The two Republican frontrunners used South Carolina’s largest annual Tea Party-affiliated gathering to make a distinction between each other’s backgrounds and political positions.
The fifth annual South Carolina Tea Party Coalition (SCTPC) Convention began its first day at the Springmaid Beach Resort in Myrtle Beach on Saturday. Donald Trump, Texas US Sen. Ted Cruz, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee spoke at the event’s opening day.
Donald Trump pointed to his background in business and even his own successful low-budget campaign as evidence he could make government more efficient.
“I spent nothing and I’m up here,” Trump said, referencing the relatively low-budget campaign he has run that takes advantage of name recognition and constant media exposure. “Other guys spent tremendous amounts of money and they’re down in the toilet. I love telling this story, because if you could equate that to the country… in education we’re number one in cost per student… and yet we’re number 28 in terms of quality.”
The real estate mogul did draw boos at the end of his 46-minute speech when he claimed he would not be beholden to donors in the same way as other politicians, including specifically Cruz. “I mean, you give a campaign contribution to Ted Cruz, you get whatever the hell you want,” he said.
The many Cruz supporters in the crowd began booing the remarks, leading Trump to respond, “He’s a very nice guy, but, excuse me? He didn’t report his (Goldman Sachs) bank loans, correct?”
Cruz has previously downplayed that $1 million loan as money he and his wife (who has previously worked at Goldman Sachs) borrowed against their investments to help finance his 2012 Senate campaign. The New York Times reported this week that Cruz did not disclose that loan on some of his filing paperwork. Cruz has said the omission was a mistake, noting his disclosed the loan on other campaign documents.
The Texas senator did not identify Trump by name during his own 45-minute speech earlier in the afternoon. But he did tell the Tea Party members not to fall for idle campaign promises, but instead look at each candidate’s record.
“When someone announces his Republican candidacy for president, suddenly they agree with the values of everyone in this room,” Cruz told the conservative audience. “Let me suggest a simple rule: ignore what all of us say. Ignore what I say. Ignore what every other candidate says. Don’t listen to the words on the campaign trail. Look to action.”
Cruz pointed to issues such as the unsuccessful 2013 immigration reform proposal, votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the recent fight over Planned Parenthood funding as areas where his own conservative credentials stood out.
“If we can’t get burned again, we should ignore all the campaign rhetoric from everyone and simply say who’s been walking the walk,” he said.
But those in attendance seemed irritated with the lack of progress on any conservative ideas in Washington. Some said that’s why they were leaning more towards an outsider like Trump.
“I think he is more in touch with all the American people — the middle class, the low income,” said Sharon Wright, a New York retiree who winters in Myrtle Beach. “All of them, they say Washington is broken. But some of them have been to Washington, so what are they doing about their actions.”
Even Cruz supporters back him because he often clashes with his own party’s leadership. “You have to go back and look at the track record,” said Conway Ivey, a Beaufort County resident sporting a “Ted Cruz” sticker. “In my own view, the leadership of the Republican Party I think has sold out the American people.”
The split between the Republican base and its elected officials was perhaps at its most apparent Friday when Mike Huckabee, who once governed Arkansas for more than 10 years, tried to position himself as a political outsider.
“I just want to remind you I’ve never lived in Washington,” Huckabee said. “I’ve never taken a paycheck from there. You cannot blame me for what they’re doing in Washington. I want to go and stop it.”
Trump did draw favorable reactions from the conservative Myrtle Beach audience while talking about his own experiences taking over New York City’s scandal-ridden Wollman Ice Rink construction in 1986 and building it ahead of schedule and below cost. While the story itself is 29 years old, it was the first time the businessman had ever told it on the campaign trail. Trump said former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who won South Carolina’s 2012 GOP primary, had recommended he tell it.