When I arrived at Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s scheduled stump speech Wednesday in southwest OKC, I had already missed the Texas senator’s impromptu press availability.
Scanning the crowd at Oklahoma City Community College, I saw the next best thing — a state senator speaking with Cruz staffers who could surely explain why so many people were “taking off with Ted,” as the rally literature explained.
I approached Sen. Anthony Sykes (R-Moore) pleasantly, though his prickly nature precedes him. He said he was the event’s emcee and was busy preparing. We stood around for a couple of minutes, and eventually I asked him again whether he could tell me the reason he supports Cruz.
“No,” Sykes said coldly before telling a bystander that I work for “Andrew Rice’s group.”
While Sykes wandered to the stage and gave a tepid introduction to the day’s speakers, I spotted Rep. Sally Kern (R-OKC) and asked her the same question. She was far more cordial.
“I support Ted Cruz because he’s a principled man,” said Kern, who has formally endorsed Cruz. “It’s one thing to say you’ll do something. It’s a totally different thing to actually do it once you’re in office, and he’s proven he’s a man of his word and that you can trust him.”
That’s a large part of Cruz’s message, one he hammered home in a fiery stump speech that paired constitutionalism with religious fundamentalism and featured countless hoots and hollers from the crowd.
“I’m here to tell you today, HELP is on the way,” Cruz bellowed, the PA system crackling as he growled the word for emphasis.
The room’s energy was palpable, and likely voters were excited.
“I just love Ted Cruz,” said Donna See of Edmond. “I love how he stood up to the president. I love how conservative he is.”
Cruz’s father spoke at the rally to explain how his son began building conservative bona fides early, memorizing the U.S. Constitution before age 10 and training with the Free Enterprise Institute in high school to write it word-for-word, sometimes on easels in restaurants for unsuspecting diners to enjoy.
Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-Tulsa) joined Cruz on Wednesday in OKC. Bridenstine had also spoken for Cruz at a Tulsa rally earlier in the day.
“I’m all in on Ted Cruz,” Bridenstine told me after the event. “I think it’s his race right now. It’s really between two people I think at this point. It’s either going to be Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.”
Indeed, Cruz’s rally possessed similar energy to that of Trump’s in September.
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“I think they’re very different people, but they appeal to kind of the same sentiment that people feel across this country,” Bridenstine said. “I think that the Republican electorate is tired of Washington DC, they’re tired of this governing by [continuing resolution], they’re tired of not being represented. So I think there is an appeal to a candidate who is challenging the establishment, and I think Ted Cruz is that candidate. I think Donald Trump is that candidate.”
One area where Cruz and Trump appear to share strengths is in working a crowd and pointing to a perceived common enemy for conservatives: the working press.
Trump called the press “terrible people” at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds, something I noted for a headline. Cruz offered a similarly crass assessment of journalists while running through a list of the things he would do immediately upon inauguration as president.
“At the end of eight years, there’s going to be a whole lot of editors, journalists and newspaper reporters who have checked themselves into therapy,” Cruz said to a smattering of laughter.
As someone who also teaches classes to improve public understanding of mental health disorders, I found the joke doubly tiresome and a poignant confirmation of the stigma that often prevents people from seeking treatment.
More to the point, however, Cruz’s assembled supporters loved his playful-yet-serious style. At times, the first-term senator commanded the stage like a conservative Jay Leno, his button-down tucked into nice jeans and a wry smile on his face.
“They’ve announced the location of the next Democratic debate,” he said to set himself up. “They’re going to host it at Leavenworth. They wanted to make it easier for Hillary to attend.”
Other times, Cruz spoke of “a spirit of revival in America” and referenced his and his father’s strong Christian faith, something extremely popular among many of his supporters.
“Ted Cruz is a Christian, and he has the Christian values that I don’t necessarily think Mr. Trump does,” said See, who moved to Edmond from Tampa, Fla., when her children accepted employment with LifeChurch.
Cruz and Trump have mostly avoided criticizing each other in public, and if Cruz mentioned a single one of his primary opponents by name Wednesday, I missed it. Recent polls show Cruz leading Trump in Iowa and trailing The Donald in New Hampshire. With Ben Carson and others fading of late, Trump, Cruz and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio lead the field.
“I think his principles are right on with the American people,” Howard Williams said of Cruz. “I’m also a supporter of Donald Trump. I support both of them.”
Williams served as a Republican state representative from Tulsa, representing District 78 from 1964 to 1974. Now, he and his son own KTLV 1220, a gospel and talk radio station in OKC.
“I probably will vote for Ted Cruz,” Williams said. “I like what he has to say. I think he’ll take a thorough look at the Internal Revenue Service.”
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Cruz’s supporters hardly need to guess what he’ll do if elected president. While Trump spent a great deal of time in his State Fair speech discussing the economy in general terms and promising to “win so much” that we’ll all get tired of winning, Cruz spent the majority of his speech running through a list of Day One plans for his presidency.
“The first thing I intend to do is rescind every single illegal and unconstitutional executive action (taken by President Barack Obama),” Cruz said to cheers.
His next actions would be:
- Second: Have the Department of Justice open an investigation into Planned Parenthood. (A man behind me yelled, “Yeehaw!”)
- Third: Instruct the DOJ and the IRS “that the persecution of religious liberty ends today.”
- Fourth: “Rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian deal.”
- Fifth: “Begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.”
- Sixth: “Repeal every word of Obamacare.”
- Seventh: End the jurisdictional status of 360 “sanctuary cities” around the U.S. “Every one of them is going to find their federal tax dollars cut off.”
In all, the red meat excited the gathered crowd, and afterward attendees lined up by the hundred to take photos with Cruz. Some asked Cruz to sign the pocket U.S. Constitution provided to attendees at the front door.
Williams said he thinks Cruz and Trump will be president and vice president together, and he said he could see either being at the top of the ticket.
“I’m impressed with him,” Williams said. “He’s thorough, he’s a Christian, and you can see he touches the pulse of the people, especially the Oklahoma people.”