way to church on a Sunday morning, is why he views Israel as a religious question. And he believes, he added, that his Democratic opponents do, too.

“It’s a morality play,” he says, of the current Administration’s policy approaches to the Jewish State. “They live in the war of good guys and bad guys in their world. And it’s bizarro land. The good guys are the people who hate America. The bad guys are the people who like America. When the radical left looks at Israel, they see the Iranian as good guys and the Israelis as bad guys and all of their policy decisions flow from that worldview. What do they want to see? They want to see a Palestinian Jerusalem. What do they want to see? They want to see Israel cease to be a Jewish state because its existence as a Jewish state is noxious to them.”

“Mind you,” he continues, “they don’t care about the human rights abuses of Iran. They don’t care about the human rights abuses of China. They don’t care about the human rights abuses of Russia. But Israel, the only Jewish state on the face of the planet? That is worthy of American taxpayers paying to fund racist NGOs to try to undermine it.”

On at least one occasion, Cruz watched giddily as these conflicting worldviews were embodied on the steps of the Knesset. In 2014, a year after assuming office, he traveled to Israel and was scheduled to spend time with then prime minister Bibi Netanyahu. The day before the meeting, Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, called to say that he would like to join the meeting. Cruz refused. The trip, he said, was a private one, and the meeting was a private meeting, and the ambassador wasn’t invited. Shapiro threatened to pull security; Cruz laughed and said he could hire his own private guards, and, besides, that he didn’t believe for a moment that the Obama administration was foolish enough to risk a U.S. Senator being in a significant security incident. He was calling Shapiro’s bluff.

“We were literally bumping chests,” Cruz says, “like junior high kids. He backed out the next day.”

It’s a story that would please those on both parties who understand American politics as a contact sport, and understand Cruz as a GOP attack dog. And yet, later the same year, Cruz showed a radically different side: He had filed an amendment to restore American funding for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, and worked vigorously to secure bipartisan support.

“At that point,” he says, “Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader, made an extraordinary demand. One that I’ve never before or since seen in the Senate. Reed told me, Ted, your amendment will pass into law, but only if you pull your name off of it and make it no longer your amendment. And only if you give it to Michael Bennett, a Democrat from Colorado, who’s up for reelection, so that he can claim it’s his amendment, word for word, the amendment you drafted. If he can submit it as his amendment, we’ll pass it in the law. I’ve never before or since seen that happen in the Senate, but my objective was the substance, not worrying about who gets credit for it. So I said, great. If it’ll pass, give it to Bennett. I don’t know of another thing he’s done in the Senate, so he can pass my amendment if that’s what he wants to do. And that’s what happened.”

After church at Houston’s First Baptist, Cruz and I grab a cup of coffee and go shooting. It’s a pursuit that Cruz both enjoys and is good at, still an advantage for anyone seeking office in Texas. This is true even—or especially—after the recent law enforcement failure in the small Texas town of Uvalde, when over a dozen armed policemen waited outside a school for an hour while a lone killer methodically murdered at least 19 schoolchildren and two teachers inside.

Like Israel, Cruz’s understanding of the issue of guns is providential: The Second Amendment is part of the foundational pact that created the American people, which is the Constitution of the United States. Attempts to replace that foundational pact with ever-changing up-to-date notions of “the common good,” or to suggest that the Constitution is only a bunch of words written on paper by fallible men (including slaveholders), areprofoundly mistaken.  Where the state’s senior Senator, John Cornyn, made himself a pivotal figure in a so-called “gun control” compromise in the Senate that watered down some second amendment protections, Cruz took the opposite tack, putting forward a bill that would strengthen the ability of schools to protect students by responding forcefully to armed intruders. Which presumes, of course, the ability of responders to shoot back.

More than anything else, Saddle River, Houston’s fanciest shooting range, resembles an upscale California wine store, only instead of pinots and cabs the wares on offer are Rugers and Glocks and every form of weapon or accessory you could possibly desire. Friday is date night at the in-house Café 2A, kids are welcome, and the friendly staff emit nothing of the typical short-tempered ruggedness you usually find in establishments like these.

We walk past the display and over to the back, where golden letters announce that we’re about to enter Club Crocket. Inside are leather sofas, personalized mahogany lockers, and all the other attributes of an upscale private club. But the senator is not here to socialize; he’s here to enjoy the arsenal in the small hardback case one of his aides just carried into the shooting lane.

