The Texas senator Ted Cruz says the rise of Donald Trump makes him “very optimistic” the next occupant of the White House will be a conservative – perhaps himself – propelled there by the “volcanic rage” of voters.
Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday, the Republican presidential candidate said: “I’m very encouraged [about] where we are right now because I think what we’re seeing happening every day is conservatives coalescing behind our campaign.
“And you know, one of the reasons I’m very optimistic is … is you look at the impact of Donald Trump. I like Donald.”
Trump, a real-estate billionaire, leads most polls of the 15-strong Republican field from Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who also has no experience in elected office. Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard chief executive who has fought one losing campaign for the US Senate, has also shown strongly.
In a Fox News poll on the Republican field this week, Trump led on 24%, from Carson on 23%. Cruz was third with 10% and Fiorina scored 5%, enough for sixth place behind Florida senator Marco Rubio (9%) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush on 8%.
Notwithstanding the trend for Republican primaries to lurch right before a general election fought in the centre, it is a startling message for a faction-riven party seeking to end eight years of Democratic control of the White House.
Asked by NBC host Chuck Todd what distinguished him from Carson and Trump – the latter of whom Cruz has not attacked for his many controversial remarks, unlike most of the rest of the field – the Texas senator said he was different “from everyone else on that [debate] stage”.
“I think my record is markedly different in terms of actually standing up and taking on the Washington cartel,” he said.
Cruz is a first-term senator who has earned the enmity of many in his own party for the kind of hardline conservatism that saw him play a leading role in the government shutdown of 2013, a failed attempt to bring down President Obama’s signature healthcare reform.
His views, however, are shared by voters and elected representatives aligned with the Tea Party movement, which bemoans bipartisan deal-making, the traditional way of getting things done on Capitol Hill. In his interview with NBC, Cruz attempted to explain why he, a sitting US senator, could appeal to those attracted to “outsiders” like Carson and Trump.
The truth of the matter is Republican leadership are the most effective Democrat leaders we’ve ever seen
Conservative voters feel “volcanic rage”, he said. “People are ticked off with politicians … that make great promises on the campaign trail but then they don’t actually follow through.”
Asked if he had followed through on vows to shut down Obamacare and the multinational nuclear deal with Iran – which both remain standing – Cruz said: “What I promised is that I would fight with every breath in my body to stop the out-of-control spending and the debt that is bankrupting our country, to stop Obamacare, to protect our nation.
“And … all of those are promises that I have honored every single day in the Senate.”
Though he declined to make direct attacks on Senate leader Mitch McConnell and outgoing House speaker John Boehner, who recently called conservatives such as Cruz “ false prophets ”, Cruz spoke with elemental fury about the “Republican leadership”.
Such “volcanic rage” among conservative voters, he said, had produced “tidal wave” and “tsunami” elections of Republicans to Congress but had not produced results, leading to the primacy of Trump, Carson and himself.
“Leadership voted to fund Obamacare,” he said. “Then they voted to fund amnesty [for undocumented migrants]. Then they voted to fund Planned Parenthood . And then Republican leadership took the lead confirming Loretta Lynch as attorney general .
“Now Chuck, which one of those decisions is one iota different than what would happened under [Senate minority leader] Harry Reid and the Democrats? The truth of the matter is Republican leadership are the most effective Democrat leaders we’ve ever seen.”
After a discussion of foreign policy in which he argued for counterterrorism over large-scale military force and “strong men” such as Egyptian general and president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi leading Middle Eastern countries, Cruz was asked about the upcoming deadline for raising the US debt limit, another flashpoint for conservatives.
He did not say he was in favor of attaching conditions to approval of a raise, saying: “What I’d like to see on the debt limit is Republican leaders fight for something. For Pete’s sakes, anything.”
Turning his fire back on the other Republican candidates, Cruz concluded: “You know, everyone just filed their fundraising reports . Out of all 17 Republican candidates who started … the one with the most cash on hand is our campaign, $13.8m.
“We’ve got $3.5m more in the bank than Jeb Bush. If I’d said that six months ago, you would have said I was off-my-rocker insane.”
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