2016 came to bury Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, not to praise him. But the evils men do outlive them.
"God does not work in four-year segments," explained his wife, Goldman Sachs investment manager Heidi Cruz, during a post-presidential campaign conference call with supporters. "Be full of faith and so full of joy that this team was chosen to fight a long battle. Think that slavery — it took 25 years to defeat slavery. That is a lot longer than four years."
In May, Cruz's presidential ambitions died after 11 state-level victories, 551 delegates and 7.45 million primary votes — about 27% of the Republican vote so far, compared to roughly 41% for presumptive nominee Donald Trump. Yet, as his wife so aptly explained to his financial backers, the Texas conservative is far from ceding the goal of one day sitting in the White House.
He's not alone. There's a reason Cruz, one of the most widely hated men in Washington, ended the campaign season with nearly 60% favorability ratings among Republicans, a sum of over $156 million in funding and a late-campaign push among prominent GOP donors.
Unlike other Republican contenders this year, Cruz busied himself building a large, well-funded, and well-connected conservative network. Some of these boosters and advisers will go on to play a role in the Trump campaign, while others may become future standard-bearers of the ideological conservative movement.
Cruz "put a lot of emphasis in sort of delegating the organizing to the media figures and to the leaders within those spaces," said Angelo Carusone, executive vice president of progressive media watchdog Media Matters. "People like [radio hosts] Steve Deace in Iowa and Michael Berry in Texas, Glenn Beck, these are people that one, he's pumped a fairly large amount of money into advertising his programming ... they're serving as a validator for him and they're doing their very best to convert their audiences."
Like a bad hangover, their ascent cannot be undone, and will likely linger long after the initial rush has faded.
The Prophet: Mike Bickle
When Mike Bickle endorsed Ted Cruz in January, the Cruz campaign's enthusiastic embrace of the pastor's endorsement turned some heads — in part because Bickle once suggested the Holocaust was part of God's plan to coerce Jews into converting to Christianity.
Bickle has been previously involved in the campaigns of or shared stages with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, thanks in large part to his role in running the International House of Prayer — an evangelical church based out of Kansas City, Missouri, where teams of adherents pray for 24 hours a day.
Outside the Evangelical circuit, he's best known for prophetic preaching about the millions who will die in the coming end times foretold in the book of Revelation, as well as the "demonic" influence of LGBTQ people. Bickle is also notorious for a sermon in which he said God had used "grace" to try and convert Jews to Christianity and had since switched to using "hunters," adding that a "famous hunter in recent history is a man named Adolf Hitler."
When the Cruz campaign came under fire for accepting the endorsement, it responded by defending Bickle as being committed to the future of the state of Israel. The L.A. Times' David Horsey noted the controversy as a standout moment in a campaign where Cruz championed the endorsements of "some of the Religious Right's kookiest voices."
The Right-Hand Man: Michael Berry
Michael Berry is one of the most important figures in talk radio in Houston, Texas, where he uses his platform to spread racially charged opinions on young black kids who have run-ins with the police ("jungle animals"), Islamic culture ("forced genital mutilation") and Black Lives Matter (a "pro-thug narrative"). One of the regularly occurring segments of his show is appearances from a blackface performer using the stage name Shirley Q. Liquor, whose act has been repeatedly protested as racist.
According to the Texas Observer, Berry is a "notable local figure, a three-term former city council member who ran for mayor in 2003 and has a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law." Industry publication Talkers Magazine pegged Berry as a rising star in 2013. He has been friends with Cruz for many years. The senator often appears on Berry's shows and refers to him as an old drinking buddy.
Thus Cruz's presidential ambitions have been fruitful for Berry, who hosted the Cruz campaign watch party in Texas at his "Redneck Country Club" on Super Tuesday (and remember, that's Cruz's home state).
After the demise of Cruz's presidential bid, the candidate took to Berry's show to warn his opponents "there is time for recriminations. And everyone who was responsible for the rise of Donald Trump, they will bear that responsibility going forward" and the conservative movement is "strong and thriving." Berry has also pressed the notion media bias is behind the Trump phenomenon, warning the real estate billionaire's victory will ensure a Democratic president in November.
