Fresh off a mixed Super Tuesday — wins in Oklahoma, Alaska and home state Texas, losses to Donald Trump elsewhere — Sen. Ted Cruz told Kansans on Wednesday he was the Republican Party’s best hope for conservatism.
Cruz called on voters to back him in the Kansas caucuses on Saturday or risk seeing Trump take the GOP into liberal and unpredictable territory.
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Speaking at Johnson County Community College, Cruz framed the campaign around “jobs, freedom and security.”
He also described Obamacare as an economy killer and promised a “simple flat tax” and the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service.
“We’re going to see small businesses exploding,” he said.
And he roused the crowd with talk of immigration.
“Neither party in Washington wants to fix this problem,” the Texan told a crowd he estimated at more than 2,000 including those in an overflow room.
Democrats look at immigrants as potential voters, he said, while Republicans see them as cheap labor.
“I made a very different decision to stand with millions of Americans” against a path to citizenship for immigrants who come to the country illegally, he said.
He accused Trump of funding officeholders who pushed immigration reform, and noted a $1 million settlement Trump made over the use of undocumented workers on a project in the 1980s. He also criticized Trump for hiring foreign workers to staff the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Cruz promised to build a wall on the Mexican border, triple border patrols and deny immigrants welfare benefits.
He told the crowd that his differences with Trump would show up in appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump, he said, would compromise with Democrats to appoint a moderate. That would not happen in a Cruz administration, he said.
“I will not compromise away our religious liberty,” Cruz said. “I will not compromise away our right to keep and bear arms.”
Eldon Manning, a 79-year-old retiree from Lenexa, arrived hours early for the chance to hear from Cruz.
“He’s very committed to his conservative principles and he’s a devout Christian,” Manning said.
Yet he also sees Cruz as a long shot. “It’s very difficult unless Trump implodes somehow,” he said.
Joe Getto came out of curiosity. He’s a 25-year-old JCCC student, photographer and political junkie impressed with Cruz’s biography (“Son of a Cuban immigrant, it works for a really great background”). But he doesn’t care for the Texan’s hawkish views. Cruz has said he would carpet bomb Islamic State-controlled territory until “the sand glows.”
“He’s talking about international crimes, killing civilians,” Getto said.
Talking to reporters before the speech, Cruz called for a thinning of the candidate field, hinting that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich should pull out. That, he argued, posed the best chance for somebody to overtake Trump.
Earlier Wednesday, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson told supporters he no longer saw “a path” to victory and would pull out of a Thursday night debate.
“The time has come to unify behind the only campaign that has shown it can repeatedly beat Donald Trump,” Cruz said.
If he had lost Texas, Cruz said, his campaign would have been over. Now, he argued, his is the only Republican candidacy capable of blocking Trump from the nomination and Hillary Clinton from keeping the White House in Democratic hands.
If Trump wins, Cruz said, “it’s a disaster for conservatives. It’s a disaster for the country.”
Cruz began his visit to the area with a stop at Joe’s Kansas City barbecue in Olathe. He shook hands with dozens of supporters and chatted with voters.
“I asked him how we could convince people that he’s not part of the establishment,” said Cathy Schmidt of Olathe.
Cruz told Schmidt he was willing to stand up to both parties in Washington. “I hope the debates are starting to make that more and more clear,” he said. He urged her to talk with her neighbors about the campaign.
The Texas senator ordered a Z-man dinner — smoked brisket and provolone cheese with onion rings — at the restaurant, which was crowded with diners and voters.
Carol Daunis said she offered Cruz advice.
“He’s so intelligent,” she said. “Who cares if they don’t like it in Washington?”
Last month, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp endorsed Cruz as “a full-spectrum conservative that the people of Kansas should rally behind.” Gov. Sam Brownback has backed Rubio. So have Sen. Pat Roberts and U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo. This week, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach endorsed Trump.
The state gets little attention during presidential campaigns. After all, it’s so reliably Republican in the general election that candidates have little incentive to court Kansas voters. And its primary season caucuses neither fall terribly early in the campaign nor hold a significant number of delegates.
Still, Cruz came to ask for votes. It may prove promising territory for him. He’s fared generally well in caucus states. Trump, who’s been criticized for a ragtag campaign organization, generally scored less well in such states.
In addition, Cruz on Tuesday won neighboring Oklahoma. And Kansas in recent years tended to support candidates like Cruz who make their Christianity a prominent part of their politicking.
Cruz’s campaign also is managed by Kansas City-based political consultant Jeff Roe, known for sharp-elbowed tactics that have brought him both grudging respect and disdain.
Leading up to the Saturday contests in Kansas, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, is scheduled to hold a free campaign event Thursday at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds in Lawrence. Doors open at 4 p.m. The campaign also encourages RSVPs at berniesanders.com.
Cruz rival Rubio will hold a public rally Friday afternoon in the Wichita area. It will take place at 1:45 p.m. at Col. James Jabara Airport. His website is at marcorubio.com.
The four GOP presidential contenders will face off at 8 p.m. today in a debate sponsored by Fox News.