He asks me which I’d like to shoot first. My eyes rest on a .357 revolver, which, when fired, makes you feel, in slow-motion, every step of the bullet’s journey from drum to target. It’s the gun he’d bought his wife Heidi, the senator tells me; with no safety or additional complications, it’s a simple point-and-shoot, perfect for home defense and less experienced operators.

As I toy around with the revolver, taking pleasure in what still feels like the equivalent of putting on a vinyl record in a world increasingly dominated by hi-tech streaming music devices, the senator picks up an M4 carbine with a suppressor and a green laser sight. When you hold a semi-automatic, and you’ve watched a few action movies, you’re always tempted to just flip that switch and let it rip, channeling your inner Chuck Norris for a few seconds, shooting from the hip and grooving along with the barrel. But the senator doesn’t lose discipline; he takes his time, aims, readjusts the rifle against his shoulder, squeezes the trigger. A minute or two later, he pushes the button to retrieve the targets and inspect his efforts: Tight little batches, half an inch or so up and to the left of dead center, a neat feat of shooting.

We sweep the floor of the spent casings, and are just about ready to leave—we’ve been here for nearly an hour, and the protective gear we’re wearing is getting hot and tight. But the senator wants me to try out one more firearm: it’s his pride and joy, a 9mm made for him by the Texas-based gun maker Staccato. It’s a limited edition, with the senator’s name and the American flag engraved into the metallic surface. I’ve been shooting guns for nearly 40 years now, but when I take the Staccato I quickly realize it’s like nothing else I’ve ever fired, a smooth and flat machine that all but eliminates the annoying bits of handling handguns, like muzzle rise, and makes you feel like you’re on board the Millennium Falcon, shooting Han Solo’s blaster rather than a piece of equipment designed according to principles that remain largely unchanged for more than a century.

The analogy entertains the senator, a big sci-fi nerd whose literary diet growing up consisted largely of Tolkien, Asimov, and Heinlein. In part, it’s because his understanding of American politics remains deeply informed by the double helix of our modern American mythology, Star Wars and Star Trek. In a 2015 interview, he told a mildly hostile New York Times reporter that James Tiberius Kirk, the original captain of the Enterprise, was a Republican, while Jean-Luc Picard, his successor on Star Trek: The Next Generation, was a Democrat.

“Let me do a little psychoanalysis,” he said. “If you look at ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’ it basically split James T. Kirk into two people. Picard was Kirk’s rational side, and William Riker was his passionate side. I prefer a complete captain. To be effective, you need both heart and mind… The original ‘Star Trek’ was grittier. Kirk is working class; Picard is an aristocrat. Kirk is a passionate fighter for justice; Picard is a cerebral philosopher. The original ‘Star Trek’ pressed for racial equality, which was one of its best characteristics, but it did so without sermonizing.”

This move—weaving together contemporary politics and pop culture detritus to create a bigger theory of everything—is another Cruz specialty, which parallels and at times exceeds his embrace of religion. Last year, when Disney fired the actress Gina Carano from its hit Star Wars show The Mandalorian after she expressed conservative views on social media, the senator came to her defense.

“Texan Gina Carano broke barriers in the Star Wars universe,” Cruz tweeted. “Not a princess, not a victim, not some emotionally tortured Jedi. She played a woman who kicked ass & who girls looked up to. She was instrumental in making Star Wars fun again. Of course Disney canceled her.”

Cruz’s critics were enraged. Daisy Ridley herself, the Star Wars’ franchise latest heroine, felt compelled to jump into the political fray and warn the conservative interloper to stay in his lane and keep out of cultural fields that no longer welcome his kind. But Cruz doesn’t care. Unlike many of his colleagues on the GOP, for whom America is now starkly divided into the woke and the biased, two warring tribes, each with its brands and heroes and elected affinities, Cruz keeps saying that he believes in a shared America. He believes, too,in the possibility of coming together, and in the ability of rational, informed debate to sway opinions and perceptions.

“I tell my staff so much, they’re sick of hearing it already,” he says as we climb back into the truck and begin the long drive home to Houston. He doesn’t even have to finish the sentence. His aides in the front seat do it for him. “Hearts and minds,” they say, almost in unison, freely rolling their eyes.

