While the South Carolina Republican Party’s annual Silver Elephant Celebration on Friday night was portrayed as a farewell to retired Sen. Jim DeMint, most of the attention was on one of his protégés.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivered the keynote speech at the event, portraying the partisan fight in Washington as a constitutional battle that would determine the country’s fate. He also tried to rally a conservative base demoralized by the 2012 elections which saw President Barack Obama re-elected and Senate Democrats increase their advantage.
“Change happens quickly,” he told those in attendance. “In 2005, George W. Bush had just been re-elected president. Republicans had control of both the House and the Senate and a large majority of the governorships. And Democrats were going on television… publicly talking about a ‘permanent Republican majority.'” Cruz paused for effect, “2006, we lost Congress. 2008, Barack Obama got elected. 2009 Obamacare passes and here we are today.”
AUDIO: Ted Cruz delivers keynote (28:00)
The annual GOP event was held at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds before the party’s convention Saturday. Cruz’s address came the same night that Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s counterpart Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
DeMint resigned his Senate post in January to take a new job leading the Heritage Foundation. He left office extremely popular among South Carolina Republicans, but his biggest national impact was getting Tea Party-aligned Republicans elected to the Senate in 2010 and 2012. Cruz has acknowledged DeMint’s political support was a big reason the former Texas Solicitor General was able to win the GOP nomination over a more established opponent.
Cruz on Friday called DeMint’s involvement critical. “Let me say right now, I would not be in the U.S. Senate right now if it had not been for Senator Jim DeMint.”
A keynote speech at the event is often considered to be a proving ground for prospective Republican presidential candidates, and Friday night was no exception. Cruz has raised his national profile over the past year with strong conservative positions that appeal to the GOP’s base. However, his hard stance on immigration has also put him at odds with many in his own party, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Cruz avoided immigration during his 28-minute talk, instead focusing on what he professed as threats to individual freedoms. Specifically, he touched on gun rights, religious freedom, and his own unease about drone strikes.
Cruz credited Graham and Sen. Tim Scott with helping block a proposed Senate ban on assault rifles and expanded gun purchase background checks. He also offered it as evidence that conservatives could still rally support for their core causes. “As a result of each of you speaking out and the American people being heard… every single proposal that would undermine our right to keep and bear arms was voted down in the United States Senate,” he said to heavy applause.