Ted Cruz wasted no time in hitting Donald Trump in his CPAC speech, a fitting beginning to a speech that would focus, primarily, on attaching the Republican frontrunner.
“Welcome to CPAC. So Donald Trump is skipping CPAC. I think someone told him Megyn Kelly was gonna be here. Or even worse, he was told conservatives were gonna be here. Or even worse, he was told that libertarians were gonna be here. Or even worse, they were told that there were gonna be young people who were gonna be here. None of you have a degree from Trump University?”
Cruz is, unquestionably, CPAC’s favorite candidate. Trump provided little infrastructure in the way of bussed-in supporters, so while Cruz handled the errant cry of “Trump! Trump!” (with the help of loud “boos” from audience members) he was left free to dicuss his pie-in-the-sky, three-point plan to save America: “Jobs, Liberty, and Security.”
Cruz had the air of a preacher at a tent revival, and the crowd responded positively, though his proposals sounded more like a wish list than a schedule for his first day on the job. Though Cruz is easily capable of discussing policy in a realistic way, he sounded, in his speech, a little like a kid running for student council President on a platform of no homework and free ice cream from the cafeteria. For jobs, he promised an immediate abolition of the IRS, replaced with a flat tax and a tax return that could fit on a postcard. He promised an intact Second Amendment, a commitment to religious liberty, and a winning strategy in the Middle East. And, of course, he promised a strong presence on immigration – stronger and more reliable, even, than Trump, for whom immigration is a cornersone issu – reminding the audience that the Trump “commitment” was, necessarily, a “right-place-right-time” slogan, and giving one of his most forceful lines of the afternoon.
“Donald was funding the Gang of Eight. He gave over $50,000 to five of the members of the Gang of Eight…He’s flexible…Flexible is code word in Washington, DC for ‘get ready to stick it to you…Every time they’re flexible in Washington it benefits the giant corporations, it benefits Wall Street, it benefits the special interests.”
In the context of “liberty,” Cruz promised a strong, Originalist replacement for the erstwhile Justice Scalia, stressing that the nation is “one Justice away” from a complete reversal on the Second Amendment and on religious liberty, and a complete erasure of the Bill of Rights. He also points out that he will unleash the American military from a barrage of political correctness, promising an end to “gluten-free MREs” which are, in all honesty, pretty rare – but we get the point. Never again will a pansy liberal Commander-in-Chief force the Army to get its dietary policy from the Food Babe.
In the question and answer period, Cruz gave his most interesting announcement of the night: he favors a straight path to the nomination over the possibility of a brokered convention, though Cruz is closest in the ability to do tha – he needs eight states under his belt and he has five. His rationale? It seems he believes a brokered convention would favor an “Establishment” candidate, and Cruz is certainly not beloved by the “Establishment” in any respect. If you want to beat Donald Trump, he says, there’s only one way to do it.
“It is the Washington establishment in a feeding frenzy. They are really frustrated because all of their candidates, all of the golden children, the voters keep rejecting. And so they’ve seized on this master plan: we go to a brokered convention and the DC power brokers drop someone in who is exactly to the liking of the Washington Establishment.”
“If you want to beat Donald Trump, here’s how you do it, you beat Donald Trump with the voters.”
Closing up, Cruz re-established his commitment to his anti-authoritarian roots, saying that he agrees – shockingly – with Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders that government has grown too corrupt. But, he noted, Bernie Sanders can’t possibly mange to fix the problem.
“I agree with Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders talks all the time about the corruption in Washington, how career parties in both parties get in bed with the corporations and special interests and how the game is rigged; Bernie’s right. When he’s defining the problem, he’s exactly right that Washington is corrupt.[…] If the problem is ‘government is corrupt,’ then the answer ain’t, ‘let’s have a whole bunch more government.’”
Cruz ended to raucous applause and a standing ovation.
But as with much of CPAC 2016, the enthusiasm for even Cruz, who should, by all rights, be the grassroots’ top choice for President, was tempered. CPAC seems mired in a depression, perhaps over an increasing irrelevance in the face of Trump’s primary domination. With the Republican Party on the line, CPAC is at a loss, maybe, on how to salvage the conservative, limited-government, family-focused movement it was designed to preserve.