LYNCHBURG, Va. — Sen. Ted Cruz was treated to a hero’s welcome here at the evangelical Liberty University on Monday when he became the first major candidate to officially jump into the 2016 presidential race.
The Republican firebrand from Texas delivered a speech in a packed auditorium at convocation held at the school founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell. It is a thrice-weekly event and attendance is mandatory for students, the university said.
“I want to talk to you this morning about reigniting the promise of America,” Cruz said, to cheers.
“Amen,” said a member of the audience.
The crowd broke out in chants of “Ted! Ted! Ted!” when Cruz finally got to the point of the speech: “Today, I am announcing that I’m running for president of the United States.”
Sprinkled across Cruz’s speech were hints of the platform he intends to run on: fiery, unyielding conservatism with strong Christian undertones to restore an America that has ostensibly lost its way.
“For so many Americans, the promise of America seems so distant,” he said. “So many fear it is slipping away from our hands.”
He won easy applause lines with calls for a flat tax, “abolishing” the IRS, securing the border, upholding “the sanctity of human life” and protecting gun rights.
And he had more easy applause lines, such as, “Our rights, they don’t come from man, they come from God almighty.” And: “The purpose of the Constitution is to … as Thomas Jefferson put it, to bind the mischief of government.” And: “My father gave his life to Jesus Christ, and God transformed his heart.” And: “Imagine signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.”
Cruz, a Harvard-educated former lawyer who would be the first Hispanic American president, skipped the tradition of first forming an exploratory committee to gauge support, typically used by candidates as a stepping stone into a presidential launch. His ambitions have been widely on display for months.
Preceding his speech was a Christian rock band which entertained the smattering of reporters and students who arrived early. Many were waving miniature American flags, which were being handed out as students walked into the auditorium. But there was hardly a pro-Cruz consensus in the room.
“It’s just a cool opportunity to see him here,” said Emily Smith, 21, a junior, before the speech. “Someone who’s potentially going to be the next president.” But she wasn’t ready to support him. “I haven’t decided. I mean, I think he’s great, I think what he stands for is great.”
The freshman senator’s announcement landed on the fifth anniversary of Obamacare being signed into law. The biggest boo of the speech came when he pointed that out; one of the biggest cheers came when he called for repealing it and praised Liberty University for filing a lawsuit against it.
Compared to the battles fought by America’s founders, Cruz said, “Repealing Obamacare and abolishing the IRS ain’t all that tough.”