I was not totally unfamiliar with the fandom for Sen. Ted Cruz prior to attending his rally in Trussville, AL on Sunday.
I didn’t exactly understand why he had a seemingly strong following, but I knew who these people were- disaffected lower to middle class folk with a strong distrust of government. Of course in such a strong populist election cycle, I couldn’t understand why these people weren’t attracted to one of the other anti-establishment candidates when there were so many seemingly “better” alternatives.
Rand Paul’s brand of libertarianism is engineered to be more acceptable to the anti-neocon wing of the party, Ben Carson is about as outsider as you can be in national politics while still being a man of strong faith, and does anything else need to be said about the bombastic Donald Trump?
Each of these candidates seem to epitomize a more extreme version of what Cruz offers, so why does the comparatively moderate and “establishment” Cruz have 18% of the vote in a recent FOX News survey? These are the questions I had when pulled up to the Trussville Civic Center.
Trussville is a city of about 20,000 people in north central Alabama, just a short drive from Birmingham. The community is overwhelmingly white, and tends to be more affluent than the rest of the state. It was a short drive from my house to the community center, about 5 minutes, but parking took quite a bit longer. Cars encircled the white stone structure in anticipation of the first visit of a candidate for President of the United States, to the best of the City’s collective recollection.
As I arrived at the entrance about 5 minutes before the expected time of the start of the event, I was informed that a line had been stretching outside of the building before the doors opened.
I saw some family, friends, and neighbors, but there was also quite a bit in the entrance that was alien. I suspected that most of these people had driven quite a ways further than I had to see Cruz speak.
As I made my way past the booth selling copies of the Senator’s book, my suspicions were confirmed. I was asked to sign onto a slip of paper with places for three sets of names and information. The two previous spots had been filled. The apparent contact list asked for my name, address, phone number, County of residence, and whether or not I openly supported the Senator’s candidacy.
I glanced at the two entries above mine and saw that both were from neighboring Shelby County, which is a drive that can range from twenty minutes to one hour depending on where they were coming from.
After giving my name and phone number I made my way over to the auditorium. I was told that unless I had reserved seating that I would have to make my way to the overflow in the indoor basketball court. I made the turn down the hall, and walked to the far side of the room. When I turned around I noticed that the crowd had gotten much more bulky in one section that it had been when I passed. It took a moment to realize that the Senator and his entourage had come into the room on my heels.
Cruz was difficult to spot. He was heavily embedded into the crowd, honoring requests for selfies at least a couple of times. The crowd shook his hand, and offered him pats on the back as he made his way across the front of the mob gathered on the court. A woman yelled out “President Cruz” to get his attention towards the end of his gauntlet of handshakes.
When finally the crowd’s needs had been sated, the Senator offered brief but unintelligible remarks due to the poor quality of the microphone. With that he was gone off to the auditorium to go to the main event, whilst the projector was turned on for us late arrivals to view it simultaneously.
When I inquired further, he told me that Senator Cruz was honest and had principles. After being given a Chick Tract by his mother, I moved on.
Both Mo Brooks, the representative for the 5th Congressional District, and Mrs. Cruz spoke prior to the Senator. They were fairly well received, with Brooks offering the crowd an opportunity to boo both government spending and amnesty for illegal immigration, and Mrs. Cruz offering cute anecdotes of their relationship and the curiously well received line that Senator Cruz finally offers people an “articulate Republican candidate”.
This may be a subtle dig at President Bush, and by proxy his brother Jeb, or Trump but it could very well have been a throwaway line as well.
Despite the politely received opening acts, one could feel the anticipation for the main attraction. When the Senator went on stage with his family we could hear the applause from the auditorium.
The Senator preempted the meat of his remarks with a 10 minute long standup comedy routine. He primarily dug into the Democratic debates, offering condolences to those who watched them, and the well crafted line that the Democratic party is choosing between a “crazy haired socialist… and Bernie Sanders”.
He then offered familiar rhetoric, including detailing several policies that he plans to enact on his first day of office, including giving Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions a cabinet position, moving the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the particularly well received line that the “persecution of religious liberty ends today”.
Cruz continued with well received buzz words and phrases, drawing greater applause nearly every time, like:”flat tax”, “abolish the IRS”, “destroy ISIS”,” abolish Department of Education”, and “remove and replace Obamacare”. Closing with a prayer, the crowd shuffled out in short order.
I managed to catch up to a few of the people exiting the Civic Center. The first was a young man by the name of Josh. I asked him who he intended to support, and he indicated that Cruz was his man, followed by Paul, and Dr. Carson. When I inquired further, he told me that Senator Cruz was honest and had principles. After being given a Chick Tract by his mother, I moved on.
I met a jolly older man named Mack next. He was a loud spoken man wearing several pieces of Ted Cruz merchandise, and a small American flag in his pocket. He told me that he was a Cruz man because “He’s the only honest man!”.
When I asked if he had a second choice, he replied “NO! Why would I need a second? He’s the man!”
After shaking hands with Mack one last time, I spoke with a young lady named Marissa. When I asked her why she supported Cruz, she sheepishly told me that she was actually a supporter of Bernie Sander’s candidacy. After the initial shock wore off, I learned that she attended for the same reason I did, because it was so close to home.
She told me that she liked some of what the Senator said, but by no means clapped for all of it. Expressing disgust for Republicans in the state government and Secretary Clinton, she did express some appreciation for Carly Fiorina, calling her “highly intelligent”, and for Carson, though she remarked “I’d like Carson if he had more balls.”
After leaving the event, I feel I have a better understanding of Cruz’s supporters.
Cruz is very personable, and charismatic. He seems to strike a strong balance between the contradictory social conservative, civil libertarian, and neocon wings of the Republican Party.
Paired with a record of defying “the establishment”, but not so much that his name is mud by association, seems to have created a strong base of supporters among those disenfranchised by the previous unfettered free market capitalist bent of the GOP. (Just ask his “friends” in the Senate.)
The Cruz campaign is banking on a strong performance on the so-called “SEC Primary“, also known as March 1, the day when voters in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee and Georgia go to the polls.
It seems highly probable that they can perform well in Jefferson County, and perhaps in the whole of Alabama.
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Cover Photo Credit:Jamelle Bouie/Flickr (CC By 2.0)