They're both freshmen senators. They're both quickly becoming 2016 front-runners. And they both have daddy issues.
Not in the Freudian sense, of course. But in their respective political careers, Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have both had to deal with their fathers' reputations—positive or negative—rubbing off on them.
Now, Cruz is telling a more nuanced story about his relationship to his father, the Rev. Rafael Cruz; not just about Rafael's emigration from Cuba, but about his fall into alcoholism and his eventual redemption through his Christian faith. As for Paul, a recent New Yorker profile cast even more of a spotlight on his tight-knit, sometimes-fraught relationship with his father, former Rep. Ron Paul. (A spokesperson for Rand Paul declined to comment for this story.)
Sen. Ted Cruz
The Rev. Rafael Cruz is a pastor who has a direct line to evangelical voters—a line his son can tap into whenever he wants. Since his son's election to the Senate in 2012, Rafael Cruz has become not just someone to name-check on the campaign trail—he is on the campaign trail. In 2013, father and son went on the road together, talking to conservatives in Iowa. "No one else in the emerging GOP field has an ally like the charismatic elder Cruz," Roberta Costa wrote in the National Review.
"As the senator often says, his father is his hero," a spokesperson for Cruz told National Journal. "He came here with nothing, worked his way through college, and eventually started his own business before becoming a pastor. That's a classic American story to be proud of."
At the Values Voter Summit on Friday, Ted Cruz joked about his father's boisterous reputation and his portrayal in the media.
"Many of y'all have gotten to know my father, Pastor Rafael Cruz," he told the audience. "He's very, very shy, very soft-spoken, and beloved by the media." The audience roared with laughter.
+ Rafael Cruz, father of Sen. Ted Cruz (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Ted Cruz also spoke of his parents' struggles with alcoholism when they lived in Calgary, Canada, and his father's redemption after he started attending church. Cruz went on to win the Values Voter Summit's straw poll handily, for the second year in a row.
But while Christian conservatives may adore Rafael Cruz, some of his comments portray him as out of touch. Earlier this month, left-leaning news outlets skewered Rev. Cruz for telling an audience in Texas that "the average black" does not understand why they should oppose raising the minimum wage. While speaking about President Obama, he said, "I'd like to send him back to Kenya." And he suggested that same-sex marriage is a socialist ploy aimed at "the destruction of the traditional family."
That flavor of political incorrectness is as good as gold with slices of the Republican base. But younger voters and independents—who support same-sex marriage 70 percent and 59 percent, respectively—may be less receptive to Rafael Cruz's old-school values and retrograde racial politics.
So while the elder Cruz has helped stoke the flames for his son's 2016 run—which is all but a given at this point—he may be relegated to the background once his son needs to start courting national appeal. Either that, or the younger Cruz will fully embrace his role as the Rick Santorum of the 2016 Republican primaries—win the Iowa caucuses, lose the nomination.
Sen. Rand Paul
Rand Paul, meanwhile, is no stranger to paternal dissonance. As Ryan Lizza expertly chronicles, the younger Paul has gotten some heartburn from being constantly tied to his father and his associates.
"It's one thing to go back and interview my college professor or groups that I actually was with," an agitated Paul told Lizza. "But I was never associated with any of these people. Ever. Only through being related to my dad, who had association with them."
Still and all, the comparisons are merited. Both father and son majored in biology. Both went to Duke Medical School. Ron Paul was the best man at his son's wedding. Both have called to audit the Federal Reserve, and both have voiced suspicion of the shadowy Bilderberg Group. And—at least at first—both believed that private businesses should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, that bigotry is one cost of a free society. Even their voices have the same raspy pitch, though the younger Paul has learned to temper that with the almost bored-sounding calmness of a college professor.
But unlike his father, Rand Paul is better at knowing when to censor himself. The same could be said of Cruz and his father. Rand Paul has all the political savvy that his father lacked. He built his own political career on his father's name recognition—and the ardent band of libertarian fanboys who came with it. "I had some notoriety, but not much. My dad had a lot," he told Lizza.
Making matters worse for his son, Ron Paul refuses to stop espousing those "crackpot theories," as former John McCain chief of staff Mark Salter has called them. In July, Ron Paul cast doubt on the idea that pro-Russian rebels shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, writing that "Western politicians and media joined together to gain the maximum propaganda value from the disaster." And on Monday, he drew parallels between Scotland's secession vote and Americans who have called for secession.
"Americans who embrace secession are acting in a grand American tradition," he wrote. "It is no coincidence that the transformation of America from a limited republic to a monolithic welfare-warfare state coincided with the discrediting of secession as an appropriate response to excessive government."
This is the key difference between father and son—a willingness to tamp down your true beliefs for the sake of the political win, the greater good.
"Ron was always content to tell the truth as best he understood it, and he saw that as the point of his politics," Jesse Benton, an aide to both Ron and Rand Paul, told Lizza. "Rand is the guy who is committed to winning."
The senior Paul's failed presidential campaigns alone weren't enough to put his son in that position to succeed. That name recognition alone does not guarantee political success—George Romney, anyone? The essential reason for Rand Paul's stardom—which helped get him donors, which helped get him voters, which helped him win a statewide election on his first try—was that his father helped spark a philosophical revolution within his party. Without the libertarian wing of the tea-party movement, Rand Paul would still be just an ophthalmologist in Bowling Green.
So, ironically, Paul owes his political career to his father, yet his father also poses one of the biggest threats to the continuation of that career. Ron Paul, who is 79, may have once been the philosopher-king of libertarians, but today, he's an old man with a very active blog.