But Cruz, also a likely 2016 candidate, has a different take. He argued in some detail to a gathering of elite conservative donors that a Republican candidate could win only if he or she motivates more conservative activists, especially evangelical Christians, to vote. He posited that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) lost to President Obama in 2008 and 2012 because "millions of conservatives" who cast ballots for President George W. Bush's reelection stayed home the following two cycles.
"How do we bring back to the polls the millions of conservatives who stayed home? If they stay home, we lose," Cruz said at a dinner Friday night for the Club for Growth, attended by roughly 200 of the fiscally conservative group's wealthy members.
Cruz took a swipe at Bush's father, former president George H.W. Bush. Cruz said Bush ran for his first term as a conservative promising a third Reagan term, but in office raised taxes and became "kindler and gentler" -- a line that drew laughter from the crowd. Cruz argued that Bush lost his reelection because he was not sufficiently conservative.
Cruz drew a sharp contrast with Jeb Bush over education policy, describing Common Core, which Bush backs, as "national standards being dictated from Washington controlling the education of our kids."
In his remarks, which including a question-and-answer session stretched for 70 minutes, Cruz lambasted what he sees as crony political leaders in both parties. He said conservative voters don't trust politicians anymore because "they've been lied to too many times." And he lashed out at what he dubbed "this small cabal of consultants in Washington" who keep running Republican campaigns, losing, and "coming back to donors saying, 'Cut us a check to go make the exact same mistake all over again.'"
Cruz said too many Republicans run "an almost Soviet-style campaign," whereas he signaled he would run a grass-roots-oriented campaign empowering what he called "political entrepreneurs." In his 2012 Senate race, he said, he tried to "nakedly, shamelessly copy" Obama's 2008 campaign strategy and ordered his aides to read Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's memoir.
Cruz, who was accompanied at The Breakers, an iconic Palm Beach resort, by his wife and two daughters, basked in a warm reception from members of the Club for Growth, which provided substantial resources to help his underdog primary campaign for Senate in 2012. "I do know for a fact that I would not be in the United States Senate if it were not for the Club for Growth," Cruz said.
Cruz received hearty applause when he said, "We should abolish the IRS." He also called for abolishing the Export-Import Bank, a contentious issue within the Republican Party as House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) and many business leaders support the bank. And he called for loosening or ending of federal regulations across the board.
"We have seen regulations descend from Washington like locusts on small businesses across this country," Cruz said.