The Texas senator typically asks audiences to distinguish between "campaign conservatives" and "consistent conservatives," but Cruz's remarks Saturday were essentially a dare to those gathered here to look finely at opponents' histories on seven key battles. In a retooled stump speech flush with Trump overtones and delivered right before Trump took the stage himself, Cruz offered a checklist of fights that he had led that his opponents -- like Trump -- hadn't.
"How many people here have been burned by politicians?" Cruz asked the crowd, hours after Cruz bashed Trump's record as more liberal than conservative. "The stakes in 2016 have never been higher. Our country is hanging in the balance. So I've got a very simple question for the folks here: How do we not get burned again?"
Cruz then listed off seven fights he had led, describing each as a "time for choosing," a reference to Ronald Reagan's iconic 1964 speech
: fighting for gun rights, traditional marriage, defunding Planned Parenthood, fighting against Obamacare, a nuclear Iran, "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants and government intervention for Wall Street and other favored industries.
"If someone tells you they're tea party, you can't be tea party and at the same time have supported TARP," Cruz said, using an acronym for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a controversial Wall Street bailout program. "You can't be tea party and at the same time have supported Barack Obama's stimulus. You cant be tea party and at the same time support the ethanol mandate because it's good politics in Iowa and support the sugar subsidies because it's good politics in Florida."
Trump is one of several candidates who support the Iowa ethanol mandate, and Rubio has advocated for his home state's subsidies. Cruz made sure to knock Republican candidates like Rubio who Cruz sees as insufficiently tough on immigration -- which is also one of Trump's signature issues.
"Anybody who was AWOL from the battle on the Gang of Eight has no standing as a candidate now to say they will enforce the border," Cruz said of the comprehensive immigration bill pushed by Rubio in 2013.
Trump, for his part, backed off from his criticisms of Cruz that he had broadcast loudly all day on Saturday. During a 45-minute speech here, Trump left Cruz unscathed until the very end, when he mentioned the loans that Cruz received as a Senate candidate in 2012 but did not properly report to election authorities.
And when Trump did finally mention Cruz's name, he appeared rattled after the tea party crowd loudly booed him.
"You give a campaign contribution to Ted Cruz, you get whatever the hell you want," he said, the boos beginning. "He's got bank loans from Goldman Sachs, he's got bank loans from Citibank -- and then he acts like Robin Hood?"
Cruz, who suddenly has started criticizing Trump after seven months of refusing to do so, essentially offered South Carolina voters a roadmap to vet him.
"When someone announces as a Republican candidate for president, suddenly they agree with the values of everyone in this room," Cruz said. "If they haven't been willing to stand and lead, you can know to an absolute fact they wouldn't do so as president either."