Oct 1, 2015

Local tea party supporters look for conservative candidate in 2016

America is now on “the edge of a precipice,” is “collapsing” and has had “seven years of no guidance,” speakers and attendees opined at a recent Big Horn Basin TEA Party picnic.

Former CIA officer Wayne Simmons told the audience of about 100 that the country and its military have been weakened by the “communist, socialist, Muslim sitting in the White House.”

“But in 2016, that can all change,” Simmons said of electing a conservative president. “And if it does, America is back.”

The ongoing presidential race was a primary topic at the Aug. 15 gathering of tea party supporters from around the state, though it wasn’t the only one.

Rev. Rafael Cruz, the father of Texas Senator and Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz, highlighted the event with an impassioned case for conservatives to rally around his son.

During an August tea party event in Emblem, Rafael Cruz urged the conservative audience to rally around the presidential campaign of his son, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

The elder Cruz said the battle is not in November 2016, but in the Republican primaries.

“If we become like bees, going from flower to flower, the moderates, the establishment, will be dancing in the streets. Because if we split the conservatives, their anointed one, Jeb Bush, will become the Republican nominee,” Rev. Cruz said. “If Jeb Bush is the Republican nominee, Hillary (Clinton) will be our next president, because the millions of conservatives, millions of people of faith who stayed at home in 2008 and 2012, will stay at home again.

“We cannot afford for that to happen,” he said, predicting Clinton would be “10 times worse” than President Barack Obama.

While admitting his bias, Rev. Cruz said his son was the “one great man” among several good, conservative candidates.

“There's only one that has been on the forefront, and has the arrows in his torso to prove it — whether it’s fighting to preserve our religious liberty, our first amendment rights to free speech, Ted has been at the forefront,” Rev. Cruz said. “Others are talking about maybe defunding Planned Parenthood. Ted is talking about prosecuting Planned Parenthood.”

The reverend’s message was warmly received by the Tea Party audience.

Camara Clifton of Powell, a precinct committeewoman in the Park County Republican Party, won a 50-50 raffle at the event and immediately announced she was donating her $110 in winnings to the Ted Cruz campaign.

“When he declared (his candidacy) for president, I didn’t really care who else was running,” said Clifton, who became familiar with Cruz while living in Texas.

“He is the only one — the only one — that we can count on to do what he says he’s going to do, because that’s all he’s ever done since he’s been in the Senate,” Clifton said in an interview. “He will not only lead us out of this mess, he actually is such an incredible thinker that he will help us solve, with the world, the problems that we have today.”

One apparent consensus among local tea partyers is that they have little interest in the campaign of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who is seen as representing the Republican establishment.

Cody resident Sheila Leach agreed with Rev. Cruz that conservatives need to coalesce around one candidate and she thinks Cruz is probably that person.

Leach has been alarmed about the amount of attention drawn by real estate mogul-turned-presidential contender Donald Trump. Leach believes people have been more attracted to his entertainment value than anything else.

“Some of what he says is quite horrifying. I think he’s outrageous and people are loving it, as if it’s one huge amusement,” she said in an interview. “I would like to see people getting down to studying what the candidates stand for.”

Whether Cruz can capture the majority of the Tea Party supporters remains to be seen.

Attendee Fred Thompson of Burlington said after the picnic that, while he likes Cruz, he prefers Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky — and Trump “sounds pretty good.”

Appearing on KODI-AM’s “Speak Your Piece” Monday morning, Big Horn Basin TEA Party organizer Rob DiLorenzo — who hosted August’s picnic — said a lot of people within the tea party movement are looking at Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, or former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fioriona.

Local tea party organizer Rob DiLorenzo thinks Sen. Ted Cruz's status as an outsider could be a problem for his presidential campaign. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
DiLorenzo said a lot of tea party people believe Trump may be “too aggressive, too caustic,” while retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is “too laid back.” On KODI, he suggested the country needs someone in the middle: aggressive, but articulate and “a bit more diplomatic, maybe.”

Tea party supporters do appear to agree on their dislike of former Florida Governor and Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush, the son of President George H.W. Bush and the brother of President George W. Bush.

DiLorenzo said on “Speak Your Piece” that the tea party wants a change from establishment candidates.

Thompson, the picnic attendee, was more colorful.

“We don’t want any more Bushes of Clintons in there, because that’s what the establishment wants: New World Order, Agenda 21. That’s what that’s all about,” Thompson said, adding, “They want everybody to be all dumbed down. That’s their agenda. That’s why they want to push that Common Core on the kids: dumb them down, make them all stupid.”

Rev. Cruz argued at the picnic that his son was the best man to fight against the “Washington Cartel” of career politicians in both major parties.

“We can beat the establishment that does not want a constitutional conservative who has the guts to stand and say, ‘(Sen.) Mitch McConnell, you are lying,’” the elder Cruz said.

DiLorenzo, however, suggested Monday that Sen. Cruz may run into problems.

“Cruz is terrific, however, the problem with Ted Cruz is the fact that he considers himself an outsider — and you can’t help but consider yourself an outsider when you call the leader of your party in the Senate a liar,” DiLorenzo laughed on KODI. “That’s not the way to win friends and influence people.”

The Park County Republican Party’s precinct caucuses — where they’ll start weighing in on a presidential nominee — are tentatively set for March 1.

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