In a preview of what Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire can expect to see a lot of over the next year, Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul reached out to conservatives at the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. on Friday.
While neither Cruz nor Paul have officially announced a bid for the Republican nomination, both speeches laid out the fundamentals for a presidential run.
For Paul, it was allaying the concerns of many in the religious right that the Kentucky Republican is too libertarian for their Christian beliefs.
"Where there is liberty, there is always plenty of space for God,” Paul said, drawing on Corinthians 3:17, which states, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
Paul said America was in a “full-blown crisis — a spiritual crisis,” and he said the nation’s moral compass was “wavering.”
“Those of us who love freedom must realize that freedom is not a license to do as you please,” he said. “Freedom can only be realized when citizens know self-restraint, or, put another way, virtue.” Paul’s speech often took a tone similar to a political philosophy professor — 11 times he mentioned the word “virtue” or “virtuous” — and he calmly explained the threats of enemies foreign and domestic.
“The president acts like he’s a king,” Paul said. “He ignores the Constitution. He arrogantly says, ‘If Congress will not act, then I must.’ These are not the words of a great leader; these are the words that sound more like the exclamations of an autocrat.”
Paul did say America faced a “crisis in the Middle East that does require action.” And while he said he was “hesitant” to be involved in civil wars in foreign lands, he also said ISIS posed a threat to U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East.
“We should act, but we should act within the rule of law,” Paul said. “The Constitution says that only Congress may declare war, yet this president has, in Libya, and then this week in Syria, committed our sons and daughters to a war that is not authorized by Congress. Had I been president, I would have called for a joint session of Congress.”
Paul also defended his brand of libertarianism to the socially conservative crowd.
"Government can’t impose virtue,” he said. “We must impose it upon ourselves.”
Paul did say that didn’t mean the government shouldn’t or can’t reflect the nation’s values. “It must,” he said. “The First Amendment is not about keeping religious people out of government; it’s about keeping government out of religion.”
But Paul still struck some familiar themes in his speech. He said until Pakistan had freed Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, “Pakistan should not receive a penny of U.S. aid.”
Overall, however, Paul struck a gentler, more cerebral tone than Cruz, who opted for giving the crowd plenty of red meat, calling for the abolition of the IRS and the repeal of Common Core. And the differences between the applause for Paul, which was polite, and the applause for Cruz, which was raucous, was clearly audible.
Cruz began with a more conversational tone, telling the crowd that the only thing he’d done in the Senate that had impressed his six-year-old daughter Caroline was reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor.
“'O.K., Dad, that was kind of cool,’” Cruz said, mimicking his daughter’s blasé attitude.
Cruz opted not to speak from behind the podium. Instead he paced a few feet on the stage, a small microphone clipped to his blue-striped tie.
After he warmed the crowd up with his daughter’s indifference toward his Senate career, as well as a joke he said he had stolen from Jimmy Fallon, Cruz touched on religious persecution, mentioning the cases of Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death because she refused to recant her Christian beliefs, and Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is currently imprisoned in Iran.
Cruz noted that the United States and Iran were meeting this week, “swilling Chardonnay in New York City,” as they addressed Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
“We so desperately need a president who will stand up and say: ‘These discussions do not even begin until you release Pastor Saeed and send him home,’” Cruz said. The Texas Republican then spoke about “the vacuum of American leadership,” using the anaphora “We need a president who will” three times to make points about prisoners of conscience.
Cruz also spoke at length about his personal story, and, more accurately, the story of his father, Rafael Cruz.
“When I was three years old, my father decided he didn’t want to be married anymore, and he didn’t want a three-year-old son,” Cruz said. “So he got on a plane and left Calgary, and he flew back to Texas, to Houston, and he left us.”
Cruz said one of his father’s colleagues invited him to the Clay Road Baptist Church in Houston, and his father ended up giving his life to Jesus.
“And he went and bought an airplane ticket and flew back to Calgary, to rejoin my mother and to rejoin his son,” Cruz said. “So when anyone asks, is faith real, is a relationship with Jesus real? I can tell you if it were not for my father giving his life to Christ, I would have been raised by a single mother without having my dad in the home.”
Cruz eventually transitioned from the personal stories to more political points. He dinged Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party for supporting federal government efforts to sue Catholic nuns to force them to pay for “abortion-inducing drugs.”
“And a pretty good rule of thumb, by the way: If you’re suing nuns, you’ve done something really wrong,” Cruz said to Values Voter laughter and applause.
Cruz ended his speech by making an appeal to give Republicans the Senate majority. Three times he told the audience if you want X — “If you want to defend our Second Amendment, our right to keep and bear arms,” for instance — “then vote Harry Reid out.”
As the Senate Majority Leader, that is. The Nevada Democrat isn’t up for re-election until 2016.
Cruz also mentioned that, in 2017, “with a Republican president in the White House,” a line which drew big cheers, “we are going to sign legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.”
And he finished his speech, which garnered a standing ovation for longer than 20 seconds, by saying he was optimistic.
“And I’m optimistic because I am convinced God isn’t done with America yet,” he said.
The Values Voter Summit stage saw many prominent GOP speakers Friday. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is also rumored to be a 2016 hopeful, was due to hit the stage later Friday, as was former Alaska Gov. and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., also made a speech, vowing to stay active in politics. And, earlier in the morning, Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana both addressed the conservative crowd.
Jordan spoke about a number of Obama administration crises, while Stutzman told the story of his mother seeking an abortion when she was pregnant for him.
After his speech, Stutzman spoke with CQ Roll Call and said he believed this event was really the start of the 2016 presidential race.
“This group,” Stutzman said, referring to social conservatives, “is going to have a big voice in the next presidential candidate.”
“Rand Paul’s got to be considered one of the front-runners right now,” he said, “and, of course, Ted Cruz is very active.”
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