Why Ted Cruz’s speech at Liberty University should concern Rand Paul

Ted Cruz didn’t so much give a speech at Liberty University today as a sermon — and a darn good one, I might add. Plenty of others, I suspect, will dissect his words, but I think the political potential also serves some exploring.

First, a refresher: I’ve long contended that Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul are competing for the same turf, with Paul having the benefit of a superior infrastructure, and Cruz having the benefit of superior positioning. This is true when it comes to foreign policy, and when you compare Cruz’s speech at Liberty University today to Paul’ speech at the Liberty University Convocation last October, it’s clear that Cruz has the greater potential to inspire and motivate Christian conservatives in places like Iowa.

I watched both speeches today, and, as such, may be uniquely qualified to compare and contrast them. As previously noted, these two men are competing for the same turf — and, in that regard — both are pro-life Christians who attempted to stress this commonality with the student crowd.

Paul began his speech by noting that he, too, went to a Baptist university. Cruz did the same, adding that his wife was the daughter of missionaries, and talking about how — as solicitor general of Texas — he fought to preserve a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds.

Score one for Cruz.

Cruz also seemed more comfortable with Christian shibboleths, and with citing Scripture. “The Word tells us when two or more are gathered in His name, He will be there,” Cruz said early in his speech.

Both men sought to make the connection between religion and liberty. But whereas Paul used faith as a backdrop for a conversation about the NSA, ObamaCare, Gattaca, 1984 and eugenics, Cruz did a better job of explaining how “faith and freedom are intertwined.”

“The federal government has no business asking any Americans the content of our prayers,” Cruz said at one point, checking two boxes at once.

Cruz also demonstrated a much greater ability to tug at heartstrings — something that Paul is frankly less equipped to do. While Paul’s speech tended to focus more on a timely and important (if esoteric) discussion about privacy and liberty, Cruz preached on the “transformational power” of “Christian love,” telling a story about military chaplains on a sinking ship, who gave their life vests so that others on board could be saved.

While cynics may see some of this as Cruz pandering to the audience, his speech was also an optimistic call to action. “We are called to action — as believers, we are called to action … to stand and speak, no matter the consequences,” he said, both inspiring the audience — and seeming to ordain his brand of contentious conservatism with the imprimatur of a higher calling.

He also praised Dr. Martin Luther King for speaking out against the injustice of discrimination, citing Letter from a Birmingham Jail, as “a letter to pastors — calling them to stand for their faith and stand for justice.”

“We are called to action — and action when it is not easy. That was written in a jail cell,” Cruz said.

That speech would have killed in Sioux City.

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Note: Matt Lewis’ wife formerly served as a consultant for Cruz’s campaign.