The election of Texas Senator Ted Cruz in 2012 deepened a long-running fissure in the state Republican party. There are some who want the GOP to help them make and keep money, who want good, smallish government and care less about the other stuff. And then there are those who do politics for a higher calling — God, guns, gays and the Gadsden flag.
It’s with the second group that Cruz won his senate seat, and now they are who he’s running for president for.
On Tuesday, returning to his hometown after another jaunt to New Hampshire, Cruz gave a “State of the Senate” speech to a meeting of a major Houston business association, the Greater Houston Partnership. In a huge hotel ballroom on the side of Buffalo Bayou, he pitched policy proposals sure to go over well with the moderation-and-money crowd: dredge more of the Houston Ship Channel, expand and defend government investment in space exploration, allow more oil and gas exports.
But in typical fashion, Cruz spent most of his time at the podium talking about items of little concern to the Houston business class. He railed against President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, warning of the death of “tens of millions of Americans” that would follow the detonation of an electromagnetic pulse weapon over the Eastern Seaboard. He aggressively foreshadowed a shutdown of the federal government, like the one he engineered in 2013, as a consequence of a fight over Planned Parenthood funding.
And he directly blamed Obama’s rhetoric for recent shootings of law enforcement officers in Houston and Chicago, expanding and standing by remarks he made in New Hampshire yesterday.
Cruz’s renewed criticism of Obama centered on the murder of Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth in Houston last week. Cruz began his remarks on Tuesday by asking for a moment of silence for Goforth before telling the crowd of the shooting of another deputy in Chicago Tuesday morning.
Police, he said, are “under assault right now at an unprecedented level.” (In reality, the frequency of violence against police is at or near-historic lows, as is violent crime.)
Speaking to the press after his speech, Cruz made it clear that he believed this “assault” originated in the White House. “The violence we’re seeing directed against law enforcement is a direct manifestation of the harsh rhetoric and the vilification of police officers and law enforcement that sadly has come all the way from the top,” Cruz said. “Senior administration officials,” he continued, including leaders at the Department of Justice, “have chosen to vilify law enforcement.”
“Police are feeling the assault” from the president, Cruz said, marking the beginning of the assault as 2009’s “beer summit,” when Obama met with Henry Louis Gates, a noted black academic, and James Crowley, the police officer who arrested Gates in front of his own home.
Since then, he went on to say, police officers have increasingly refrained from doing their jobs for fear of being “vilified.” Cruz said that criminal types had received marching orders from figures such as Obama and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: hunt and kill cops.
Another reporter interrupted: authorities have said they have no inkling about the motive of the shooter who killed the Houston deputy, and he’s experienced mental health problems in the past. So how was it possible to blame the president?
“Rhetoric and language has consequences,” Cruz replied. “It has consequences. And over and over again we’re seeing police officers targeted, and the president has a powerful bully pulpit.”
At any rate, Obama isn’t just responsible for the murders of police officers, Cruz suggested. He’s also culpable for what Cruz described as a recent increase in violent crime resulting from a less efficacious police force cowed by threats from an anti-cop White House.
Cruz’s new tack suggests he thinks the unease and insecurity conservatives feel as a result of a prolonged national debate on police tactics will grow as the primary continues. But he’s not solely focused on law and order. He told the Greater Houston Partnership that two major fights would dominate congressional debates in the coming months: Iran and abortion.
Cruz has been one of the loudest voices in Congress against the Iran deal, and on Tuesday he continued his strident criticism. If the deal is enacted and Iran is given sanctions relief, Cruz said, “the Obama Administration will become quite literally the world’s leading financier of radical Islam.” Obama has abandoned the Israelis and those Americans held prisoner by Iran, he charged. (The deal actually wound up getting the go-ahead the next day with retiring Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski’s help.)
But the senator’s most serious claim: Iran will get a nuke anyway. And once they do, Cruz said, they could “put it on a ship, and send it up through the Atlantic, and fire a missile straight into the air. When it gets high enough up in the atmosphere, it’s called an EMP — electromagnetic pulse.”
The EMP, he said, could destroy the electrical grid of the whole Eastern Seaboard, depriving Americans of food and water.
“Tens of millions of Americans would die,” he said. It would make 9/11 look like bupkis.
And a second great evil will need to be confronted when Congress comes back in session, said Cruz: Planned Parenthood. Increasingly, Cruz is offering the possibility that he his and friends could force a government shutdown fight this fall over federal funding to the health care provider. Cruz told the room that when and if a shutdown does occur, it’ll be the fault of Democrats.
“It shouldn’t be lost on anyone who is threatening a government shutdown,” Cruz said. Democrats and the White House would hold the nation hostage in defense of abortionists. “If we don’t get the money for Planned Parenthood, we will block funding for the rest of the government,” he said, summarizing their scheme. “That’s a profoundly irresponsible position.”
Cruz has used his role in the 2013 shutdown fight, caused by an effort to repeal Obamacare, to burnish his credentials with grassroots conservatives, but it’s been an unpopular effort among other groups. He’s starting far in advance this time, attempting to convince the public that when he forces this shutdown fight — if he does — it won’t be his fault.
Crime, foreign policy and abortion are standard subjects for a Cruz stump speech. But they’re not topics that one would expect to hear discussed at length with the sort of well-heeled Houston business crowd he spoke to Tuesday.
Cruz’s biggest applause lines came, funnily enough, when he advocated for government action to smooth things for private enterprise, like dredging the Houston Ship Channel and reforming the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. His heart wasn’t quite in it, but that’s what business Republicans like — they’re not especially pro- or anti-government.
When Cruz got to the red meat, harping on Iran and Planned Parenthood, the crowd gave him a generally polite but quiet reception. Most businesspeople are surely not especially enthused with the prospect of another federal shutdown, over abortion or anything else. But Ted Cruz was never really for these people, even when he was just a senator.
Now, he belongs only to the campaign trail.