Cruz seeks to harness conservative outrage after Supreme Court decisions

Orange City, Iowa CNN  — 

Ted Cruz is moving quickly to galvanize conservatives frustrated by the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions this week.

Hours after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage on Friday morning, the Texas Republican senator looked to pivot the defeat for social conservatives into a wedge issue between himself and his rival presidential hopefuls. And by the end of his day in Iowa, Cruz was outflanking any of the other aspirants on the right and was continuously accusing them of doublespeak.

In stops across northwest Iowa, Cruz said many in the GOP were “popping champagne” after the decision. He took swipes at both the integrity of the Supreme Court and his longtime friend, Chief Justice John Roberts. He suggested he would back a constitutional convention to scale back the high court’s power, and concluded the day by calling for an amendment to the Constitution that would give voters the chance to end a Supreme Court justice’s lifetime tenure early.

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If Cruz was looking to emerge as the presidential candidate who took the most umbrage, who expressed the most disbelief after both the same-sex marriage ruling and the Court’s decision to uphold a key provision of Obamacare this week, he made his best try here on Friday.

“This is not a typical moment in American history,” Cruz told a crowd of more than 100 Iowans gathered on a baseball diamond in the small town of Pierson. “The last 24 hours at the United States Supreme Court were among the darkest hours of our nation.”

Cruz, a former clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist who later represented the state of Texas in arguments at the Supreme Court, was originally slow to respond to the news out of Washington on Friday morning. His delay was especially surprising as the tea party hero is making an aggressive play to win over the family-focused evangelical voters who are expected to make up half of the electorate in next year’s Republican Iowa caucuses.

When he eventually registered his first reaction at a town hall meeting in Sheldon, Cruz blasted the court for its “unadulterated judicial activism,” just as many other 2016 candidates did. That was ordinary.

But Cruz went further, saying there was disconnect between what Republicans in Washington were saying in their press releases and what they truly believed. Several GOP candidates, including Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham, issued tightly-parsed language urging their colleagues to focus on protecting “religious freedom,” while Ohio Gov. John Kasich urged Republicans to respect the ruling and ditch the matter altogether. Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal were a bit stronger, with the former Arkansas governor calling for Americans to “reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

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But Cruz was skeptical that his opponents were committed to stopping same-sex nuptials.

“As much as there were crocodile tears shed in Washington yesterday on Obamacare, there were even bigger crocodile tears shed in Washington today on marriage,” Cruz said.

That is a contrast Cruz made sure to highlight to nearly every voter he met in the Hawkeye State. The script at Dutch Bakery here was workmanlike: Shake the hand. Share outrage at the decision. Ridicule Republicans’ public statements. Blast them for “popping champagne.” Shake a new hand.

In those statements, some of Cruz’s competitors, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, did call for a constitutional amendment to protect so-called traditional marriage. Cruz has introduced this amendment in the past, but again, he went a step further, strongly implying that he would support a constitutional convention to propose new amendments, a course of action never before pursued though it is explicitly outlined in Article V of the Constitution.

“I fully expect the drive for an Article V convention to get new energy and new steam,” Cruz said in Sheldon when a voter asked whether he would back it.

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By the end of the day, Cruz was bringing it up himself – though always stopping just short of saying he would support the call for a convention. In a column posted on the National Review’s website late Friday, Cruz was not only floating the convention idea but proposing his own amendment: judicial retention elections every eight years for Supreme Court justices.

“When they violate the constitutional amendment and the law, the American people can remove them,” Cruz said to his loudest applause of the evening in Pierson. “We are not governed by a judicial priesthood. We are not governed by judicial tyranny.”

But Cruz reserved his toughest talk for the head of that tyranny: Roberts, a justice who dissented with the Court’s decision on Friday but who the day before voted with the Court’s liberal wing to uphold Obamacare subsidies.

“His decision yesterday and his decision a couple of years ago violated his oath of office,” Cruz said. “He knows full well that he’s changing the law and not following it.”