By Aaron Rhodes
Texas senator and Republican candidate Ted Cruz spoke to over 1,300 attendees Wednesday evening at the college. Cruz’ speech included the key points of his platform as well as his take on the current presidential race.
Cruz walked onto the Yardley Hall stage just after 7:15 p.m. to a buzzing at-capacity audience. The event, dubbed “Cruzin’ To Caucus,” also had an overflow room set up for those who could not acquire a seat, bringing the total attendance to nearly 2,000. Once the initial applause died down, Cruz thanked the pastor that led the room in prayer, as well as Kansas House of Representatives member and Tea Party organizer Amanda Grosserode and others who welcomed him to the stage.
Cruz’s 33-minute speech hit three main topic: jobs, freedom and security. Cruz also spent time convincing Republican caucus voters that he is the only candidate who can take on Donald Trump and win the polls.
“You know it’s easy to say you want to make America great again. You can even print that on a baseball cap,” Cruz said to the chuckling audience.
“China!” yelled a woman from the audience.
“That is where the caps are made,” Cruz confirmed.
Cruz was quick on his feet when responding to the numerous hecklers. Although none of them had anything negative to shout — most were short affirmations like, “No way!” or “Rubio needs to go home!” — Cruz handled them all tactfully, avoiding any tense or awkward situations that could have plagued a less experienced speaker.
The current second-place candidate lambasted Trump for allegedly siding with Democrats for decades in the past and for claiming he would cut deals with Democrats if elected. Cruz repeatedly drew loud cheers, standing ovations and elongated shouts of his surname when proclaiming he would not negotiate with anyone when it came to religious liberties, supporting the state of Israel, second-amendment rights, combating Islamic terrorists and stripping welfare benefits from undocumented immigrants — or “undocumented Democrats” as he referred to them at one point. Cruz was also met with the same fanatic response when describing the day that Barack Obama leaves the White House.
Although almost entirely white, the audience included an equal mix of men and women and featured attendees of all ages including many high school students and first-time voters. The first person in line for the event was a 16-year-old student from Shawnee Mission South High School who, while unable to vote in the upcoming election, stated he is deeply interested in politics and thinks that Cruz is the only candidate who can save the Republican party.
Nancy Gargan, a Topeka resident and proud Cruz supporter, saw Cruz speak in Iowa and multiple locations in the south before his visit to Kansas. She will also be speaking about Cruz at a caucus site in Topeka this Saturday. Gargan said she admires Cruz’ attention to detail in regards to his platform. Gargan has been a longtime advocate for voter participation, working with Kids Voting USA’s Kansas branch in the 1990s, but hasn’t been this involved in a particular presidential election before.
“I’ve just seen the deterioration of the rule of law and our constitution being thrown away over the last seven years,” said Gargan. “I want us to get back to … our constitution being the priority. … You know when he was standing on the senate floor for 21 hours and filibustering against Obamacare? That’s what I want to see. I want to see somebody who’s got the will to stand there and say, ‘No, I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to vote for it.’”
John Rives, Student Senate president at the college, shared his thoughts on the speech shortly afterward.
“I thought [the speech] was really good. I wish he would’ve talked less about Donald Trump and more about specific policies, especially economic policy,” said Rives, who despite wanting less talk about immigration as well, still enjoyed the event.
“I went into it liking Ted Cruz and I think my views were reinforced,” he said.
Cruz spent most of the evening on the offensive; however, he did take a respectful, somber tone and discussed Ben Carson’s departure from the race during a short press room talk before the speech.
“Ben Carson is an American story and an American hero.” said Cruz. “He grew up in very challenging circumstances and became a world-famous surgeon. … Ben’s campaign touched millions, gave them hope, gave them inspiration. I count myself as one of those millions who have been touched by Ben’s story, by his decency. By the decency with which he approached this campaign. … I read the announcement about Ben and Candy and I wish both of the my very, very best.”
After Cruz’ half-hour of working the crowd into a frenzy, pounding in his main points, countering Trump and pleading his case to the Republican base, he shook a few hands and exited the stage while Brooks & Dunn’s “Only In America” played a couple times on repeat as the crowd filed out.
While the senator has been regarded as notoriously hard to work with in the Senate by his own party, Cruz seemed to have won over the support of many Johnson County residents.
The Kansas Caucuses take place this Saturday.