Bursts of applause had already interrupted Rafael Cruz repeatedly, but the loudest cheer of the night came when the Cuban-born pastor finally made the Barack Obama-Fidel Castro comparison the crowd had been waiting for.

“He acts no different than that bearded guy I left behind in Cuba,” the father of firebrand U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz told a packed tea party gathering.

Likening the president to Castro has become something of a trademark for the elder Cruz, and it’s actually one of his milder comments. The 74-year-old from suburban Dallas has in the past called for sending Obama “back to Kenya” and accused him of being an “outright Marxist” out to “destroy all concept of God.”

His son, the conservative grassroots darling and often-mentioned 2016 presidential prospect, also relishes controversy — thrusting himself into the teeth of last year’s government shutdown battle. But public officials, even combative ones, are usually wary of loose-cannon family members as too politically dangerous.

Not Cruz. His father is a highly visible face of his political operation, someone who can talk directly to his conservative base and delight them with bombshells that the senator himself can’t drop. And the father could be a key factor in his son’s political future.