Ted Cruz Finds, and Loses, His Martyr

Ted Cruz tweeted out a photo with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her husband following her release from jail Tuesday
Ted Cruz tweeted out a photo with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her husband following her release from jail Tuesday
Twitter @tedcruz

In late August, Ted Cruz sought to re-frame his candidacy for president. The freshman senator from Texas emerged a re-invigorated religious-right firebrand eager to wage the culture wars—less repeal-Obamacare-and-abolish-the-IRS, more end-marriage-equality-and-destroy-Planned-Parenthood.

First Cruz seized on a wave of undercover “sting” videos an anti-abortion group clandestinely shot with Planned Parenthood staffers frankly discussing the very legal process of fetal tissue donation (Cruz and others claim the videos prove the “abortion industry” profits off the selling of fetal body parts). Those videos led to numerous state and local investigations into the abortion provider, so far none of which have managed to turn up any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Nonetheless, Cruz announced he’d wage a 50-state war to completely de-fund the women’s health care and abortion provider.

Then Cruz issued a fancy new campaign video to stand up for folks who have faced “religious persecution” because of their opposition to LGBT rights. Virtually all of the stories he presented were flawed or, at best, an incomplete recounting. Like the Air Force master sergeant claiming he was “relieved of duty for expressing a traditional view of marriage”—a man who, in reality, was disciplined for disobeying a direct order to tell one of his sergeants to stop spewing anti-gay hate while training cadets.

Then Kim Davis emerged. In a self-righteous stunt that has galvanized the Evangelical base Cruz is so desperately fighting for, Davis decided she would rather go to jail for violating a judge’s order than allow for same-sex marriages to occur in Rowan County, Kentucky. Her story was perfect for Cruz’s new presidential stump speech—a woman willing to go to jail for her Christian beliefs. On Tuesday, the day the U.S. Congress kicked back into session, Cruz instead of heading to Washington traveled to Rowan County to visit the martyr behind bars.

Or at least he’d planned on visiting Davis in lockup. Instead, a federal judge freed Davis yesterday, and while Cruz exited the jail with Davis, she was flanked by another GOP presidential contender, Mike Huckabee. That's when Cruz reportedly got boxed out of the political money shot.

As the New York Times reports, a Huckabee aide literally “blocked the path of the senator, who appeared incredulous” as the crew was walking out of the jailhouse. It was Huckabee, not Cruz, who clasped hands with Davis as she took to the stage with “Eye of the Tiger” blaring over the speakers. Cruz instead got this consolation prize:  

Davis is really no less problematic than the other religious martyrs Cruz has been profiling in his campaign for president. Davis wasn’t jailed because of her opposition to gay marriage, but instead because she refused a judge’s order to carry out her critically important, publicly-elected job: to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible citizens in Rowan County, Kentucky. After June’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming marriage equality, "all legally eligible couples" now includes same-sex couples, whether Davis or others elected to public office like that or not. 

Davis, like clerks across the country who have objected to LGBT equality, wasn’t necessarily required to issue the licenses herself, nor to force deputy clerks who harbor the same religious objections to same-sex couples to do so. But somebody in her office had to. Ultimately a judge ultimately held Davis in contempt of court for violating an order that she allow her office to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Of course, Cruz may yet get another chance to stand next to Davis as she exits a jail cell. On Tuesday, Federal District Court Judge David L. Bunning released the clerk with one caveat—that her office fulfills “its obligation to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.” Otherwise, she could end up back in jail.

“[S]he’s not going to violate her conscience,” Davis’s lawyer told CNN. So maybe Cruz will get that photo after all.

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