There are not many people who once fought on the same side as Fidel Castro and are now heroes to American social conservatives.
But that is exactly the trajectory taken by Rafael Cruz, father of 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The elder Cruz now regrets his fight on the side of the pro-Castro rebels in his native Cuba, ascribing it to dislike of Castro’s arch-enemy, U.S.-backed President Fulgencio Batista, rather than any sympathy for Communism.
But it is his red-hot rhetoric that appalls liberal groups and enthuses social conservatives.
That, in turn, makes his son one of three GOP hopefuls this year whose relationships with their fathers bring complicated political dynamics.
While the fathers of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush both held elective office and have been in the political spotlight for years, the elder Cruz will be under national scrutiny for the first time with his son’s run for president.
Rafael excites grassroots activists, but he has provided plenty of fodder for Cruz opponents to use.
“Look, you have to look at it from Ted’s perspective,” said GOP consultant Ford O’Connell. “Rafael is someone who can really fire up the social conservatives. But [Ted Cruz’s aides] have got to say to him, ‘The campaign’s started, so when you go out, you have to keep the car between the white lines.’ ”