STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS
LLANO — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz spoke on the theme of winning during his campaign stop early Aug. 31 at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que.
Winning with legislation he’s passed and working to win the upcoming general election. But first, he spoke of winning something unusual for most senators: basketball.
He opened his speech by reliving his one-on-one basketball victory over Jimmy Kimmel in June.
After Kimmel jokingly blamed Cruz for causing the Houston Rockets’ Game 7 loss in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors in May, the senator decided to challenge the late-night show host to a game.
“I got kinda annoyed at that. So, I figured, alright, I can either get ticked off or I can have some fun with it,” Cruz said. “So I pulled out my phone, and I sent a tweet.”
Cruz, playing to the supportive, energetic, and enthusiastic crowd of nearly 300 packed inside Cooper’s, went on.
“Six thousand people came out to watch the game. As I said that day, never before have so many gathered to see so little talent in basketball,” Cruz said of the June 16 charity game.
“I gotta tell you, it was ugly. There must have been a thousand fouls, but at the end of the day, the final score was Cruz 11, Kimmel 9.”
From there, Cruz transitioned into politics, where he said a Republican president and majorities in both houses have been at work on four domestic priorities: tax cuts, regulatory reform, confirming judges, and repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
On tax cuts, Cruz boasted of the passage of “the biggest tax cuts of a generation” and doubling the child tax credit. Cruz claimed, to applause, that next year, 90 percent of Americans will be able to pay their taxes on a postcard.
“Now, personally, I think that should be 100 percent. I think we should have a flat tax, and we should abolish the IRS,” he said.
As for regulatory reform, Cruz claimed it to be one of the greatest successes of President Donald Trump’s administration.
“In just about every cabinet agency, just about every cabinet secretary has pulled back job-killing regulations that were hammering the state of Texas,” Cruz said.
The senator spoke about unemployment rates at historic lows and an increase since 2016 in oil and gas production.
“When you cut taxes, when you simplify the tax code, when you pull back the job-killing regulations, small businesses prosper and the state of Texas does great,” he said.
Cruz acknowledged while talking about Obamacare that it remained the “biggest unfinished commitment of the Republican majorities.”
Although the individual mandate has been repealed, Cruz said he still wants to see the full law repealed.
On the subject of judges, Cruz again claimed an “unmitigated success of the Trump presidency and Republican Senate.”
Not only did Cruz tout the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and the upcoming confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, he also discussed the number of judges at all levels.
He also didn’t pass up a chance to take a swing at Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer while discussing Kavanaugh’s upcoming hearings.
“And if you see Chuck Schumer running around on the Senate floor with his hair on fire, that would be why,” Cruz said to laughter.
Of course, Cruz has been campaigning across the state because he is in a tightly contested general election battle with Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. Before taking a number of questions from the crowd, Cruz addressed O’Rourke’s record and platform.
“If you noticed, we got a fight on our hands. The far left, they’re angry, they’re energized, they’re filled with hatred for the president,” Cruz said.
Cruz, in rallying the crowd, said he expects liberal voters to turn out in record-setting numbers after raising millions of dollars.
“Now, here’s the good news: This is Texas,” Cruz said. “And, in Texas, there are a whole lot more conservatives than there are liberals.”
Cruz’s message boiled down to one word: turnout. Cruz repeated the word three times.
“Look, I don’t think that there’s a chance that a bunch of Texas conservatives are just gonna wake up in November and vote Democrat,” he said. “But there is a chance that too many of us stay home.”
Cruz warned against complacency by conservative voters and the need to counter the energy behind O’Rourke’s campaign.
“And that’s what they’re counting on. Because the left is going to crawl over broken glass to get there, and they’re counting on the rest of us being too distracted to stand up and defend this state,” Cruz said.
After the event, Llano County Republican Party Chairman Doug Sanders said he was “very pleased” with the turnout and the nature of Cruz’s speech.
“He is dearly loved in the Hill Country, and everybody in that room walked away knowing in their heart, once again, that he is the senator to represent all of Texas in the Senate,” Sanders said.
After the Llano event, Cruz also made stops Friday in Blanco then Boerne. Sanders said it meant a lot for Cruz to include Llano County on his campaign schedule.
Cruz took questions from the audience, which included most of the talking points within national politics.
Asked who he would support for Speaker of the House, Cruz used a bit of humor in stating the characteristics he would hope the person has.
“I would like to see a strong conservative. That being said, I’ve got 1,000 fights in the Senate, and I’m up to my neck in rats,” Cruz said to laughter. “So I probably don’t need to pick fights in the House at this time.”
That was followed by a question that again got to Cruz’s personality. Does Cruz have any Democratic friends?
“Yes. Although, define friend?” he said.
After more laughter, Cruz addressed the question by saying that society is “deeply divided.”
Despite the polarization, Cruz said he’s passed legislation into law that requires working with Democrats. He also boasted of legislation he’s passed that was signed by Presidents Obama and Trump, showing his work to pass legislation for two different administrations.
As he spoke of the legislation, which was about NASA, Cruz also talked about Mars and his goal to put a person on the red planet.
“We’re going to land on Mars, and the first boot that’s going to step on the surface of the red planet will be an American boot with a big ol’ American flag” Cruz said.
Then, interjecting more patriotism for the crowd, he added, “And I feel confident that astronaut is not going to drop to one knee after planting that flag.”
Cruz later addressed the flag again when discussing a recent video clip of O’Rourke’s response to a question about people kneeling during the National Anthem.
O’Rourke’s response to a recent town-hall question has gone viral, and Cruz spoke against it in Llano.
“Listen, anyone has a right to protest. That’s a right that’s protected in the Constitution,” Cruz said. “But you can protest in a way that’s not disrespectful to the flag and isn’t disrespectful to our National Anthem.”
On Friday evening, Cruz will fly back to Washington, D.C., to attend Sen. John McCain’s funeral service, which is Sept. 1. Cruz said he was privileged to serve alongside McCain in the Senate.
“He was an American hero, and we are mourning alongside Cindy (his wife), alongside his kids and grandkids, and the entire country stands united in honoring his legacy,” Cruz said.
After the service, he’ll get right back to the campaign trail.
“You saw we had standing-room only here. We’ve been seeing that,” Cruz said after the Llano event. “We did three town halls (Aug. 30) in West Texas. Packed houses everywhere we went. We’ve been seeing that in every part of the state.”
Cruz, and O’Rourke, will continue campaigning to keep that energy up until the Nov. 6 general election.