Cruz returns to Republican Party convention a conquering hero

Karen Tumulty (c) 2014, The Washington Post. FORT WORTH, Texas — The last time Sen. Ted Cruz showed up at a Texas Republican Party convention, it was as the scrappy insurgent who had come from nowhere to force the establishment’s anointed one into a run-off for a U.S. Senate seat.

More than 8,000 Republicans gathered here again Thursday for their three-day biennial meeting. And just two years after he first appeared on their stage, the junior senator from Texas bestrode the world inside the Fort Worth Convention Center as a colossus.

The story line of this primary season nationally has largely been one in which the Republican establishment has regrouped and managed to brush back the tea party.

Then there’s Texas.

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This year’s Republican primaries proved beyond doubt that in the Lone Star State, the tea party is now the mainstream of Republicanism. Indeed, the entire Texas GOP appears to have been made over in Cruz’s image.

Come January, barring a massive shift in the state’s political winds, candidates who ran by his playbook will hold just about every statewide office. And all of the dozen or so that Cruz endorsed or said nice things about will have won.

“It’s still an insurgency,” Cruz said in an interview. “It’s an insurgency of millions of people across Texas and millions of people across America who are standing up to turn our nation around.”

On Friday, convention attendees were enraptured by Cruz’s keynote address, in which he warned that “liberty is under assault like never before, and again today Texans will stand up and lead the fight for freedom.” It sounded like a warm-up for a presidential stump speech, and many in the audience hope that will be the case, judging by the chants of “run, Ted, run!”

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While Rick Perry appeared only briefly, for what was his state convention valedictory as Texas’s longest-serving governor, Cruz seemed to be everywhere, speaking to two women’s groups, at an anti-gay-marriage event, to the socially conservative Eagle Forum and in several sessions with reporters.

Nearly 900 convention-goers started lining up more than an hour and a half early for a chance to get their picture with the senator. Cruz’s father, Rafael, a pastor and immigrant who fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba, was also treated like a celebrity wherever he went.

Then Cruz ran away with a 14-candidate presidential straw poll, pulling in 43 percent of the vote. Perry finished fourth.

“Every speech, sticker and display booth reflects a Cruzified party,” Dallas Morning News columnist Wayne Slater wrote.

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The GOP platform approved Saturday also reflected a new, harder edge.

Republicans dropped moderate language, approved in 2012 as a “Texas solution” on immigration, that called for a national guest worker program. They also endorsed “reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.”

Texas conservatives say that they are not out of step but rather leading the way.

“We have to hold the line until some of those other states wake up and start voting Republican again,” said state Sen. Dan Patrick, who last month ended Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s bid for a fourth term by defeating him handily in a runoff.

Patrick’s win was a coda to Cruz’s defeat of Dewhurst in the 2012 Senate primary. It was also a crucial victory for the tea party. The Texas lieutenant governor, by virtue of running the state Senate, is arguably more powerful than the governor.

Cruz may be reviled by some in Washington for his role in bringing the federal government to a halt last year, but at home, Republicans see him as that rare politician who actually does what he promised.

“Senator Cruz is a tremendous spokesman for our principles,” said Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams. “It was very clear he went to Washington not to fall in line.”

Democrats — who have not won any statewide office in Texas in 20 years — say that within all that electoral success lies ultimate ruin. They put up a billboard to greet the convention delegates descending on Fort Worth. It featured the image of a rattlesnake atop a dead elephant and the hashtag #RIPGOP.

Cruz and the tea party are “pushing the Republican party off the ideological cliff,” said Texas Democratic Party communications director Emmanuel Garcia.

Garcia noted that voter turnout in Texas is low, with rates at or near the bottom of the country.

In a state of more than 26 million people — 13.6 million of them registered voters — Patrick managed a decisive win in the runoff for lieutenant governor with fewer than 500,000 votes. Turnout was 5.5 percent.

Demographic forces could ultimately help make the state more competitive for Democrats as the share of Latinos and young people grows, though that prospect appears to be at least several election cycles away. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis, a state senator who gained national fame with a filibuster against abortion restrictions, has not gotten traction the way her party had hoped.

With the tea party now moving into a position to govern the state, Democrats predict that the business community, among others, will mount a backlash against fiscal policies that they say could starve the state’s educational system and its infrastructure.

Democrats also point to their nominee for comptroller — Mike Collier, an accountant and former oil-industry executive who voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president in 2012 — as a leading indicator.

But Collier is a long shot to win against GOP pick Glenn Hegar, a state senator who told the convention delegates, “You know, Texas isn’t like any other state — and I thank the Lord for that.”

As for Cruz, he opened his convention speech with one of his favorite lines: “I spent all week in Washington, D.C., and it is great to be back in America.”

As always in Texas, it brought a roar of approval from the crowd.