MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, held a presidential campaign event here on Friday that was equal parts church sermon and political rally. The event included calls to prayer, fiery declarations about the country’s morals, and comments about the Christian credentials of one of his top rivals, businessman Donald Trump.
South Carolina’s Republican primary is on Saturday, and a significant portion of the state’s GOP voters are religious Christians. According to NPR, 65 percent of South Carolina’s Republican primary voters identify as born-again evangelical Christians.
As he wrapped up his speech, Cruz, who has said he hopes to rally born-again Christians around his presidential bid, framed his campaign as a religious “awakening.”
“If you agree with me, I want to ask every one of you to do three things: No. 1, tomorrow come out and vote in the Republican primary, and let’s stand together. But No. 2, bring others,” Cruz said, later adding. “And the last thing I want to ask each of you to do, every minute that you’re not on the phone calling friends and loved ones, spend beseeching God, praying for this country that this awakening, that this spirit of revival that is sweeping the country, that it continues, and grows, and that we awaken the body of Christ.”
Cruz was introduced at the event by Phil Robertson, one of the bearded stars of the reality TV series “Duck Dynasty.” Robertson is well known for his outspoken conservative and religious views. In 2013, A&E, the network that airs “Duck Dynasty,” briefly suspended Robertson after he criticized “homosexual behavior” and non-Christians in a magazine interview. Last month, Robertson appeared on the campaign trail with Cruz in Iowa. He also filmed a campaign ad for Cruz that aired in that state. Cruz emerged victorious in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.
Robertson, who waved a Bible as he spoke in Myrtle Beach, launched into a critique of abortion, same-sex relationships, and premarital sex. He began by railing against the separation of church and state and attempts to “get rid of God” in American law and government.
“When you start allowing men to determine what is right, what is wrong, what is good, what is evil, you let men do it and they do not vet it through this book,” Robertson began, gesturing with his Bible. “Our founding fathers warned us over, and over, and over again, what you will end up doing is saying, ‘Well, I know it sounds like it may be a violation of commandment number six, do not murder, but we’re just going to go ahead and tell these ladies of America, American women, they can kill their children.”
Robertson then turned to “perversion.” While waving a report about STDs from the Centers for Disease Control, he urged young men to “keep your sex” confined to heterosexual marriages.
“I know what God says about perversion. I mean, you know … marriage is between a man and a woman. Keep your sex right there,” Robertson said. “Here’s a report from the CDC, gentlemen. Young men, marry you a woman. Oh, dude, if she’s clean, and you’re clean, and you marry her … you keep your sex right there, you’re never going to get a debilitating disease and/or dead. It’s safe!”
Robertson ended by praising Cruz as a “staunch, Jesus Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, godly man.”
“We better get him in the White House, and we better get him in there quick!” Robertson said of Cruz.
Cruz’s Christian faith has been questioned by one of his opponents, Donald Trump, in recent days. Both men are competing for the support of the conservative base, and while Trump is the frontrunner in South Carolina, most polls show Cruz in second place. As they fight to win over religious conservatives in the state, Trump has suggested Cruz might not really be a religious Christian.
“I’ve never seen anybody that lied as much as Ted Cruz,” Trump said on Monday. “And he goes around saying he’s a Christian. I don’t know — you’re going to have to really study that.”
Trump’s Christian credentials have also been questioned, most recently by Pope Francis, who said Trump’s pledge to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico “is not Christian” in an interview earlier this week. Trump has also stumbled on several occasions while attempting to reference Scripture as he tries to woo evangelicals.
At the campaign event in Myrtle Beach, a Cruz volunteer checking in reporters joked that they “should have invited the pope” to watch the speech. After he spoke, Yahoo News asked Cruz if he thinks Trump is a “good Christian.”
“You know, that’s between him and God,” Cruz said.