Is Ted Cruz a Phony?

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Texas Senator Ted Cruz is under fire for a stingy record of charitable donations that some think reflects poorly on his Christian values. According to Cruz’s tax returns, he gave less than 1% of his income to charity between 2006 and 2010. This has inspired a new ad from a political group called Americans United for Values, now running on radio stations throughout Iowa. The ad says that for all of Cruz’s fiery religious rhetoric, he’s nothing more than a “phony”.

“He doesn’t tithe?” a woman asks in the ad. “Isn’t he a millionaire? His wife worked for a big Wall Street bank, right?”

Tax records show that Cruz made between $347,000 and $2 million a year in the time frame under scrutiny. If those records tell the whole story, Cruz only gave $44,000 to charity during that time. That number seems particularly paltry given the Christian ideal of tithing, which encourages the faithful to give 10% of their earnings to charity.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee took advantage of the revelation to question Cruz’s commitment to his faith. “I just think it’s hard to say God is first in your life if he’s last in your budget,” Huckabee said in an interview with Buzzfeed. “If I can’t trust God with a dime out of each dollar that I earn, then I’m not sure how I can tell him that I trust him with my whole life. To me, it’s a validation of a person’s stewardship and whether they put God first in their life, not just in their political endeavors.”

This isn’t the first time Cruz’s religious authenticity has come into question. A couple of months ago, a Politico report caught him telling donors in New York that gay marriage would not be a top priority for his administration, a sentiment at odds with his campaign rhetoric.

Does any of this make a difference? Under average circumstances, probably not. But for a candidate like Cruz, who has made Christian conservatism the cornerstone of his campaign, this issue could hurt him in the Iowa caucuses. And if Cruz can’t eke out a victory there, it’s hard to see how he’ll get the momentum necessary to beat Donald Trump in subsequent primaries. If conscience voters are wary of Trump, they might be equally turned off by what some will see as hypocrisy in Cruz’s charity.

Americans are already primed to view public piety with a certain amount of skepticism. We’ve seen so many religious conservatives exposed, a cycle of disgrace most recently seen in the form of Josh Duggar. If voters begin to suspect that Cruz is merely using the Bible as a stepladder to political power, it might be game over.