"The more candidates tout him as important (as Cruz does regularly), the more his language becomes commonplace and becomes part of what is considered acceptable on the right," wrote Media Matters Associate Research Director Sal Colleluori in an email to Mic. "This is of extreme value to Cruz specifically, but even Trump. The more we mainstream anti-immigrant and anti-African-American language, the more their base of support is used to hearing — and sympathizing with — these extreme notions."
The Organizer: Steve Deace
Steve Deace, a nationally syndicated radio host originally based out of Iowa, boasts an audience of tens of thousands of listeners. They tune in to hear the self-declared alpha male rant about the "manginas" in charge of today's GOP, suggest that a "whole generation of women [is] on the lookout for some alpha males" and cast Republican leadership's mission as "pass Obama's agenda, lie to conservatives, defraud voters and total capitulation."
The host's biggest splash in national headlines this year was a widely mocked suggestion that former Hewlett-Packard CEO (and, ironically, future Cruz vice presidential selection) Carly Fiorina had gone "full vagina" for discussing her experiences as a female businesswoman during the race.
Yet Cruz, arbiter of the politically disastrous 2013 government shutdown, has found a natural ally in Deace, a growing voice in the all-or-nothing attitude defining modern GOP politics.
Deace's influence in Iowa helped Cruz obtain a crucial victory in the state — which plays a crucial role in shaping media perceptions of viability due to its early primary dates — by helping mobilize a small but vocal vanguard of far-right activists in conjunction with other organizers like U.S. Rep. Steve King and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. According to the Des Moines Register, Deace was a key leader of a team of 12,000 volunteers who made 25,000 calls and 2,000 home visits daily in the days leading to the vote. He has simultaneously used his prominence to land key appearances on national media, where he tones down the rhetoric to make him and Cruz seem more reasonable.
"Deace has two faces — his Republican kingmaker face, which brings the likes of Steve King and Bob Vander Plaats to Cruz and gets him MSNBC and New York Times coverage, and his extreme anti-gay, anti-women agenda, which underlines most of the extreme rhetoric he espouses on his show," wrote Colleluori. "By having a more positive, mainstream image, he's able to look like a moderate observer, giving him some Beltway appeal, while returning home and using that positive press to increase his influence."
"It's not so much that it's Cruz acting as a power broker there, but instead serving as a validator for Deace's claim he is one," added Carusone. Powerful media hosts like Deace used their ties with the campaign "to advance their own cache and appeal to their audiences and reinforce their own relevancy."
The Fundraiser: David Barton
Self-taught evangelical historian David Barton is among the country's most ardent proponents of a revisionist view of U.S. history endorsing policies like letting HIV/AIDS exterminate LGBTQ people, opposing the minimum wage on biblical grounds and banning the teaching of evolution.
The Barton theology is a dime a dozen in the modern social conservative movement. But the Christian nationalist pairs his religious views with about a decade of experience as vice chairman of the Texas GOP, an organizer and strategist for the RNC and founder of Wallbuilders, an evangelical lobbying group in Aledo, Texas.
Barton wound up in charge of Keep the Promise PAC, which Bloomberg describes as "the umbrella for a group of related pro-Cruz political committees that raised $38 million in the first half" of 2015. The organization played a key role in Cruz's fundraising operations, and its dollars helped carry Cruz through a crowded early primary. When Deace referred to the millions of dollars spent supporting Cruz this primary season, Barton was one of the figures in charge of spending it.
Carusone pointed out the Cruz role is a natural next step for Barton, who first ground his teeth organizing for libertarian pundit Glenn Beck in 2009 and 2010.
"[Beck and Barton] were intensely collaborative, and Barton was one of the pioneering members and organizers of Glenn Beck's Black Robe Regiment," wrote Carusone. "This group picked its name as an homage to the revolutionary period's black robe regiment, which was basically just a network of local pastors/preachers."
"This has provided him a significant infrastructure to tap into, which presumably he can utilize to help boost Cruz," Carusone added, later noting "there's quite a bit of synergy that can be relied on to advance Cruz's campaign, and importantly, the intense organizing that underlies his campaign and his strategy."
