The crowd, wearing Cruz stickers and waving signs, erupts with cheers. They obviously do not like Hillary. They don’t like Trump either as Beck zigzags back to the GOP frontrunner, saying that because of him America is on the verge of losing its goodness. He talks about Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka how the constitution is our golden ticket. He’s losing me, kinda like when your date starts talking about their ex.
It’s Saturday night and there are two men in my life: Ted Cruz and Glenn Beck.
This is a first date with Cruz; a second one with Beck. The last time I saw Beck was in 2010 on a windy February day in Tulsa, Okla., with Sarah Palin. They were headlining a huge “Taking Back Our Country” rally in an arena with country singer Gretchen Wilson singing Heart’s “Barracuda” to Sarah Palin. It was never clear what Beck and Palin wanted to take the country back from but they possessed a share mission.
Oh, how times change.
Now Palin is MIA after endorsing Donald J. Trump for president before the Iowa caucus, and Beck is aligned with Cruz, one of Trump’s biggest GOP rivals.
Sitting at the press table in a ballroom at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Little Rock, my dates are late. But there’s plenty of entertainment to fill the ticking minutes. I meet a conspiracy theorist who is on the campaign trail working for a popular news network. He believes that Trump is a plant by the Clintons to allow Hillary to sweep the White House. He also believes President Barack Obama is gay and Michelle Obama is transgender. Google it, he says.
I will, I say.
Then another man approaches me and asks if I’m a journalist. Yep, I am. He, too, has a long-winded conspiracy theory about a corrupt judge in the state and tells me in no uncertain terms that he has connections to the KKK in south Arkansas.
I mean, really is there a better way to spend a Saturday night?
As country music plays, Cruz’s press goddess, Alice Stewart, appears. Stewart knows the local media because she used to work in Little Rock television and she also worked for presidential candidate former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. She tells us that the room is nearly packed to capacity and the fire marshal is checking to see if more people can enter. These GOP candidates sure do keep the fire marshals busy with their packed arenas and ballrooms.
But it’s all okay apparently because suddenly a new wave of people enter the ballroom. It’s 7:57 and my dates are nearly an hour late.
Never fear, an emcee appears suddenly telling the crowd we are living in perilous times. There’s hope but not that false hope and change that has plagued us during the Obama years. Before anyone has time to digest his words, a man named Robert Smith appears. It’s not, however, the Robert Smith from The Cure. Of course, I’m probably the only person in the room of 1,000 people thinking about a British 1980s Goth band.
No, this Robert Smith is an African-American pastor who delivers the evening’s invocation. As he prays, many in the crowd say “Yes”, “Thank You,” “God help us” and “Yes, Lord.” The minister says, “Arkansas wake up before Tuesday.” Amens and cheers follow.
Then so does the Pledge of Alliance led by a state senator and “The National Anthem” sung by a “dedicated patriot” to the Cruz cause. The entire crowd sings along with the woman and continue to do so as she belts “God Bless America.” Even some reporters join in the singing.
Surely, now Beck and Cruz will appear. But no. These guys sure do know how to build up anticipation before a date. Instead, an educator against Common Core speaks followed by a man named David Barton, who runs a group called Wallbuilders. The crowd knows this man in a black cowboy hat and plaid shirt. I do not.
Quick Google search: He’s a former vice chair of the Republican Party of Texas and Christian evangelical nationalist who created Wallbuilders who promotes the view “that it is a myth that the United States Constitution insists on separation of church and state. By the time, I finish googling the guy, he is introducing a “lover of truth.”
“He’s Glenn Beck,” Barton says.
The crowd roars. Finally, my date shows at 8:15.
“It’s a hot date night,” Beck says.
Wow, he must have gotten my memo or read my tweet that showed a picture of some Cruz signs that said “Saturday night date.” Beck, dressed in a black sweater and a tan vest, wastes no time launching into a speech about the state of America in 2016 and how Bernie Sanders is right that people are angry. But he quickly reminds us that Sanders does not have the answer.
He takes a shot at Trump without mentioning him by name, simply talking about a big land developer who wants to build a casino and bribes politicians by inviting them to his wedding.
Forget Trump. The most dangerous person in America is Hillary Clinton.
“If I did what Hillary Clinton did, I’d be in jail,” Beck says. “Hillary Clinton should not be running for president. She should be in prison.”
The crowd, wearing Cruz stickers and waving signs, erupts with cheers. They obviously do not like Hillary. They don’t like Trump either as Beck zigzags back to the GOP frontrunner, saying that because of him America is on the verge of losing its goodness. He talks about Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka and how the constitution is our golden ticket. He’s losing me, kinda like when your date starts talking about his ex.
You know how guys can be. Try to have a date with two at the same time and one is going to want more attention. That’s exactly what happens as Alice tells the reporters that Cruz will take questions during Beck’s speech in 10 minutes down the hall. Forget Beck, it’s all about Cruz now.
The reporters stand in a semi-circle waiting for Cruz to appear in front of a backdrop that says “Courageous Conservative. Reigniting The Promise of America.” He makes us wait about 10 more minutes before exiting from a side door wearing brown leather cowboy boots, blue jeans, checked shirt and a blazer. Casual date night.
Cruz emerges with prepared remarks that I’ve heard a hundred times on television. He says that he has tremendous support in Arkansas, that the state is critically important for Super Tuesday, that Trump is not the best candidate to go head to head with Hillary. Please, tell me something I don’t know.
But he doesn’t. He just keeps staring at me every so often as if he knows me from somewhere. It is a strange thing especially since I haven’t opened my mouth. I don’t even have a question for Cruz. Other reporters ask about tax returns. I just wonder why he keeps looking at me oddly. And no, I wasn’t wearing my trademark beret.
“We cannot have President Hillary Clinton,” he says.
I’m getting that memo quite clearly by now.
In and out, Cruz is fast with the questions. Reporters return to the press table in the other room, and by the time we get settled, my first date is gone and Cruz is on the stage giving the same stump he has given for weeks on end. Flat tax. Abolish the IRS. Working people are getting left behind. Immigration. He says the Democrats have a new term for illegal immigrants “undocumented Democrats.” As Cruz ramps up the fear factor about liberal justices on the Supreme Court and the desperate need to abolish Obamacare, one man in the back of the room keeps saying “Lord help us. God help us.”
My date starts to bore me. Then he issues a challenge. He says pray and mentions 2 Chronicles in the Bible. He tells a story about how in January 1981 when Ronald Reagan took the oath of office, his left hand was on 2 Chronicles 7:14. But the mainstream media, he says, will never report this. That Bible verse states: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Hey, Senator Cruz, I take your challenge and I look up that scripture that you quote. I also read where Reagan took the oath using his mother’s Bible. So don’t say that mainstream media doesn’t read or write about religious passages.
Here’s one for you: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Sometimes I get feisty on Saturday night.
Oh, and thanks for the action-packed night. Let me know when you come back to town.
Suzi Parker, TBS’ cultural writer, is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Echo Ellis: Adventures of a Girl Reporter,” “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, The Daily Beast and numerous other publications. She is also a contributor to the Amazon.com bestseller, Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox (She Writes Press) Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.