“Today, liberty is under assault,” declared conservative firebrand Ted Cruz before an adoring audience Friday at the Republican Party of Texas State Convention.
The GOP senator and Tea Party darling left virtually no red meat unthrown, calling for a return to the Constitution -- “the most extraordinary document crafted in history” -- a resurrection of American leadership abroad -- where “bullies and tyrants are laughing at [us]” -- and a rebuilding of jobs and economic growth at home, through adhering to free market principles, supporting “the American energy renaissance,” abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, and repealing “every blessed word of Obamacare.”
On the subject of the Constitution, Cruz declared that religious liberty was under fire, and blasted the recent controversy over the IRS’s alleged targeting of conservative groups that applied for nonprofit status. In one instance, an Iowa-based anti-abortion group was asked to provide information about its members’ prayer meetings, according to documents sent by an IRS official to the organization.
“You know what, the federal government has no business asking any American the content of our prayers!” said Cruz to roaring applause.
The Texas senator also touched on a high-profile federal case, in which the Colorado-based Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged is suing the Obama administration over an accommodation under the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance cover contraception without a co-pay. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court affirmed a compromise that allows the religious nonprofit to sign a form certifying its objection to contraception, before sending it to an insurer who can then provide the coverage directly.
“Let me give you a simple rule of thumb,” said Cruz. “If you’re litigating against nuns, you’ve probably done something wrong.”
Cruz, of course, reaffirmed his commitment to defending the Second Amendment, calling the right to keep and bear arms “the Palladium of the rights of the Republic.”
“In the great state of Texas,” he continued, “gun control means hitting what you aim at.”
On the subject of privacy rights, Cruz took a jab at the recent NSA surveillance scandal, instructing everyone in the audience to leave their cellphones on, so that President Obama could hear “every word we have to say today.”
But the most important Amendment Cruz identified as in need of protection was the Tenth, “or as President Obama calls it, ‘The What?’” he joked. Calling for a repeal of Common Core, the Obama-backed education standards that a growing number of states are deserting, Cruz stressed the importance of that “basic protection that limits the authority of the federal government and says that sovereignty resides in the states and ultimately with we, the people.”
In other areas, however, federal officials needs to step it up, said Cruz. First, to defend the nation from threats abroad, the government should secure the borders, he stated, pushing party orthodoxy on immigration. At the same time, he continued, the U.S. needs to seize a stronger leadership position on the world stage.
And so began the Reagan-worship.
“I agree with President Reagan that America believes in peace through strength,” said Cruz. “All across America, our hearts have been breaking as we’ve seen America recede from leadership in the world. It’s created a vacuum, into which have stepped nations like Iran, and Russia, and China. And the world has become a much more dangerous place.”
Cruz invoked the 40th president several times during his half-hour speech, likening today’s political climate to that seen during the Carter administration. At one point, Cruz even seemed to compare himself to the conservative icon, perhaps hinting at a potential 2016 presidential bid.
“In 1980, Washington, D.C., despised Ronald Reagan,” said Cruz, often cast as an outsider and extremist within Congress. In fact, at the beginning of the speech, Cruz opened with: “I spent all week in Washington, D.C., and it is great to be back in America.”
If there were any key issues left untouched during Friday’s speech, it would have to have been marriage equality and gay rights -- as though capturing the GOP’s confusion in that area. While many Republicans are taking their own advice prescribed in an RNC-commissioned report last year, which credited the 2012 loss with a failure to connect with younger, more LGBT-tolerant voters, national party leaders haven’t budged. None of the GOP’s potential 2016 candidates -- including Cruz -- publicly support same-sex marriage.
But just because it wasn’t in Cruz’s speech doesn’t mean the issue hasn’t come up during Texas’s convention. Indeed, if the full acquisition of civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans could lately be described as a sprint toward the finish line, the Lone Star State has opted for more of a two steps forward, one step back approach.
After removing decades-old platform language that states, "Homosexuality tears at the fabric of society," the Texas Republican Party on Thursday advanced new anti-gay language -- this time, endorsing so-called "reparative therapy" to turn gay people straight. The full 10,000-delegate convention will vote on the platform Saturday.
"I really beg my social conservative colleagues to let this issue go," said Rudy Oeftering, a Dallas businessman and vice president of the gay Republican group Metroplex Republicans, to the Associated Press. The Metroplex Republicans were one of two groups of gay conservatives who were blocked from setting up a booth at the Texas convention.
"It's your opinion. It's your belief,” he continued, “but it's my life."