LAS VEGAS -- Before he even landed for Tuesday's CNN debate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) beamed into a small conference here to expound on foreign policy -- and to thank a friend. Frank Gaffney, the controversial president of the Center for Security Policy, stood by as the senator declared his solidarity.
“Frank is a patriot, he loves this country, and he is clear-eyed about the incredible threat of radical Islamic terrorism," said Cruz.
The past few weeks had been unexpectedly good to Frank Gaffney. Ostracized for years by mainline conservatives, he had found a new audience among presidential front-runners. When Donald Trump announced a plan for a temporary ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States, he cited a Center for Security Policy poll which found "25 percent of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad," and even more were open to sharia law.
Critics of the poll (online, with only 600-odd subjects) and the policy watched as Trump gained support. From the stage of the all-day "Nevada National Security Action Summit," Gaffney made a brief reference to the poll, defending its methodology, and summing up Trump's response.
"Let's not import any more jihadists," he said of. "We actually have more than enough right now."
The daylong conference took over the brightly lit and well-marbled International Peace Education Center, a conference center built by the late Rev. Sung Myung Moon's Unification Church. Around 200 activists paid for the forum, breaking only for a boxed lunch between segments on "America's military in decline," the threat of insecure borders, and the possibility that terrorists could take out America's power grids with electromagnetic pulse attacks.
Gaffney, a Reagan administration veteran who has alleged radical Muslim influence in the higher levels of the government, has hosted similar forums for years. He has rarely attracted "establishment" Republican candidates for president. This year, as that establishment has lost any control of the Republican primary, Gaffney and like-minded hawks have enjoyed new influence.
Cruz's speech exemplified this. He delivered a 15-minute video, echoing the center's rhetoric. Gaffney told the audience that "whenever you hear somebody saying 'it's a lone wolf attack,' they are ignoring that is part and parcel of the agenda of jihad." Cruz took a similar path, linking the San Bernardino shootings with other attacks carried out by radicalized Muslims.
"When terrorists can simply swim across the Rio Grande, we're daring them to make the journey," said Cruz. "When we are opening up our country to thousands of refugees from regions filled with terrorists, with the express intent to kill us, our immigration policy ceases to be an economic question. Border security is national security."
Members of the audience could take the argument even further. Some drifted from the main room -- especially during moments when Skype connections failed -- to buy brochures on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood and the security dangers of immigration. In interviews, many of them agreed with Gaffney's warnings about people sympathetic to the Brotherhood infiltrating the government.
"It's scary," said Bill Newton, 68. "There are so many Iranians just in the White House -- Huma Abedin and Valerie Jarrett." (Abedin, a close aide to Democratic front-runner and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, is the children of Indian and Pakistani parents.)
Scott Stonehocker, 50, said the fears of radical infiltration were realistic -- and explained what was otherwise inexplicable about the Obama administration's policies.
"It kind of reminds me of the era when Communists were inside the government," he said. "Joe McCarthy has a bad reputation, some of it earned, but he was not entirely wrong."
With few skeptics in the audience, the center's speakers had time to work through Powerpoint presentations and detailed arguments of how the country had been robbed in broad daylight. James Simpson, an economist, described how Muslim immigration fit into the extant problem of the left signing people up to social welfare programs in order to bankrupt the country.
"The issue for the left," said Simpson of the refugee debate, "is only relevant insofar as it can be used as a vehicle to advance them into positions of power so that they can move forward with the fundamental transformation of this country into a leftist God-knows-what."
"Socialism!" yelled a helpful member of the crowd.
Gaffney accentuated that, encouraging people to visit the White House and see how it was rebranding refugees and immigrants to make them more palatable.
"New Americans is the term of art they're using, rather than 'aliens' or 'migrants' or 'immigrants,' let alone 'illegal' any of the above," he said. "But watch this space. You're going to hear more about 'New Americans,' and I hope you learn more about how to become a pocket of resistance."
After Cruz, three more Republicans joined the center's resistance. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson gave shorter taped messages -- Fiorina addressed hers to Hillary Clinton and President Obama. (According to Gaffney, other candidates, including Trump, were approached but opted not to send messages.) Only former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum attended the event in person, agreeing that radical Islam could hurt America at its core "either through terrorist organizations or an EMP attack on this country."
After that speech, in a short scrum with reporters, The Washington Post asked Santorum if he agreed that radical Muslim infiltration of the federal government was a real problem.
"Certainly, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has a lot of supporters in this administration, and had a lot in the last administration," said Santorum. "Their relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood is pretty well-documented. And as you know, this administration saw the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate partner in Egypt, when I did not."
Gaffney was already gone -- but the Republican Party's national front-runner, and its newly minted Iowa front-runner, would enter the debate repeating part of his message.