AMES, Iowa – Sen. Ted Cruz on Saturday continued his call for cutting off funding for President Barack Obama's health care law and told conservative Christians that congressional lawmakers can't be counted on to do it.
The Texas Republican, a tea-party favorite and a possible presidential candidate in 2016, drew a standing ovation at the Family Leadership Summit with his denouncement of the health care initiative labeled "ObamaCare" by its critics.
"That reaction right there shows how we win this fight," Cruz said. "If I was sitting in the Senate cloakroom, the reaction would be fundamentally different. If we have to depend on Washington, it will never be done."
As he has in remarks to other conservatives, Cruz asserted that a grassroots effort would be needed. "The only way we win this fight is if the American people rise up and hold our elected officials accountable," he said.
Cruz has been part of a push by some conservative lawmakers to close the government temporarily this fall -- by refusing to fund federal operations beyond Sept. 30 -- if that's the only way to cut off money for Obama's health care law. Other Republicans have dismissed the tactic as counterproductive and even dangerous for Republicans seeking re-election next year.
Last Tuesday the party's most recent presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, told donors that "there are better ways to remove ObamaCare" and predicted that a shutdown effort would result in the health care law being funded anyway, Republicans suffering at the polls and Americans being unhappy.
Asked about the Romney remarks, Cruz told reporters at the Iowa event: "There are lots of folks that can share their views. In my view, No. 1, there's bipartisan agreement ObamaCare isn't working. No. 2, this is the single best opportunity to defund it."
Cruz demurred when asked whether he agreed with Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus' warning to NBC and CNN that airing TV programs about Hillary Rodham Clinton, a potential Democratic presidential candidate, could cost the networks any party cooperation on future GOP primary debates. NBC plans a miniseries and CNN a documentary.
"The RNC will make its own decisions," Cruz said. "I don't think anybody is surprised to discover that that the mainstream media are in love with Hillary Clinton. Indeed, I would expect both of those movies will be released on Valentine's Day."
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who sought the Republican nomination in 2012 and might again in 2016, told the group that the party must do a better job reaching out to working-class voters. The winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2012 said that by focusing on business owners in that election, the GOP failed to connect with "job holders" and "marginalized" a group of voters.
"We need to reject this idea that if we build the economy, all boats will rise. We need to talk about people who have holes in their boats, because we all do," Santorum said.
Reality TV star and real estate mogul Donald Trump, who flirted with a presidential run in 2012, said the GOP was struggling and would need a strong candidate in 2016, "someone who is really smart and really good."
The daylong event was one of many cattle calls for potential candidates in the grueling run-up to the next presidential election. Conservative voters will likely be critical to a victory in the Iowa caucuses, the nation's first presidential nominating event.
Iowa Republican consultant Doug Gross said conservative Christian voters could play a big role in 2016.
"Historically the people that are there (at the Family Leader summit), represent about 40 percent of the caucus-goers. That's not an insignificant portion," Gross said. "It depends how many conservatives get in the race. It's totally wide open."