By JOHN DiSTASO, Editor
CONCORD – Eventually, New Hampshire will be a “ground zero” for the 2016 presidential election campaign, as it always is.
But for now, insists Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the Granite State is “ground zero” in the battle for control of the United States Senate – and the way Cruz sees it, in many ways the future of the country.
The 43-year-old first-term conservative, hero to many in the Tea Party and scourge to Democrats (and even some middle-of-the-road Republicans), will make a key pilgrimage to New Hampshire this weekend to talk about not only the mid-term election but also, “more broadly, to talk about how we turn our nation around.
“We are facing extraordinary challenges today and we are trapped in an economic situation with the lowest labor force participation since 1978 and an unprecedented threat to our civil liberties and constitutional rights,” Cruz told the New Hampshire Journal in an interview ahead of his second visit in less than a month to the first-primary state.
Cruz is very much in the conversation as a potential Republican presidential candidate. The questions are, is he experienced enough and are his traditional conservative views too narrow to attract the broad cross-section of GOP voters necessary to propel him to the nomination?
Predictably, the senator isn’t outwardly talking about running for the White House, at least not yet. Still, a speaking engagement Saturday at the Carroll County Republican Committee Lincoln Dinner and a Sunday appearance at a private reception with the conservative advocacy group Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire are effective starting points for Cruz – just in case he wants to get to know and perhaps get contact information of Granite Staters for future reference.
For now, he said, “My central message is to encourage the men and women of New Hampshire and across our country to speak out and stand up to bring our country back and restore the constitutional liberties that served as the foundation for America.”
As for a presidential run, “There is certainly time to address that question moving forward,” he said. “Right now my focus is on the national debate we are having about the direction of America. The path we’re on isn’t working. Millions of Americans are finding opportunity slipping away and finding the American dream harder and harder to realize.
“I hope to do what I can to participate in that debate and to urge that we get back to our founding principles. And New Hampshire is absolutely a critical forum for that national debate.”
On Wednesday, Jeb Bush, the moderate former Florida governor, told an audience in New York that he is “thinking of running for President.” Bush would occupy the centrist, so-called “establishment,” void that currently exists in the prospective GOP field, and could at some point be a rival to Cruz.
But Cruz wasn’t biting.
“I think it’s too early to be worried about 2016,” he said. “But I can tell you as a voter, the person for whom I intend to vote is the person who is standing up and making the case that the path we are on isn’t working and we have to get back to our basic free market principles.
“By any measure there are five, 10 or even 15 people who seem to be thinking about running and I would encourage all of them to stand up and lead. I can think of no better outcome than a year-and-a-half from now to have an abundance of people standing up and saying that there is a better path, that we can get back to economic growth and prosperity.”
Cruz is known on Capitol Hill as an outsider even among his own caucus. Some Republicans blame him for forcing the 2013 government shutdown.
In February, after the Senate, with GOP support, approved an increase in the national debt ceiling, Cruz said, “Today’s vote is yet another example that establishment politicians from both parties are simply not listening to the American people.”
But Cruz now appears to have softened his rhetoric a bit.
He told the Journal he agrees with Ronald Reagan’s principle: “What do you call someone who you agree with 80 percent of the time?
“That person is a friend and we should welcome everyone with a multitude of views,” he said.
“But at the same time it is important for Republicans to stand for principle. The only way we win elections nationally is to stand for conservative principles and to provide a clear alternative” to the Democrats.
“What I have been urging Republicans in Washington to do is to get back to the free market principles and the common sense conservative principles that have been the foundation of our nation,” Cruz said. “These principles are known to be based on basic common sense. Live within our means. Don’t bankrupt the nation. Individual liberty.”
Yet his opposition to Obamacare is as unwavering as ever. He said the Affordable Care Act epitomizes the ideological divide that has brought Washington to a virtual standstill.
While the Obama administration and its supporters say the Affordable Care Act has been a success with 8 million sign-ups, Cruz insists the administration “is basing its numbers on funny math. They have not revealed how many people have actually received insurance. How many have signed up on line is a different number and most critically, they have not revealed how many of those who have signed up were previously uninsured.
“We know that more than 6 million Americans have had their health insurance cancelled because of Obamacare.
“It is a curious victory for the law to first cancel insurance for over 6 million people and then have people sign up because they had to get new insurance with higher premiums and deductibles. That is not a victory for the American people.
“There is a reason the Democratic senators are running from Obamacare,” he said. “Four years ago, reasonable minds may have differed on the issue. But today, we’ve seen the trainwreck that is the law go into effect. Millions have lost jobs and are forced into part-time work. There are skyrocketing premiums.
“It is the essence of pragmatism to realize that the law isn’t working,” Cruz said, still calling for repeal.
“Absolutely the central reason why so many Senate Democrats are in trouble right now, including Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, is that they are directly responsible for the disaster that is Obamacare.
“I would also note that President Obama 28 times looked the American people in the eye and said that if you like your health care plan you can keep it and if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor. When he said that, it was a deliberate falsehood.
“He apologized later for telling falsehoods but the definition of a real apology is when you go and make it right. And it is a sad statement when the Senate Majority Leader accuses the citizenry of being liars.”
Cruz predicted the GOP will “take back the majority in the U.S. Senate and retire Harry Reid as Majority Leader. I’m working very hard to make that happen and New Hampshire is ground zero is the battle to take back the Senate.”
Cruz, however, refused to comment on the GOP candidates vying in a primary to take on Shaheen in November.
“I trust the grassroots voters in New Hampshire to make that determination,” he said.
On foreign policy, Cruz said, “We are seeing the direct consequences of the administration’s weakness and misguided strategy of leading from behind. As America has receded from its leadership in the world, into that vacuum has stepped nations such as Russia and Iran and China, and the world has become a far more dangerous place.”
Cruz said he was encouraged by the “bipartisan cooperation” that resulted in unanimous passage in the Senate and House of his bill to forbid Iranian Ambassador to the UN Hamid Aboutalebi, who participated in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans in Tehran, from setting foot on U.S. soil. The bill was signed into law last Friday by President Obama.
“It was a moment of clarity and of bipartisan unity when it came to the virulent anti-Americanism of the government of Iran,” Cruz said.
Cruz said he was gratified by the enthusiastic reception he received at the April 12 Freedom Summit sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United. He said Granite Staters show a “live-free-or-die independent spirit that is similar to that of Texas.
“The values our states share are a fierce love of independence and freedom,” he said.