Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, in his continuing bid for the White House, appeared before an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,500 people at the Trussville Civic Center Dec. 20, vowing to fulfill a litany of conservative agenda items from increasing immigration restrictions to repealing Obamacare. His supporters also turned out in Daphne and across the Southeast, where Cruz is seen to be rapidly gaining ground.
All perceived standings at this point in the race are based on polls that are prone to fluctuations, but notably, Cruz has been ahead of his closest rival in the primary race, Donald Trump, in recent polls of likely Republican voters in the Iowa caucuses.
Before Cruz took the stage in Trussville, a local talk show host spoke briefly to the crowd a young woman sung the national anthem, and a preacher gave a brief invocation, exhorting attendees to be steadfast in their religious faith and to vote for Cruz.
Cruz emphasizes his Christianity, and that plays well in places like Iowa, where the evangelical vote is important in the Republican primary.
Also opening for Cruz was Rep. Mo Brooks, Republican from Alabama’s 5th Congressional District. By way of foreshadowing one of the major themes of Cruz’s speech, Brooks focused his remarks on immigration. He talked about a bill — which had made it through the Senate — that he and his House colleagues were able to “kill” that would have “opened the floodgates for even more foreign labor that would undermine the ability of Americans and lawful immigrants who are already here to find jobs that paid well.” Brooks specifically credited Rep. Steve King of Iowa and Senator Jeff Sessions, along with Cruz, for working with him to constitute the “core leadership fighting that legislation.”
Cruz began with warm praise for his Alabama audience. “There must be something in the water down here; the state of Alabama knows how to produce fighters,” Cruz said to loud applause. He also had warm words for Brooks and Sessions.
The candidate referred several times to the importance of the “SEC primary,” a reference to March 1, 2016 (so-called “Super Tuesday”), when Alabama and 11 other states hold their primary ballots, among them other Southern states like Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas. The primary, which derives its nickname from the athletic conference to which Alabama’s two major public universities belong, is considered one of the major “sorting” days for candidates.
Cruz’s speech was consistent with the firebrand image he has built for himself over the past several years since he arrived in the Senate. He delivers like a practiced politician, but also like a preacher, saying, “There is a spirit of revival sweeping the country … I just want to tell you today: help is on the way.” The last sentence was delivered with the gusto of a revival preacher, and this does make sense; Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz — a Cuban who fled the island after Fidel Castro came to power — is a traveling Christian preacher with a fairly high profile. In fact, the elder Cruz was in Birmingham with Glenn Beck for his “Restoring Unity” rally in late August.
Cruz’s religious appeal is a big part of his message, and it appears to be resonating with voters. One attendee, LeAnn Beverly of Crestwood, said she has made up her mind in favor of Cruz, the main reason being, “Overall, Christian values.” She also cited immigration and opposition to President Obama’s healthcare law, but she emphasized that above that, “family is the most important thing. Family values, keeping our families together, that’s the backbone of any nation. Anything or anyone who wants to destroy our country, the most effective way to do that would be to destroy the family. [Cruz] stands for Christian family values; that’s the backbone.”
She also mentioned religious freedom, and in particular, that Christianity, is “starting to be persecuted … Persecution isn’t just having your head chopped off; persecution is having your values minimized and having that of other groups — like Muslims — raised, and that’s what we’re seeing. That’s also persecution.”
Cruz is aware of the popularity of such opinions. He has openly said (on more than one occasion) that “President Obama is acting as an apologist for radical Islamic terrorism.”
“The first thing I intend to do on the first day in office is rescind every single illegal and unconstitutional executive order,” Cruz said. His words were drowned out at the end by a thunderous standing ovation, but he continued. “Another thing I intend to do on the first day in office is begin the process of moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the once and eternal capital of Israel.”
That comment, too, was met with enormous enthusiasm from the audience. Cruz acknowledged that advisors would likely come to him and warn that such a course would “make other folks in the Middle East really, really unhappy with us.” He laughed off this potential advice, to the delight of the crowd.
Cruz also drew loud applause and standing ovations for his strong criticism of Planned Parenthood and for his condemnation of the Obama administration’s recent nuclear agreement with Iran. At the end of this litany of denunciations, Cruz said, “And that’s just day one … By the end of eight years, there are going to be a whole lot of newspaper reporters and editors and journalists that check themselves into therapy,” a prediction that also was a hit with the audience.
Pledging to “repeal every word of Obamacare” and to “instruct the Department Education that Common Core ends today,” Cruz followed up with a fiery passage about immigration and securing the border. Perhaps the loudest applause for the entire speech came when he said he would “end welfare benefits for those here illegally.” That set the packed auditorium cheering and chanting “Cruz! Cruz!”
All told, Cruz spoke for about half an hour, and the crowd, which ranged in age from young teenagers (and some small children) to octogenarians, was fervently supportive of everything he put forth.
After the event, Aaron Parker of Tuscaloosa said he would vote for which ever Republican wins the primary, “but I hope it’s Cruz. He’s the best choice.” Asked what he cared about the most, Parker said, “It’s the economy, absolutely the economy. It’s the number one issue for everybody, but following that, it’s national security; I’d like to be able to go back into the military, but it’s not going to happen under this president.” Parker is a recent service veteran from the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry division of the US Army. He said he would not trust Obama as his commander-in-chief.
Parker went on to articulate a detailed plan for how he would deal with the current problems in the Middle East, and said that he prefers limited government and term limits for elected officials. “No career politicians anymore,” he said. “Maybe three or four terms, but we need to figure it out, get it done, and do it right.” When officials are not so fixated on staying in office, he said, they would be able to deal more effectively with the task of governance.
In any case, he said, Ted Cruz is the man he feels is best suited to the job of President. It remains too early to tell who will get the Republican nomination, but if Sunday’s event was anything to go by, it would appear that Cruz can likely count on a significant base of support in the so-called “SEC primary” in early March.