The Republican Party loses elections not because it doesn’t stand close enough to the political center; it loses them because it doesn’t stand for anything.
That was the conclusion drawn by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Saturday at the Beverly Wilshire, where he received the Claremont Institute’s prestigious Churchill Statesmanship Award. He had plenty of agreement among the assembled conservatives. (Few news outlets covered the event, being more interested in the posters that appeared around Los Angeles showing Cruz as a shirtless, tattooed bad boy with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.)
“Some in Washington say standing on principle is not how you win elections,” Cruz told the audience. “I suggest to you that is a false dichotomy.”
He drew on the history of Ronald Reagan as an example, noting that in 1976, the Republican Party ran Gerald Ford as a moderate centrist and lost to Jimmy Carter, but when Reagan ran as a staunch conservative, he won in a landslide vote.
Cruz said that whenever the GOP nominates a candidate who runs as a strong conservative, Republicans win.
“Elections are about choices,” Cruz said. “… Reagan won by drawing a distinction.”
Other speakers during the dinner hit upon the same theme.
Philanthropist and conservative activist Foster Friess urged audience members to tell their friends in political positions to develop a “stadium speech” to focus on conservative principles and help change public perception of conservatism, which he said had become tainted by Republican leaders’ unwillingness to hold to their principles.
Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett also touched upon the same theme, saying, “The greatest threat comes not from a foreign power, but our own pusillanimity and the historical ignorance that feeds it.”
It was a point that seemed to hit home with the members of the audience, as well.
Dr. Karen Kenney, who addressed Congress in June last year about the IRS abuse of Tea Party groups, was taking a casual survey of people before the dinner, asking them what they thought the Republican Party stood for. Of the people she asked, including some officials with the state GOP, none of them could name a single principle in the Republican platform.
The Republican Party cannot afford to take a middle-of-the-road, keep-your-head-down approach any longer, Cruz said. It hasn’t worked for the past 40 years; it won’t work in the future.
America is facing three crises, and the GOP won’t be able to do anything about any of them if it doesn’t change its ways, he said. The crises he listed are: a global loss of American leadership that leaves a vacuum to be filled by the likes of Russia and China; economic stagnation that has benefited big business but hurt small businesses and ordinary people struggling to get by; and “a president who has behaved in a consistently lawless manner.”
It was this last point that Cruz spent the most time on.
“We have never seen in our history a president who if he disagrees with a law just refuses to enforce it,” Cruz said. “… When you have a law that’s a disaster, that’s hurting millions of people, you go to Congress.”
Although he didn’t use the word “tyrant,” it was pretty clear where Cruz was going.
“If you have a president who can pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, you no longer have a president,” he said.