The video opens with a shot of Ted Cruz, his wife and two young children around a kitchen table for a family meal.
“OK, who wants to say grace?” Cruz, a presidential candidate, asks his wife and two daughters.
“Me, I do,” Cruz’s youngest, Catherine, says.
They each close their eyes while she quietly prays. But instead of eating, they pray again. “OK, who wants to say grace?” Cruz repeats. This time, his older daughter, Caroline, says a prayer for the food. Then, the scene opens a third time and Cruz prays.
This is no family home video.
The footage is part of what may someday become a campaign ad in support of Cruz’s presidential run. The on-screen prayers were shot by a professional film crew for commercials. The videos were quietly posted earlier this summer to a YouTube page affiliated with Cruz.
Campaigns often post videos like these as a way to navigate around campaign finance laws that restrict collusion between campaigns and outside groups because they are available in a public place. Awkward footage posted by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell during his Senate run in 2014 is likely the most famous example of the practice. And this year, Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul made footage available as part of a “contest” and encouraged supporters to use it in ads for him.
But while other campaigns have posted highly-produced clips of B-Roll, Cruz’s version is raw and largely uncut. These videos, which were first reported by BuzzFeed, show a side of the candidate rarely seen in an era when the public image of presidential hopefuls is fiercely guarded and protected by consultants.
How the videos will ultimately be used is uncertain. CNN reported in November that the well-funded super PACs supporting Cruz’s White House bid have struggled to agree to a plan for the videos.
A spokeswoman for the Cruz campaign declined to comment for this story.
Unlike other campaigns, these clips include out-takes, shots of Cruz and his wife struggling to get their children to behave and an argument between Cruz and his mother over how much private information she was comfortable sharing about her past.
“That’s too personal, Ted,” Cruz’s mother, Eleanor Darragh, says in one video interview during an interview about the family’s history. It was unclear from the video what Cruz had asked her to share. “I don’t want to tell that.”
“Well I want to tell that, and you’re the best person to tell that,” Cruz, off-screen, replies.
“There are some very personal details that I don’t want to go into,” Darragh says.
“You don’t have to go into it,” Cruz says.
When his mother begins talking, Cruz interrupts. “Look at me,” he directs. “I know it’s hard, Mom.”
“I’m not used to this at all,” she says.
In a separate interview, Heidi Cruz struggles to describe her family’s missionary work. After several takes showing her say that her “brother is presently a missionary in Haiti,” she looks directly at the camera.
“Cut,” she says. “Let’s start that again. My brother’s thing’s too much. I can’t get his gig down. He doesn’t live there.”
The videos also provide a peek into the strange world of political ad-making and how difficult it can be to get the perfect, Norman Rockwell-esque shots that end up on television screens across the country.
In nearly a dozen instances, someone off-camera repeatedly interrupts interviews with Cruz’s family members with coughing fits. In some, the coughing eruptions ruin made-for-TV moments of emotional storytelling to Cruz’s obvious chagrin.
When the film crew attempts to capture picturesque moments of the family taking a pleasant stroll through town with their daughters and a puppy, the daughters make faces and appear restless after many takes. In another, a stranger walks through the shot of what would otherwise have been a beautiful family moment.
While the videos make for an amusing blooper reel, the hours of interviews also reveal much about Cruz’s personal life and the struggles he and his family have faced since his father left Cuba for the United States in the 1950s.
The videos paint a complex portrait of a family that has had its share of hard times, but one that has consistently helped each other during bouts of struggle and heartbreak. We hear details of the time Cruz’s aunt, who had very little money at the time, lent him nearly $2,000 to pay off gambling debts he racked up during his first year in college. Cruz’s father, Rafael, talks of losing his business and his spiral into alcoholism in the 1970s that led to his departure from his young son’s life. He returned to the family after finding faith, he said. In one particularly emotional scene, Cruz talks about his half-sister, who fell into a life of substance abuse, and how he helped her young son by paying to put him in a boarding school.
The videos portray the Cruz family as a compassionate one, a message that breaks through despite the awkwardness that comes with filming a commercial for a presidential campaign.
But when you see a polished campaign ad on TV – and you certainly will with the election coming up – at least now you’ll know how the sausage gets made.