Cruz in Iowa: The Gentleman Warrior
by Rebekah Maxwell
To a casual observer, the Iowa GOP’s 2013 Ronald Reagan Dinner was the typical fancy dress fundraiser, for handshaking and hobnobbing with your fellow party folk. But between courses, the battle-lines were being drawn. In fact, if you listen, above the murmur of pleasantries, you hear the distinct rumbles of all-out political war. And Ted Cruz has certainly become a chief spearhead in the fray.
Before Senator Cruz even took the stage, his presence proved a lightning rod in the first-in-the-nation caucus state: both invigorating to the grassroots, who spent hard-earned hundreds on tickets to hear him, and searing to the party establishment, who publicly tried to downplay Cruz’s relevance (yet proving with their statements he’s too relevant to ignore). That tension was palpable at the event itself, as state leaders lobbed shots toward at “Washington,” but which also found targets in the same room.
The state’s party co-chair, David Fischer, introduced the evening by distinguishing conservatives from the “old guard” that calls Senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz nasty names: “I have a name for these principled leaders, too– the future.” Party Chair, A.J. Spiker told the crowd that the Establishment wing “thinks the dirtiest word you can use is ‘principles,’” praising Cruz for standing up for what’s right, even in the face of his own party’s opposition.
Senator Chuck Grassley seemed proud of his partnership with Cruz on the Obamacare fight and the ensuing shutdown, sharply calling out President Obama for targeting veterans and the vulnerable for political gain, saying the only type of person who willingly hurts others to realize their own goal is “a sadist.” Perhaps the last few months of Wacko-bird influence may have revived a spark in Grassley that nearly 40 years of Washington dealing can snuff out.
Cruz was directly introduced by Iowa’s epitome of GOP Establishment, Governor Terry Branstad, who used his vociferous speech to invoke Reagan’ 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republican,” instead aligning “we conservatives” against the threats of the liberal democrats.
Then Cruz took the stage, in his usual skilled form, after a standing ovation from the crowd. Working away from the podium, he recalled his filibuster by joking, “Twenty-one hours. That’s a long time. Almost as long as it takes to log-on to the Obamacare website.”
The speech unfolded as “a word of encouragement” to the conservative grassroots, as Cruz gave credit to their outcry for several recent victories over the Washington elites, like stopping war in Syria, Obama’s 2nd Amendment infringements, amnesty, and domestic drone practice.
Regarding the Obamacare/shutdown showdown, Cruz didn’t mince words: “We didn’t (succeed) because a significant number of Senate Republicans chose not to unite and stand side by side with House Republicans. Had we stood together I’m convinced the outcome of this fight would be very, very different. But listen, none of us ever thought that taking on the Washington establishment was going to be easy.” The present challenge of conservative leadership in a nutshell.
Although Cruz didn’t announce any future campaign plans, he did address the key to victory in the next elections: fire all the Washington strategists, and run on conservative principles. “The general wisdom is during the primary, you run to the right and in the general, you run to the left… what complete poppycock,” Cruz said. He pointed out that being “teeny-tiny, infinitesimally more to the right” than your liberal opponent gives someone no reason to vote for you…and led to big losses for the GOP in 2006, 2008, and 2012.
Instead, he advocates reviving the 2010 model of an engaged base: “For everyone who talks about wanting to win elections in 2014 — particularly an off-year, non-presidential year — nothing, nothing, nothing matters more than an energized and active and vocal grass-roots America.”
Throughout the speech, Cruz demonstrated one of his chief strengths: being “on the offense” without being offensive. His manner is not aggressive, but determined. He does not return the ad hominem insults thrown by other Republicans, but he continues to unabashedly stand up for his constituents and Constitution, thereby revealing the weakness of the status quo’s excuses. He joked at the absurdity that Republican leaders should follow advice from the New York Times about how to win…with the New York Times in the room. This type of temerity is a breath of fresh air to a base bitterly disappointed with empty promises from empty suits, who preach a one-way party unity, to their own benefit and our betrayal.
Cruz also invoked unity, but as a product of shared ideals, rather than a replacement for them: “…Growth and freedom are ideas that unify Republicans,” he said. “They are principles and ideals that unify the evangelical community, the liberty movement, and the business community. Growth and freedom are principles that bring together Main Street and the Tea Party.”
Freedom’s not a tough sell. Growth shouldn’t be either…but in a culture reeling from the burden of statism, yet trapped by our dependence thereon, leaders like Cruz will have to do a very good job of outlining what “growth” means and what good it will do the average working voter. It probably means something much different to a struggling business owner than to her 23 struggling employees. “Growth,” meaning increased production, innovation, and income is a big part of the country’s answer, but is not the answer in full. What good is corporate growth if my government just keeps on spending? How do I benefit from that increase without being free of my debt to the ever-growing state? The message of opportunity, self-sufficiency, independence, resonates with the individual on a deeper level, enabling more direct personal application than “growth.”
Hearing Cruz reference Reagan’s philosophy of presenting genuine, bold alternatives to the big-government opposition seemed refreshingly apropos: he is fighting for the everyman, against the opposition, even those allegedly on his own team. And, when a country is at political war, not one party versus another, but a government versus its own people, we must know who truly stands with us. Cruz’s leadership continues to clarify just who “our team” really is, who “we/they” really are. Additionally, he maintains the winsome demeanor and deft communication that have been so glaringly absent from conservative leaders in recent memory.
The audience welcomed Cruz and his message with enthusiasm, but perhaps not quite at Texas levels. I spoke to some guests afterward, and they were all impressed with Cruz, but extremely reticent about anointing heroes, wondering aloud whether the GOP can really ever represent them again. What impressed them about Cruz seems to be that he’s not asking the grassroots to be their hero: he’s gone to battle already. He is fighting for the American people, incurring the attacks of the threatened DC beast. We can’t decorate a hero until the battle is won…but we will stand with the warrior who’s leading the charge.