Republican Sen. Ted Cruz held a town hall Tuesday night in Dallas with one message: Defund Obamacare. To make sure no one forgot, the mantra was printed on a banner behind him on stage. The Dallas town hall was one of the nine stops on the Heritage Action's August #DefundTour.
The freshman senator was introduced by his father, Rafael Cruz, and followed by former senator, now Heritage Foundation President, Jim DeMint and Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham. Cruz has been one of the loudest proponents of a plan to shut down the government in order to defund the Affordable Care Act through a continuing resolution. Cruz minimized the impact of a possible shutdown, explaining that the last time this impasse was reached the result was "a temporary suspension of non-essential federal government spending" with no stoppage to distribution of Social Security checks or military functionality.
NBC's Kasie Hunt reported Tuesday night on The Last Word that Cruz is at odds with the senior senator from Texas, John Cornyn, who now opposes a government shutdown as a way to defund Obamacare. Rand Paul and John McCain have also spoken out against the Tea Party tactic.
"We've all seen this movie before," Cruz told the crowd. "President Obama and Harry Reid are gonna scream and yell 'those mean, nasty Republicans are threatening to shut down the government.'" He explained the crucial step to ensure victory: "One side or the other has to blink. How do we win this fight? Don't blink!"
Cruz urged supporters to log on to www.DontFundObamacare.com and sign the petition against Obamacare. As of 10:20pm EST on Tuesday night, the petition had 382,874 signatures.
But staying on message can make for some uncomfortable moments. Early in the rally, a woman in the crowd stood up and interrupted Cruz. "I recently lost my health care," she said. She said she'd been forced to travel to Mexico for her diabetes medication because she couldn't afford it in the U.S. "What would you do to take care of those who can't afford healthcare?" she asked.
A voice in the crowd called out, "We can take care of ourselves!" Cruz responded by saying that yes, "we need to reform our healthcare to make it more accessible, reduce the cost, and empower patients." He added: "I gotta tell you, Obamacare is making it worse."
At this point, Cruz can evade questions like that with just a side-eye and line about Obamacare. But if he's serious about a 2016 presidential campaign, he'll need a real answer when members of the public press him.
Cruz wouldn't "speculate" about whether he's going to make a run--and whether he's actually eligible. He has said he'll give up his Canadian citizenship. (He had dual Canadian-U.S. citizenship.) "I'm going to leave that to others," he said. "I've been an American since birth."
Cruz wound up his town hall with a call-and-response routine borrowed from a surprising source.
"I have a few questions, with apologies to President Obama," Cruz said. "Can we restore the Constitution? Can we bring back jobs? Can we stop the IRS? And can we defund Obamacare?"
To each question, the crowd responded with a familiar refrain: "Yes we can!"
Cruz wrapped it up: "That, my friends, is change we can believe in."