Oh, and he’s not done settling scores. Santorum tells the audience of a time he met with potential donors in New York, and how they spent the meeting grilling him on social issues. “I asked, ‘Did you ask the other candidates up here about their moral positions?’ ” he says. “They said, ‘You’re different.’ I said, ‘Why am I different?’ They said, ‘Because you mean it.’ ”
The audience cheers this righteous smackdown of the snobs, and cheers even louder when Santorum tells them to take pop culture back from Hollywood. He’s not giving them a special, tailored speech; he gave basically the same speech to Republicans in Lyon County*, two days earlier, at one point telling them to stop repeating “Marxist” jargon like “middle class.”
It just sounds defensive. Cruz, who has already cracked double digits in the ridiculously early polls of caucus-goers, takes the afternoon of the summit with a neat trick that outsources the negativity. His father, Rafael, a Cuban-born pastor, precedes him with a speech that’s one-third about his son and two-thirds about how candidates who promise “hope and change” are paving the road to serfdom. “In 1976 I was shocked when I saw a government starting to implement socialist policies in this country, which perhaps the majority of this country didn’t recognize,” he says. “Having seen socialism at work, I clearly recognized the socialist policies of Jimmy Carter.”
It’s a hit. More than one activist tells me that the senior Cruz’s story takes away an advantage that has belonged to Marco Rubio—the crowd-pleasing parable of Obama as Castro. After a short break, Ted Cruz himself arrives, walking back and forth across the stage in black ostrich-skin cowboy boots, delivering old jokes about the root words of “politics” being “poly” and “ticks” before getting to applause line after applause line about his battles in Washington.
“The American people want to secure the borders first,” he says, to applause. “We want to welcome and celebrate legal immigrants.” Applause. “And there is no more forceful advocate for securing the borders than Iowa’s own Steve King.” Yet more applause. Cruz doesn’t actually mention any “social issues.” He invites the audience to join a “grass-roots army” (and his PAC) and adds that he has objects “thrown at me” when he talks about defunding Obamacare in the Senate. He repeats a riff on “you didn’t build that” he’s been using since at least December 2012. “The untold story about the economy is about those who’ve been hurt—the least among us. If you were flying a private jet five years ago, you’re still flying a private jet.”
Cruz leaves the stage and reporters flood the hallway he’s expected to use when he heads to the airport. The senator takes his time, talking to pastors backstage. When he emerges, the press tries its best to pin him down on a 2016 schedule. He turns every answer into a statement about Obamacare.
“The biggest fight facing Congress right now is the fight to defund Obamacare,” he says. “The only way we will get this done is if millions of activists mobilize.”
“You’re here in Iowa to rule out running for president?” asks one reporter.
“I am here and traveling across Texas and across the country to help mobilize the grass-roots,” says Cruz.
Jonathan Martin, trying to invert the question, asks whether the struggles of America’s current one-term-senator-turned-president might, you know, inform Cruz in any way. “I respect President Obama,” says Cruz. “He is a man who is firmly committed to his principles.” Alas, “I think the principles he believes in are profoundly dangerous.” He spends three minutes explaining exactly why, and why it’s so important to defund Obamacare.
Seeing the pointlessness of the 2016 questions, I ask Cruz whether the president needs to go further on FISA and spying transparency than he did on Friday. “I’ll wait till I watch the remarks before coming to a conclusion,” he says. Thoroughly defeated, I walk past Rafael Cruz, who’s holding a shrink-wrapped copy of the The Founders’ Bible. The massive edition of the good book, decorated and annotated with facts about Revolutionary-era religion, has been selling from a booth at the summit. Cruz got a copy from J. Albert Calaway, a pastor whose organization Truth, Values, & Leadership attempts to draw pastors into politics. “We’re looking at perhaps doing some kind of a pastor’s conference,” says the senior Cruz.
Calaway, who’s walking back to the booth, explains that he’s trying to speed up the process for finding an ideal presidential candidate. “I vetted five of the Republicans last time,” he says. “I’m starting to vet the people out there now much earlier. I don’t come out for anybody unless I’ve been behind closed doors with ’em for at least an hour. Cruz and his dad and I are gonna have a few pow-wows. Maybe we’ll see if we can do a conference. I have right now 35,000 pastors organized around the country, and I’m gonna see if I get it to 50,000. See if I can get ’em out of the closet to do something.”
Correction, Aug. 12, 2013: The article originally misspelled Lyon County. Return to the corrected sentence.