Addressing a roomful of well-heeled New York Republican donors Wednesday night, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz urged his fellow GOPers to become less the Party of Romney and the Rich and focus their rhetoric more on providing the poor with a pathway up the economic ladder.
“I am going to suggest that the last election can be explained in two words: 47 percent,” Cruz said, referencing Mitt Romney’s secretly recorded remarks to an earlier group of Republican donors in which he suggested that nearly half of Americans were on some kind of government dole and so unlikely to support him.
“The national narrative of the last election was the 47 percent of Americans who are not currently paying income taxes, who are in some ways dependent on government, we don’t have to worry about them,” Cruz said. “That was what was communicated in the last election. I have to tell you as a conservative I cannot think of an idea more opposite to what I believe. I think Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent.”
Cruz, a Tea Party favorite who seemed to come out of nowhere in 2012 to win his election against a candidate backed by the Republican establishment, decried Republicans who fumble questions about how to help the downtrodden: “I have to tell you, every time I see that I want to put my boot through the television set.”
In his 35-minute address, Cruz pushed familiar Republican policy prescriptions but couched them in the concerns of Mother Teresa. Abolishing the IRS would permit more productivity, as people would waste less time and money filling out tax forms. “Rockefellers,” he said, could live with Obamacare, but it would mean fewer jobs for those on the bottom of the income ladder. Dodd-Frank, which reformed Wall Street banks in the wake of the 2007 crash, was “a bill where you don’t have to read any further than the title to know that nothing good can come out of it,” he said.
Returning to the last presidential election, Cruz chided the Romney campaign for harping on President Obama’s remark that small business owners “didn’t build” their business. The Romney campaign began trotting out the slogan “you built that.”
“It was addressed to the people who already owned their business. How much better would it have been if he had said, ‘You can build it,’” Cruz said.
Cruz’s appearance at the Hyatt in Midtown Manhattan was not without controversy. A gaggle of protesters stood in front of the hotel, urging Cruz to drop his resistance to the immigration-reform bill now making its way through Congress. In a gaggle with reporters, the senator pushed for more border security and increasing the rate of legal immigration, and refused to rule out filibustering the bill.
Perhaps more significantly, the Texas senator had gotten heat for trying to block aid to the New York and New Jersey region in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Peter King, a longtime Long Island congressman, boycotted the event due to Cruz’s prominent speaking role and had previously urged New York Republicans, some of the deepest-pocketed party members in the country, to cease giving to GOPers who wouldn’t help the area in the aftermath of the Sandy.
Cruz did not address the controversy from the podium but did tell reporters afterward that he stood by his vote, calling the Sandy recovery bill pork-laden. As for King, he said, “I have not met Mr. King, but I think it is unfortunate that he is unable to join us.”
Organizers of the event said that Cruz’s Sandy vote was minor considering that the Republican Party had been embarking on a huge push across the nation since the 2012 election to increase its appeal to minorities. And Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, stood as a stark symbol of that effort. But he was not the only one. A prominent black Brooklyn minister gave the invocation, and a Latino pastor closed the event with a prayer. A member of the New York GOP’s newly formed Asian-American outreach effort led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Cruz was considered a rising star in the party from before he was sworn in, and in the half-year since has begun to be mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2016. He made no mention of that on Wednesday night, instead praising some of his fellow freshman lawmakers who also are mentioned as potential candidates, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and fellow senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.
“Five years ago, not a single one of them was in office,” he said, adding that all grew up watching Ronald Reagan define what it meant to be a president. “I refer to this new generation of leaders as the children of Reagan. We learned watching him.”