Cruz, Santorum duel for conservative GOP support | St. Louis Public Radio

Cruz, Santorum duel for conservative GOP support

Sep 12, 2015

Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz is portraying himself as fellow conservatives’ best hope for transforming the federal government if he becomes president.

But rival Rick Santorum, who won Missouri’s 2012 presidential primary, is fighting back.

On Saturday, Cruz declared to reporters that he’s “surging’’ in Iowa and the polls, as he seeks to expand his conservative base in the wake of Friday’s surprise announcement by Texas Gov. Rick Perry that he’s dropping out of the crowded GOP contest for 2016.

Some of the crowd listening to Sen. Ted Cruz at the Eagle Forum convention.
Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

Cruz packed the ballroom Saturday morning at the Airport Marriott when he addressed this weekend’s Eagle Forum convention, called the Eagle Council.

The Texas senator warned the crowd that conservatives' best hope of getting a like-minded nominee is to coalesce behind one candidate -- preferably him -- rather than to continue being split among several candidates.

Otherwise, he asserted, a moderate might end up getting the GOP nomination -- which Cruz contended could lead to defeat in 2016.

Referring to the Democratic field, he joked their party was in even more disarray, consisting of "a wild-eyed socialist with ideas that are dangerous for America and the world — and Bernie Sanders."

The "socialist" appeared to be a jab at Hillary Clinton.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas
Credit WikipediaCommons

If elected president, Cruz promised to swiftly act to investigate and defund Planned Parenthood, eliminate the IRS, abolish the Department of Education and press for a flat income tax.

But to do all that, Cruz said he needs the support of committed conservatives like Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly and her allies.

“This is a room of warriors,” Cruz said, igniting cheers. “This is a room of women and men who charge into battle to defend liberty with a knife between your teeth, over broken glass, with fire coming over your head.”

Cruz implied that he was prepared to take that approach in the coming weeks, as he seeks to force Congress to strip $500 million from the federal budget that goes to Planned Parenthood to cover family-planning and well-women services for the poor under the federal Medicaid program.

Cruz hints at government shutdown

If that fight forces a government shutdown, Cruz says that it would be President Barack Obama’s fault, because he has promised to veto any budget that strips out Planned Parenthood’s funding.

Although the private agency’s money doesn’t go for abortion, Cruz and abortion opponents contend that Planned Parenthood uses the federal money to help bolster its overall operation as the nation’s largest private provider of contraceptives and abortion services. Abortion opponents also have accused Planned Parenthood of breaking the law because of videos produced by undercover abortion opponents that imply that some  Planned Parenthood officials or state agencies may be improperly profiting from the remains of aborted fetuses donated for scientific research.

Planned Parenthood has denied any misconduct, and so far no state investigations have produced evidence of illegal behavior.

Even so, most the Republican presidential field -- notably Cruz and Santorum -- puts opposition to abortion and Planned Parenthood among top issues.

Santorum, in particular, sought to highlight their differences in a later speech Saturday before the convention, a sign that the duo continues to duel over who’s most committed to the conservative fight.

Santorum appeared to acknowledge that he’s trailing, at least for now.  One potential sign: the former Pennsylvania senator attracted far fewer listeners Saturday than Cruz.

Former Missouri Eagle Forum president Lois Linton said in an interview that many members have affection for Santorum, but don’t believe he has enough money or a strong enough campaign operation to be successful.

Many conventioneers view Cruz, she added, “as the only strong Republican senator standing for the principles that made American great.”

Cruz issues list of Missouri backers

At a news conference afterward, Cruz contended that if elected, he’d be “a strong leader who will defend the Constitution, who will kill the terrorists, repeal Obamacare and stand up for the Bill of Rights.”

His campaign sought to highlight his Missouri strength by issuing a list of 30 state GOP allies.  The co-chairs include former state Sen. Jim Lembke of Lemay and former state Rep. Carl Bearden of St. Charles County.

Rick Santorum during 2012 campaign
Credit UPI/Bill Greenblatt

But Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, contended that Cruz was all talk, and little action. He asserted that Cruz, in the Senate only since 2013, “screams and hollers, and gets nothing done.”

Santorum, who served in the Senate for 12 years before losing in 2006,  said his own record shows that he has fought longer and harder on a number of issues, including abortion, education and immigration.

On immigration, for example, Santorum said Cruz actually had embraced certain provisions sought by business that would allow some foreign workers into the country to fill certain jobs, hurting American workers.

“In the last 25 years,  wages in America have flat-lined,’’ Santorum said. He asserted that legal and illegal immigration were partly to blame.

Santorum calls for focus on workers

Speaking broadly, Santorum contended that most of the Republican presidential field is too pro-business – in practice and in rhetoric.

“Ninety percent of workers in America do not own their own business,” Santorum said. “Yet, if you listen to any Republican get up on stage, all they talk about is small business and business. You’re talking to about 10 percent of Americans and then we wonder why we don’t win.”

Santorum dismissed the talk of some that 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost because he alienated evangelicals, who stayed home.

In truth, said Santorum, it was the conservative blue-collar workers who failed to vote in 2012. They feel abandoned by Obama and the Democrats, he said, but are alienated by Republicans.

“They aren’t going to look to a party who never talks about them,’’ Santorum said. “They’re willing to care about us, if we show we care about them.”

Santorum also showed Saturday that he cares about Missouri's presidential delegates. He stopped by the state GOP's executive committee meeting, held in Westport Plaza, to speak briefly with state party leaders. The committee gave its final approval to changes that will allocate most of the state's 52 delegates by congressional district, unless one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the statewide vote.

The number of delegates at stake is slightly smaller than state party leaders had expected Missouri would be allocated, based on the national party's formula.

Back at the Eagle Forum's convention, attendees also heard from presidential candidate Rand Paul, R-Ky. But his evening remarks centered almost exclusively on his mother, Carol Paul, who received the group's Homemaker of the Year award. Her husband, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, also attended, but sat quietly and proudly at his wife's side.