“Hearts and minds,” the senator repeats, smiling. “Republicans and conservatives spend far too much time preaching to the choir, talking to the same 2.6 million people watching Fox News. We need to spend a lot more time talking to young people, to Hispanics, to African Americans, to suburban moms.”

Anyone who thinks this is all just bluster was treated to a surprising display earlier this month when Cruz came out—full-throatedly—against Uganda’s punitive anti-gay bill, calling it “horrific and wrong” and stating that “all civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse.” The statement won Cruz no favors from his detractors—MSNBC’s headline simply read “Ted Cruz Cleared the lowest bar possible for LGBTQ rights”—but Cruz wasn’t in it for the applause. When Tom Ascol, a prominent Florida pastor, challenged the senator on Twitter for calling what Ascol referred to as God’s law—citing the Old Testament prohibition on homosexual sex between two men—Cruz responded forcefully.

“Jesus told us to ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ We are talking the laws of man, not the Old Testament laws of God. Do you really believe that the US govt should execute every person who is gay??”

He was just getting started. Leviticus, he continued, also prohibited disrespecting one’s parents. “Should the govt execute every child who’s disrespectful to his parents?” he tweeted at Ascol. “That ignores Grace & the New Testament. As our Savior taught us, ‘let he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’” The exchange led to more rancor from conservatives online, who took Cruz to task for what they saw as taking the wrong side in the culture war. Figures like Lauren Witzke, who ran as the GOP’s candidate for Senate in Delaware in 2020 and remains a prominent far-right pundit, tweeted at the senator, arguing that the more people identify as LGBTQ, the higher suicide rates surge. “Get real, Ted,” she wrote. “Be a man and focus on being a father, and stay out of our way as we try to save this country.” Cruz didn’t budge.

It’s now late in the afternoon, and the senator is winding down. He is still speaking in full paragraphs as he details his efforts to stop Nord Stream 2—the massive natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that is a main source of financing for Vladimir Putin—but he’s slower now, and there’s much yet to do in the day. His oldest daughter needs to be driven to her soccer practice, and then it’s back to D.C., where his presence is required at an early morning meeting, which means missing the Sunday evening basketball game that is his chief source of relaxation.

But I’m struggling with something. The Israeli giants I’m used to back home didn’t go to fancy colleges. They didn’t send their kids to tawny schools. They took pleasure in shunning anything and anyone that smacked of elitism, which is why Ariel Sharon lived on a farm and Rechavam Ze’evi, even as minister, refused any measure of secret service protection, a decision that eventually cost him his life—he was assassinated by Palestinian terrorists outside his Jerusalem hotel room in 2001. And here was Ted Cruz, who reminded me so much of these men in so many ways, yet was also very much a recognizable member of the meritocracy. So I decide to pounce.

It’s funny, I say to him, you keep going on about how universities are centers of left-wing indoctrination, yet you wear your Princeton class ring and I know for a fact you haven’t missed a single big reunion. You’re Mr. Right-Wing Populism, but you send your kids to a progressive elite private school. Your father, who is not only your hero but also a frequent campaign surrogate, keeps saying that you didn’t go to Washington to compromise, and here you are talking about bipartisanship. If you truly believe the Democrats are so brain-washed and the left is so bad and that everything they touch, from academia to Hollywood, is irredeemably corrupt, why not blow it all up? Why not tell Princeton where to put its class rings, and start planning  for a national divorce?

“Never,” Cruz responds. Universities, he tells me, are indeed a mess, but he’d still encourage young people to get what they can out of them. Popular culture is filled with propaganda, but it should be grappled with, not abandoned. Everything will be alright in the end, not because of the mechanics of politics, but because the politics we obsess over on earth–and at which Cruz himself excels–don’t account for larger providential designs.

Can we make room for such faith in our current and grim political moment? Can we let go of our partisan zealotry long enough to start believing that America is different, and that in America—to appropriate Ben Gurion’s favorite quip about Israeli politics—being a realist means fully expecting miracles? Can we, Jews especially, hear what Ted Cruz is saying above the sound and the fury of cable news rancor?

Even though we’re parked in his driveway and he’s late for carpool duties, he leans in and delivers one more speedy sermon. “I do believe God’s providential hand has been on America from our founding,” he says. “Every time in the history of our nation when we have faced extraordinary challenges, the American people have risen to the occasion. That is based on the character of the American people. It is based on the extra ordinary values behind this nation and in its base. And I hope we will continue to enjoy God’s providential blessing.”

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.

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