A kinder, gentler, humbler Sen. Ted Cruz spoke to New York Republicans Wednesday night, in a speech boycotted by Rep. Peter King because of Cruz’s strident opposition to a Hurricane Sandy relief bill.
Cruz played to type when he proudly defended his vote against the “pork-laden” bill, but for much of the night he tried on humility, shining a spotlight on his Tea Party colleagues as “the children of Ronald Reagan” and exhibiting no interest in a 2016 presidential run.
On the day the GOP lost Rep. Michele Bachmann, the woman who’d emerged as Joe McCarthy in lipstick in 2008, Cruz didn’t do his familiar “Tailgunner Ted” routine. Wearing a wireless mic, he stepped out from the podium and wandered the room like a coach, or a speaker at a get-rich-quick seminar. He tried to cast himself as a man of the people, friend to the downtrodden, who thought Mitt Romney’s big mistake in 2012 was his callousness to the so-called 47 percent.
“I am going to suggest that the last election can be explained in two words: 47 percent,” Cruz told the wealthy crowd. “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. I have to tell you as a conservative … I think Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent.” Tough Texas Ted then made a brief appearance, declaring that when he sees a Republican on television fumbling questions about poverty, “I have to tell you, every time I see that I want to put my boot through the television set.” Glad to hear about the boot; I thought he was turning into a squish.
It was curious to see the Ivy League, establishment-minted Cruz, whose wife works at Goldman Sachs, paint himself as a man of the people. Sure enough, his prescriptions to help the 47 percent turned out to be more policies to enrich the top 1 percent – abolishing the IRS, repealing Obamacare and eliminating Dodd-Frank restrictions on banks and Wall Street.
That’s convenient for Republicans: They don’t have to change their agenda, they just have to learn how to talk about it in terms that make people believe letting the top 1 percent keep more of their money will trickle down to the 47 percent. Hey, Ronald Reagan did it! Of course, the policies of Reagan and then George W. Bush immiserated the 47 percent, but too many of the 47 percent didn’t see that – and still don’t.
The limelight-loving Cruz, who encouraged talk of a 2016 presidential run before he was 100 days into his first Senate term, tried to shine a spotlight on the other Tea Party Republicans he says are remaking the GOP. He told the crowd it was lucky “to see such a transformation of people leading the fight,” and listed “Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Scott Walker” as the “children of Reagan” ready to take their party into a new era. No mention of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, nor Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan.
Cruz didn’t talk about his battles with John McCain, or his threats to filibuster the background check bill, or the communists at Harvard Law School, or his opposition to fellow child of Reagan Marco Rubio’s immigration reform bill. In a brief conversation with reporters before the event, Cruz called the proposal “utterly toothless when it comes to border security,” and declined to rule out a filibuster against it. That’s our Ted.
New York Republicans didn’t seem to care much about Cruz’s role in slowing down Sandy aid – the party raised $750,000.