The Scaremongers: Frank Gaffney and Clare Lopez
On March 17, Cruz named several members of Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy, a far-right think tank, to his National Security Coalition, the group responsible for advising the candidate on high-level matters of foreign policy and national defense.
The SPLC classifies Gaffney as a "notorious Islamophobe" who believes Islamist organizations have control over U.S. policy and hosted white nationalist Jared Tyler on his radio show. Trump cited nebulous CSP reports claiming most Muslims support terrorism to justify his proposed ban on people of the Islamic faith entering the country, and the group was harshly criticized by other Republicans for promoting the idea that Clinton aide Huma Abedin has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
One of the advisers named by Cruz, CSP Vice President for Research and Analysis Clare Lopez, bills herself as an ex-CIA officer with inside information on massive infiltration of government agencies by the Muslim Brotherhood. In an interview with World Net Daily, Lopez pushed the theory that President Barack Obama only killed al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden because he "couldn't delay any longer."
In March, Lopez was a guest on South Carolina radio host Vince Coakley's show, where she told listeners "Brotherhood affiliates and associates and those connected to it are the go-to advisers, if not appointees, for the top levels of national security in our government, in this administration for sure, but going back many decades." She praised "Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who absolutely was spot-on in just about everything he said about the levels of infiltration."
Days later, Lopez appeared on Gaffney's show to tell listeners the Brotherhood was plotting with Black Lives Matter and "conglomeration of anarchists, communists, socialists, progressivists, leftists of all sorts, Occupy, Bill Ayers types" to overthrow the government. In April, she advanced the claim U.S. cities have sharia "no-go" zones where police have stopped patrolling neighborhoods for fear of Muslim extremists on a Minnesota program.
With the assistance of both leading Republican candidates, Gaffney, Lopez and the CSP came a little further out of the fringe this year.
Many members of Cruz's network have made the transition from backing Cruz to supporting Trump, such as influential evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. Vander Plaats ended 2015 with a chilly reception from Trump, who skipped one of his events, but in recent days the candidate has sought him out as a potential ally. So too has Troy Newman, a prominent anti-abortion activist sometimes linked to violence at women's health centers, who recently penned an article urging the billionaire to strike a harsher stance on abortion.
Others, like Deace, seem prepared to wait Trump out — for now.
But as Trump continues to stamp out resistance, it is likely most of Cruz's supporters will be able to find common ground with the New York magnate. And why not? Cruz and Trump are two sides of the same double-edged sword.
"The connections between far-right extremists and competitive campaigns is like nothing in recent memory," wrote Peter Montgomery, senior fellow for progressive group People for the American Way and contributor to its blog Right Wing Watch. "Ted Cruz has not only accepted, but openly celebrated, his endorsement by some of the most extreme anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-Muslim, Christian-nation advocates in the country. ... Don't forget, Trump himself was a birther. He started his campaign by vilifying immigrants from Mexico. This is not typical election-year politics."
The difference is that Cruz, the constitutional conservative, lost out to a candidate whose tone was more suited to a primary defined by anger, Montgomery continued. "So when the National Review mobilizes a bunch of conservative intellectuals and activists to make the case against Trump, it's not much of a surprise that they find themselves mocked as out-of-touch intellectual elites."
According to Matthew Feldman, a professor of fascist ideology at Teesside University, Cruz was part of a "cumulative effect" driving other candidates, including Trump, to the right.
"In most people's lifetimes there hasn't been a frontrunning candidate who has pushed so many far-right buttons as Trump, or for that matter, Ted Cruz," Feldman wrote. "But it is only Trump's campaign that has really inspired proper right wing extremists, who have found the broken taboos around race, political violence and conspiracy theory a real boon for their brand of revolutionary politics. It is the first time in more than a generation they have been able to climb out from under the political rocks in which they have been hiding."
So it's Trump's time in the sunlight. But if Trump leads the party into a disastrous rout in November, Cruz's conservative revolution, newly minted in battle, will live to fight another day. And God knows Cruz will be there, too — be happy to tell Republican voters "I told you so."
Representatives for Mike Bickle, Michael Berry, Steve Deace, David Barton and the Center for Security Policy did not respond to a request for comment on this story.