Ted Cruz took his post-announcement tour to Iowa this week, hitting Sioux City, Dubuque, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines during Wednesday and Thursday. Starting Line followed the Senator for the last of those three events. Here’s what I took away from it:
1. Cruz can certainly pack a room. As the only formally-announced candidate and one of the more bombastic speakers of the Republican field, Cruz is a hot commodity right now. How long that continues once April gets filled with other candidates’ launches remains to be seen. But for now Cruz pulled in a little over 200 attendees in Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids, and perhaps around 250 in Des Moines. At each they had to open up the ballrooms’ dividers to place more chairs, though it appeared to be for dramatic effect. It seemed at every event they had the adjoining rooms pre-booked, and Cruz specifically had a well-timed line in his stump speech that he was “optimistic [for the future] because we ran out of chairs.”
2. Permeating through all the cheers and applause Cruz received were subtle hints of the troubles he’ll find in Iowa. While in Dubuque he was confronted by a biodiesel plant manager who challenged him on his support for oil subsidies, but not for ethanol assistance. In Cedar Rapids a man asked about Cruz’s support on federal assistance for flood relief. Cruz pivoted to criticizing Hurricane Sandy relief, avoiding mentioning how he voted against the funds for Cedar Rapids.
3. By far the most interesting unscripted exchange happened with a self-described “liberty” voter, a man in his twenties or thirties that preferred Rand Paul. The questioner asked about Cruz’s vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, to which Cruz responded was not an accurate representation (but actually he did vote for it). Cruz then tried to whack Rand Paul for voting against a NSA security bill last year which helped protect citizens’ data rights. The man immediately pushed back, saying Paul didn’t support it because “it didn’t go far enough,” after which they quibbled over how many Senators voted for it. It was a fascinating look into Cruz’s biggest challenge here. He needs at least some of the libertarian vote, but Rand Paul’s supporters are too fervent and too well-informed to be swayed by Cruz to leave Paul.
4. Cruz cracked a lot of jokes that the crowds ate up, but what stood out to me was how mean-spirited they all were. He recalled bantering with a Texas farmer that “the only difference between a regulator and locust is that you can’t use pesticide on the regulator.” It sounded like he was attempting to appeal to young voters when he began talking of young people with “faded posters of Obama on their wall,” but he turned them into a punchline by finishing “who still live in their parents basement,” which got lots of laughs. He got chuckles just from saying Joe Biden’s name. His favorite joke was about closing the IRS and sending all 90,000 IRS agents to the southern border to scare away immigrants. A candidate who can make a crowd laugh is good, but the types of jokes he preferred certainly showed what emotions he likes to appeal to.
5. In Des Moines he briefly mentioned ISIS, and how he felt it important to call out terrorists’ Islamic backgrounds. Less than a month ago, he gave a speech in the exact same ballroom to an evangelical pastors’ convention. That day he focused a full half of his entire speech on Islam and terrorism. Interesting.
6. The crowd cheered early and often at Cruz’s quips, but many of them were pretty empty platitudes and one-liners. “We must defend the second amendment!” Cruz says. “Wooooo!” replies the audience. He didn’t seem to be saying much too different from the other candidates, he just did it in a much more forceful and effective way. One of his only issues he offered real, concrete policy proposals on was social security and entitlement reform.
7. Cruz’s engaging speaking style seems to encourage more audience participation than your average candidate event. One funny difference I noticed at the events were what type of responses he got from each crowd. In Cedar Falls there were plenty of concerned “oh no”s from older women, shocked at the liberal future Cruz described could happen. In Des Moines he received a number of “Amen!”s from men near the back of the room. I don’t think any of that really means anything, it was just humorous to witness.
by Pat Rynard