Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a freshman senator and a Harvard educated lawyer, is one of the smoothest speakers among GOP presidential contenders – so if he missed any conservative talking points in his roughly half hour speech formally launching his long-shot campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, it was hard to tell.
Before a youthful, boisterous audience at Liberty University, the private Christian college in Virginia,
Cruz delivered a speech carefully tailored to his party’s Christian social conservatives and sharply focused on what he calls the sins of the Obama administration.
On the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, the 44-year-old Cruz vowed to repeal “every word” of President Obama’s signature health care law. He also promised to simplify the federal tax code so that everyone can file tax returns on a post card; abolish the IRS; finally secure the U.S. border with Mexico; and block Obama’s “unconstitutional executive amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
Cruz also said he opposed abortions at all cost; would wipe out the Common Code education standards; would “uphold the sacrament of marriage”; and would guard religious freedom from government intrusion.
Cruz gave his conservative audience plenty of red meat by attacking Obama’s domestic and foreign policies. At times Cruz offered a description of the economy that doesn’t square with the realities of an economic recovery that has created millions of jobs, lowered the deficit, provided health insurance to millions and bolstered the stock market.
“Imagine instead of economic stagnation, booming economic growth,” Cruz said. “Instead of small businesses going out of business in record numbers, imagine small businesses growing and prospering. Imagine young people coming out of school with four, five, six jobs offers.”
“Imagine innovation thriving on the Internet and government regulators and tax collectors kept at bay, and more and more opportunity is created,” he said. “Imagine America finally becoming energy self-sufficient as millions and millions of high paid jobs are created.”
In short, Cruz made clear his plan is to run against Obama’s record. He mentioned none of his fellow Republicans, nor did he bring up Hillary Clinton, who is seen as the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination. To be fair, Cruz is the first candidate of either party to officially declare his candidacy, but the focus on Obama appears to be his likely strategy.
With so much attention being paid to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Cruz chose to announce now that he was running for president –- without bothering to form a preliminary exploratory campaign. That may help catapult him into the top ranks of the large GOP presidential field. The Houston Chronicle and other publications say Cruz is aiming to raise $40 million to $50 million for 2016.
The 44-year-old Cruz trails Bush and Walker in the polls, with little more than 4 percent of GOP voters compared to about 16 percent each for Bush and Walker, according to cumulative polling averages compiled by Real Clear Politics. If Cruz manages to gain his party’s nomination, he’ll have started with weaker prior-year poll numbers than anyone since former President Bill Clinton, The Washington Post notes.
Cruz has aggressively courted evangelicals and other social conservatives to build a grassroots operation and compete for that vital faction of the GOP electorate with some of his potential rivals – including Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Sen. Rand Paul (KY), former Texas governor Rick Perry and former Sen. Rick Santorum (PA). His speech today at Liberty University, founded by fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell, was heavily laced with religious references, even as he sought to wrap himself in the historical mantle of President Ronald Reagan, who “with the grace of God” transformed the U.S. economy after years of stagflation and high unemployment.
“I believe God isn’t done with America yet,” Cruz said. “I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is why today I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States.”
Nobody in the GOP field is better than Cruz at addressing a hardcore conservative crowd. Last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Cruz whipped a room full of conservatives into a frenzy by alternating applause lines about Tea Party priorities with a catalogue of conservative grievances with President Obama.
He faced another packed house Monday, this time made up largely of Liberty University students, who tend of be evangelical Protestants with strongly conservative political views. (As The New York Times has noted, their presence at the event was mandatory under school rules.)
The fiery Texan did not disappoint.
“It is time for truth, it is a time for liberty, it is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “I am honored to stand with each and every one of you courageous conservatives as we come together to reclaim the promise of America, to reclaim the mandate, the hope and opportunity, for our children and our children’s children. We stand together for liberty.”
He delivered the punchy applause line in just the right tone, and when he complained about policies like Obamacare, he paused just enough to let his audience’s outrage take root before piling the list of outrages just a little higher.
The fact that he chose Liberty University for today’s event raises some questions about just how well Cruz’s act will play on a broader stage. Presidential candidates customarily (though not exclusively) make their announcements in their home states. Cruz could have chosen a Texas venue – even one of the many Christian colleges there.
Instead, he opted for Liberty – where a good reception was virtually guaranteed for Cruz at the school, where the administration’s control over the student body’s behavior is the stuff of legend.
As he moves forward in his campaign, Cruz will have to venture beyond the secure environment of CPAC and Liberty, and when he does, he’ll only get so far playing to the hardest of the hard-right. The same rhetoric that gets those crowds on their feet isn’t likely to play as well with the more business-oriented wing of the party.
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