Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz took a victory lap Saturday in front of hundreds of Inland Northwest voters and pleaded with those supporting other candidates to unite against front-runner Donald Trump.
“If Donald is our nominee, in all likelihood we lose to Hillary Clinton, we lose the U.S. Senate, we lose the Supreme Court for a generation, we lose the Bill of Rights, we lose the future of our kids,” said Cruz, appearing at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds on a whirlwind stop through Idaho.
The state will hold a presidential primary Tuesday in which 32 delegates are up for grabs.
The Texas senator appeared just minutes after media outlets began calling his victory in the Kansas presidential caucus over Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Cruz earned roughly half the vote in Kansas, which he said was further proof that he’s the only Republican candidate who can derail Trump’s path to the GOP nomination.
“Our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten Donald Trump over and over and over again, and will beat Donald Trump over and over and over again,” Cruz, clad in jeans, boots, a suit jacket and no tie, told the boisterous crowd of roughly 1,600 people that filled the Jacklin Building on Saturday afternoon. Organizers said another 1,500 people watched outside, and Cruz returned to the stage after his speech to thank them.
In a speech punctuated by attacks on both Trump and the policies of President Barack Obama, Cruz criticized what he called efforts to stifle economic growth. He promised to “repeal every word” of the Affordable Care Act if elected and to be tougher on America’s enemies. He said he would follow Obama in the same way Ronald Reagan followed Jimmy Carter, by passing tax reforms and using that money to strengthen the military that was used to bankrupt and defeat the Soviet Union.
“I intend to do the exact same thing with radical Islam,” Cruz said, to cheers from the assembled audience.
“We’re not going to weaken, we’re not going to degrade,” Cruz continued. “We will utterly destroy ISIS.”
Before the senator’s speech, Cruz supporters raised umbrellas and huddled together for warmth as rain soaked the fairgrounds. Many of them described Cruz as a more diplomatic alternative to Trump. Cruz has shored up the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, who did not appear Saturday due to other engagements. Gov. Butch Otter has endorsed Kasich.
“He seems more reasonable than all the other candidates,” said Coeur d’Alene resident Skyler Borders, who arrived more than an hour before the doors opened to wait in the rain with his mother, Candice. Candice Borders took a day off work at Macy’s to attend the rally.
“It almost – you don’t want to say it – but it is the lesser of two evils, which is a shame, because I don’t think politics was ever meant to be that,” said Candice Borders, who said her support of a Republican candidate was fueled in part by her desire not to see Hillary Clinton as president.
The Borderses said they supported Cruz’s positions on immigration, echoing the opinions of several who waited in line for the senator. Kerry Field, a military veteran and New Zealand native, wrapped his arm around his wife, Nedda, as the pair awaited the start of the event. Kerry Field, who filed for the draft when he immigrated, said Trump’s positions on immigration – specifically his call for a wall to be built on the border with Mexico and deportation for those in the country illegally – were unrealistic.
“I don’t think what Trump is saying is going to work,” Field said. “He’s not had the experience, working with Congress in that sense. You’ve got to let people in here legally.”
Nedda Field, who is part Cuban and once lived on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, said she supported Cruz’s hard stance on keeping the detention center for suspected terrorists open in spite of President Barack Obama’s announced plans to shutter it. She also called Trump “unstable.”
“We need somebody who’s going to give a lot of thought before he relays what he’s thinking,” she said. “That’s why we’re Cruz supporters.”
A little farther forward in line, married couple Frank and Shirley James clutched the same umbrella they brought from Bonner County. Frank James described himself as “an old military guy,” and he too questioned Trump’s boisterous appearances at the televised Republican debates.
“A leader doesn’t do that,” Frank James said. “He doesn’t lower himself to the muck. All my leaders could stand in the middle of a muddy field, and their boots could still be shining.”
Shirley James praised Cruz’s legal acumen as a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk.
“I think that he’s intelligent, he’s really smart, and I like that,” she said. “And I honestly think he has the country’s best interests at heart.”
The Jameses, Fields and Borderses all said they wanted to hear about Cruz’s policies, rather than attacks on the other candidates.
Instead of attacking the remaining candidates, Cruz said he would welcome their supporters to join his campaign and defeat Trump.
“If we stand united, that’s how we win this primary, it’s how we win the general, it’s how we turn the country around,” he said.