Ted Cruz, facing increased scrutiny as he rises in national polls, is taking to the campaign trail this week with a renewed effort to remind his base of just how deep a conservative he is.
As reported by Katie Glueck in POLITICO, Cruz began a swing throughout the South this weekend, starting with a fiery speech in Alabama to more than 1,300 supporters. It was the start of a 12-day 12-city tour throughout the Southern states, an area where Cruz is thought to have the best organization of any candidate.
Saturday’s performance focused on an attempt to backtrack comments Cruz made during last week’s Republican Party debate, insisting to the raucous crowd he “never” supported the legalization of undocumented immigrants, something at odds with comments he made during an attempted Senate immigration reform bill in 2013.
“One of the things you’ve been hearing about is criticism of Ted and what he did with regard to the massive immigration bill they tried to ram through in 2013,” said Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions at the event. Sessions, one of the party’s leading immigration hard-liners, has been considered a potential Cabinet member in a Cruz administration.
“Let me tell you, I was there every step of the way,” Sessions said. “Ted Cruz was on my side, he fought this legislation all the way through.”
Cruz’s Alabama stump speech, made in what is considered one of the most conservative states in the country, had much of the conservative talking points he used elsewhere in the country, but seemed to resonate a little more with the crowd there than elsewhere. Glueck writes that many in the audience responded with cheers and shouts of “amen.”
However, talking about immigration drew the loudest cheers, especially after Cruz had sparred with Marco Rubio over the issue during the most recent Republican Party debate.
Cruz attempted to explain away his rhetoric in 2013 by saying it was all part of a larger plan to stop comprehensive immigration reform proposal the Gang of Eight — which included Rubio — tried to push through the Senate.
Since then, Rubio and Cruz have been battling it out, with the Texas senator trying to portray his rival from Florida as a supporter of “amnesty” — a word frowned upon in Republican Party circles — as well as someone tied to liberal Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer from New York.
That led to Cruz, on defense from the Rubio campaign, having to explain intricate procedural matters and rhetoric that appears, at least at face value, contradictory.
For his part, Rubio has been attempting to portray Cruz as “inconsistent” in his immigration stance. In addition, a New York Times story published Friday showed Cruz, as a domestic policy adviser for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, taking a much more conciliatory tone than the hard-line stance he embraces today. If that narrative gains traction, it could hurt Cruz in the eyes of his conservative base.
“My gut is, people see Ted Cruz as so far to the right, a really far-right conservative guy, and people see Rubio as conservative but a little more mainstream, more moderate, so when this immigration thing is thrown at both of them, it’s much more likely to stick to Rubio than to Cruz,” one Republican source told POLITICO. “Cruz had an awful interview with [Fox News’s] Bret Baier, but he’s going to fix that.”
Nevertheless, Glueck says Cruz continues to wow Southern audiences with tailor-made stump speech lines such as: The “single biggest difference” between himself and his debate opponents is that “with me, when I tell you I’m going to do something, I’m going to do exactly what I said I’m going to do.”
And the Southern crowd eats it up.