After attending Hillary Clinton’s final Des Moines rally Sunday night (it began and ended about an hour late) on the south side of the city, I decided to race out to the fairgrounds to catch as much of Ted Cruz’s act as I could. Lucky for me, there were seven (yes, seven) speeches that preceded the candidate’s (his father, Rafael Cruz, had spoken at earlier events but didn’t at this one). Most interesting to me was Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas — not a person you’d expect to see on the campaign trail. Her remarks were squarely aimed at Donald Trump, whom she compared to Barack Obama as someone who had “duped America.” The more typical speech of the evening was from local right-wing talk-radio personality Steve Deace, who spoke darkly of a nation where no one wants to work, where “we’re killing 4,000 babies a day,” and where hardworking taxpayers, or what’s left of them, have to pay for those people who are crowding the welfare rolls and pouring over the undefended border.
Cruz himself pretty much stuck to his stock speech theme: Conservatives united can do anything they want. That hasn’t happened up until now, he says, not because of divided government or the Senate filibuster or the presidential veto, but because Republicans won’t fight.
He tantalized the crowd with all of the revolutionary (or counterrevolutionary) things he’d do on the first day in office, beginning, of course, with a repeal of all of Obama’s executive orders and an assault on Planned Parenthood. This line seemed to sum up the entire evening, and the entire Cruz campaign message: “We are standing on the edge of a cliff.” One reporter I talked to who had been to Bernie Sanders’s event earlier in the evening said she thought there was more excitement in the room at Cruz’s event. What I mostly felt was a sense of grim determination. Ted’s people are typically both self-conscious movement conservatives and Christian-right folk. They looked to have Iowa in hand, and were positioned to carry his campaign into the later primaries in a one-on-one competition with Donald Trump or perhaps Marco Rubio. Now those two candidates are the ones who seem to have the mojo. But Iowa’s a place where organization matters more than Big Mo, and Cruz’s 12,000 volunteers are his firewall.
The candidate sent them out with quite the altar call, before the room was filled with Christian country-rock music, and the crowd lined up to get their pictures taken with Cruz or Steve King. Referring, as he customarily does, to his political soldiers as “the body of Christ” (a rather presumptuous assertion, to put it mildly), he called them to arms with the same scriptural quote he says Reagan had the Bible opened to when he took the oath of office:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
For all the patriotic hype they so often indulge in, the kind of people who support Ted Cruz have an ambivalent attitude toward their welfare-dependent, baby-killing, open-borders country. They’re giving us one last chance to clean up our act, beginning in Iowa Monday night.