McClatchy Washington Bureau
NEW ORLEANS –Senator Ted Cruz of Texas lambasted unidentified Republicans Saturday, likening them to operatives in the former Soviet Union.
“You know, a lot of Republicans –it’s very odd –a lot of Republicans tend to have top down, Soviet-style campaigns,” Cruz told reporters at a Republican gathering in New Orleans.
Such tactics, he said, are “very odd for a party that believes in the free market.” He called that style “disempowering; it doesn’t inspire.”
The way to win, he said, is inspiring people with principles, motivating ordinary Americans to fight for the conservative cause. He got plenty of cheers and standing ovations by insisting conservatives are making a strong comeback in American political life.
“I am profoundly, I am powerfully optimistic,” Cruz said. He compared the current political climate to that of the late 1970s, when a stagnant economy helped mobilize conservative activists and helped elect Ronald Reagan president in 1980.
“The last two years we have seen something extraordinary,” Cruz said. “We have seen the power of the grassroots.” One example: Curbs on the government’s authority to conduct domestic surveillance, though Democrats were also involved.
Despite the crowd’s enthusiasm, there was skepticism about whether the Texas senator is ready to be president.
Dozens stood in line to meet Cruz. Among them was Debbie McCord, an Augusta, GA, accountant.
While she likes him, she said, “I don’t know he’s quite ready yet to be president.” After all, McCord figured, President Barack Obama was first elected to the Senate four years before winning the White House. Cruz won his Senate seat in 2012.
“We saw what happened when we elected someone with that kind of experience,” she said.
Still, affection for Cruz was apparent. Louisiana Republican Chairman Roger Villere Jr. called him a “true warrior” who battles “with a smile on his face in a pleasant way, not in a mean way.”
Cruz made four stops at the Republican Leadership Conference, a three-day meeting of party activists. He was the featured speaker at a morning prayer breakfast, and then did an autograph signing, a speech to about 500 people at the conference’s general session, and a press conference.
“If ever there has been a time for prayer, now is the time to pray,” he told the prayer group. He went around the world, citing examples of how persecuted people kept their faith.
“In much of the world, religious liberty is not an abstraction,” Cruz said. He blasted the Obama administration for turning away from religious values, citing what he called “that abomination called Obamacare.” Later, he charged the law was “sold under false pretenses.”
The Supreme Court is weighing challenges to the law by firms opposed to regulations requiring them to offer insurance coverage that includes contraception.
In his talk to the general session, Cruz stressed what he called the growing power of the grassroots, insisting he and his allies have helped slow the president’s agenda.
“In Texas and Louisiana we define gun control real simple,” he said. “Hit what you aim at.” He offered a list of conservative favorites: Doing away with the Common Core education standards, defending gun rights, repealing the Affordable Care Act.
He also took on the economy. “For five years we’ve been trapped in a great stagnation,” Cruz said. “Where we are today is eerily, uncannily like the 1970s.”
Remember what happened in 1980, Cruz said, when Ronald Reagan won the presidency. It was a grassroots movement, he said, and the lesson remains the same today: The way to win elections is: “You stand for principle and you empower the individual.”
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr