Ted Cruz brings his conservative ‘revolution’ to Iowa
Texas senator rejects Donald Trump’s ‘birther’ claims as he tours first-nominating state
Senator Ted Cruz, speaking during a rally stop in Sibley, Iowa, on Wednesday, has 31 per cent support among Republicans in the state, ahead of Donald Trump who has 27.4 per cent. Photograph: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Ted Cruz stands casually dressed in jeans and a shirt with rolled-up sleeves before a blackboard listing the day’s specials – beef and chicken noodle soup – selling his conservative message to a captive audience.
Here in Rock Rapids in the north-western reaches of Iowa, the freshman Texas senator is in a heartland of social conservatives and evangelical Christians, a constituency that plays a disproportionately influential role in the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.
Cruz, the Republican frontrunner in Iowa, arrives on a snowy Wednesday morning at the Union Jack restaurant on the main street of this town in his “Cruzin’ to Caucus” bus. It is his ninth stop on a six-day, 28-county swing tour of the Hawkeye State.
The 45-year-old firebrand, a thorn in the side of the Republican leadership in the Senate and a poster boy for the rebellious Tea Party right, is running as everything the Washington establishment is not.
He likens this period to the late 1970s and the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration, and his insurgent conservative campaign to that of another outsider to politics: Ronald Reagan.
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“All across this country millions of men and women rose up and became the Reagan revolution and it didn’t come from Washington – Washington despised Ronald Reagan,” he said.
“By the way, if you see a candidate that Washington embraces, run and hide,” he adds, to laughs from the crowd. Cruz, a shrewd political operator and polished orator, peppers his stump speech with humour.
The senator told his audience of about 200 people that he was optimistic now “because the same thing is happening again” – conservatives that Reagan mobilised in the 1980s are rising again.
“We need to take power out of Washington and back to ‘we, the people,’” he said, quoting Reagan’s conservative utopia of America as a “shining city on a hill”.
Just four weeks before Iowans become the first Americans to pick presidential nominees, the conservatives in Rock Rapids are the kind of voters who have catapulted Cruz into the lead in Iowa’s opinion polls.
“He has a very down-to-earth personality and is able to connect with people with like-minded views in these types of communities in Iowa which are very family-oriented, very conservative-oriented,” said supporter Rachel Kanengieter, sitting at a table in the Union Jack.
The former solicitor general of Texas, the first Hispanic to hold that office, has 31 per cent support among Republicans in Iowa, edging businessman Donald Trump with 27.4 per cent, according to an average of polls compiled by online election tracker RealClearPolitics.
Trump leads Cruz nationally by 35 per cent to 20 per cent, but the property tycoon clearly sees the Texas senator as a threat.
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“As a legal matter, the question is quite straightforward in settled law: the child of a US citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen,” Cruz responded to reporters in Rock Rapids. “People will continue to make political noise but as a legal matter it is quite straightforward.”
Cruz’s supporters are unfazed by the claims. “It was looked at every which way and it checks out – it is fine,” said Chris Kanengieter, a supporter from Little Rock, 14 miles east of Rock Rapids. He believes Trump has to attack his rival because he leads him in Iowa. “There’s nothing to it – he just has to do it,” he said.
Cruz’s sales pitch revolves around five things he would do on his first day as president. In his first action he would “rescind every single illegal and unconstitutional executive action” by Obama.
That includes the president’s gun control measures announced this week which Cruz says is targeting the second amendment right of Americans to bear arms, which Iowans here believe strongly in.
He would launch an investigation into the Planned Parenthood abortion clinics and videos that purport to show the sale of foetal parts, a controversy that has fired up conservatives. He would also order an end of the “persecution of religious liberty” by government agencies and rip up Obama’s “catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal”.
He blamed the reports of North Korea detonating a hydrogen bomb on Tuesday night on the failures of Bill Clinton’s administration.
“If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, the test may not be underground measured by an earthquake; the test may be in the skies of Tel Aviv or New York or Los Angeles,” Cruz warns his audience.
His fire-and-brimstone oratory appeals to Iowa’s Christian conservatives. He quotes scripture and talks about defending constitutional liberties and “Judeo-Christian values”.
Running from the right
“He is conservative and consistent – that’s why I like him,” said Randy Freerks, a Cruz volunteer signing up supporters at the door. “I like his directness, his honesty, his constitutional stance,” said Melissa Fisher-Olson from nearby Sioux Falls in South Dakota.
“He reflects our middle-America values, our belief in constitutional values.”
Kurt Valnes, also from South Dakota, admires the Texan for being “about the only one in the Senate” to stand up for conservative rights.
“Ted Cruz is a conservative and Donald Trump is going with whichever way the wind blows,” he said. “I don’t know if he is a Democrat or a Republican. I’m not willing to take that chance.”
“Cruz has a lot more money and organisation than they ever had, and there is, as of yet, no consensus or conventional conservative alternative, what people tend to call the establishment,” said Dennis Goldford, a politics professor at Drake University in Des Moines.
Iowa’s Republican caucuses, it seems, are Cruz’s to lose. The question is whether he can successfully export his revolution outside America’s conservative middle.