I’m as amazed and entertained as anyone by the gaudy clown car that the Republican Party has become in this election cycle, careening madly between farce and fiasco on its way to this summer’s big-top circus in Cleveland. Jeb Bush kicked to the curb, Marco Rubio stuck on repeat, Trump reassuring us of the size of his schwantz, declaring himself shocked – shocked!—to find that a primary system brought to us by the same people who made voter suppression a moral cause is “rigged”; Ted Cruz revealing that because he apparently lets his very young daughters go into public restrooms alone, he doesn’t want any guys in there, especially ones who believe they are women; grown men dissing one another’s wives and whining that the other guy started it; and poor Kasich, like a substitute teacher in a roomful of delinquents, waving his arms and trying to get someone to pay attention to him. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
But then John Boehner, former Speaker of the House, injected a theological consideration into these riveting proceedings, calling Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.” Which finally makes the question unavoidable to the thoughtful voter: is Ted Cruz the Antichrist?
I spent several of my formative years in the company – and to some degree under the influence – of evangelical Christians, the very group of conservatives to whom Ted Cruz pitches himself most strenuously. Of the many Biblical concepts at the heart of evangelical doctrine, the idea of the Antichrist is one of the most important, both because it unites the Pentecostal belief in the end-of-times with every conservative Christian’s self-image as a member of a persecuted remnant, and because it intersects with the secular world of politics.
The story of the Antichrist that evangelical Christians distill from various sources in the New Testament (primarily the Books of John, Thessalonians, and especially Revelations) is essentially this: before the Second Coming – the ultimate endgame of Christian theology — can occur, there will rise up a powerful, charismatic figure, human in appearance but in fact the Antichrist, the alter ego of Satan, who will lead the world astray and ultimately into a conflagration (expected by most evangelicals to be nuclear and to be played out in the Middle East) that will only end when Christ returns to call his faithful home to heaven, cast down the Antichrist, and begin his eternal reign on Earth. There are variations on this story, some popularized in the Left Behind series of evangelical thriller novels, but that’s essentially it (and it’s certainly enough).
Key to this narrative is the premise that the world will not recognize the Antichrist when he appears. He will not declare himself, lest he have no followers. He will wrap himself in honorific symbols –the U.S. Constitution, say — and deceive even the faithful. He may even claim to be a Christian, and if he does, you can be sure that he will claim to be a better Christian than you and me. He will present himself as a savior. He will be aggressively militaristic, the sort of leader who wouldn’t hesitate to “make the sand glow.” He may not even know that he’s the Antichrist, which would enhance his deceptiveness considerably.
It’s a given to most evangelicals that, when he appears, the Antichrist will be a politician. How else would he gain access to the levers of power necessary to bring on the end of the world? Where else but in the bowels of godless political institutions – the U.S. Senate, say – would he hone his rhetorical skills to the requisite sliminess? In what other profession is mendacity and ruthlessness so fulsomely rewarded?
I’m going with Boehner. My nomination for Antichrist this election cycle is Ted Cruz, hands down. There’s all the vainglory, bombast, and weaseliness that one would expect in an Antichrist, combined with that one perversity no true Antichrist should lack: deeply prideful religiosity, an unctuous sanctimony that requires his constant, gratuitous mention of his own prayerfulness. He even looks like some 18th century cartoonist’s vision of the Antichrist, all squint-eyed and pock-marked and pointy-nosed. But let’s not get petty.
Given their extensive familiarity with the concept of the Antichrist, one would expect that evangelical Christians would be uniquely well-positioned to sniff out potential Antichrists when they appear. How then, if my and John Boehner’s suspicion that Ted Cruz is the Antichrist holds any water, can one explain Cruz’s popularity with evangelicals? To ask the question is to vastly underestimate the political and theological sophistication of evangelicals. If you long for the final resolution of history in the Second Coming and believe that the Antichrist must arise before that can happen, who else would you vote for?