Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor at the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's West Side and a charter-school advocate, agrees. Of the myriad other civil-rights problems facing the country—immigration, affordable housing, poverty, income inequality—high-quality education is at the core "when you boil it all down," he told National Journal.
Hatch considers himself a Democrat. But after sitting on the board of a charter school in Chicago with Bruce Rauner, Hatch threw his support to the Republican in the Illinois gubernatorial race, which Rauner won last fall. The GOP, Hatch said, is using the issue of school choice to appeal more to communities like his.
"The Republicans in general are kind of scrambling, trying to see how they can broaden their party," he said. Minority communities should take advantage of it, he said, and shouldn't be beholden to one party.
But Hatch doesn't have confidence in Cruz as the point man for that undertaking. And he bristles at the Texas Republican's invocation of the civil-rights movement. "He's too far to the right to be a credible voice talking about civil rights in the 21st century."
Of the Republicans in the crowded 2016 field, Hatch said African-American communities wouldn't accept Cruz, an "incendiary" Republican, as the standard-bearer of something so crucial to their future. But he's been pleasantly surprised by Sen. Rand Paul's outreach to the black community. On mass incarceration, sentencing disparities and prison reform, all-too familiar roadblocks for African-Americans, Paul has been "very engaging," he said.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, too, has strived to welcome minorities into the Republican fold, announcing important steps in his exploration of a presidential run in Spanish as well as English. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida could also have an edge with minority voters, given his compelling personal background and his 2013 push for immigration reform.
To compete, Cruz has painted himself as following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr.
"One of Sen. Cruz's greatest passions and goals is to see low-income children across this nation have the same opportunity to receive a good education as all other children," Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told National Journal in an email. His mission, she said, is "not unlike that which Dr. King and many civil-rights leaders fought to achieve during the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, to secure equal opportunity for African-Americans. This is the most important effort to securing a promising future for all American children, regardless of race or ZIP code."
But no matter how much Cruz likens his mission to those of civil-rights luminaries, he'll have a tough time making the case that he's the messenger people most affected by school choice say they are looking for—regardless of the veracity of his claims.