MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) – Sen. Ted Cruz urged archconservatives on Sunday to help nominate a Republican from their own ranks in 2016 or risk losing a third consecutive national election. The unspoken message: someone like him.
Cruz called GOP nominees like Mitt Romney in 2012, John McCain in 2008 and Bob Dole in 1996 "good, honorable and decent men" but not conservative enough. All lost their bids for the presidency.
"If we nominate a candidate in that mold, the same people who stayed home in 2008 and 2012 will stay home in 2016 and the Democrats will win again," Cruz told hundreds of activists at the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention.
South Carolina will cast the South's first primary ballots in 2016, shortly after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.
Cruz's appearance came days after Romney confirmed at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting that he's considering a third White House bid. Romney weathered an uneasy relationship with the GOP's conservative wing in 2012 in part because no single candidate among several conservative alternatives could sustain a viable campaign.
But this time former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are in the picture, courting some of the same donors, consultants and media attention that went to Romney four years ago. Neither has committed to a campaign yet.
Tea party convention goers from several states this weekend have expressed optimism that the new dynamic could create an opening for Cruz or another establishment critic if he can consolidate rank-and-file conservatives who distrust the GOP's traditional power structure.
Cruz, beloved among tea party conservatives for his role in the partial government shutdown in October 2013, pointed to the GOP's success in the November midterms as proof that the nation is ready for an unapologetically conservative president. The "Washington graybeards" warned that the fight over the nation's borrowing limit was "too risky" and would cost Republicans in 2014, he said.
"We just saw an historic tidal wave of an election," Cruz said, adding that the "graybeards" still haven't admitted their political calculus was wrong.
The senator mocked President Barack Obama, comparing him to one-term President Jimmy Carter, who lost in 1980 to GOP icon Ronald Reagan. He repeated his calls to repeal the federal Affordable Care Act and the Common Core education standards adopted by many states.
As part of his call to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, he joked that the 100,000-plus IRS bureaucrats should be positioned at the U.S.-Mexico border. "I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek," he said.
To Republicans who say such moves are too sweeping, Cruz again invoked Reagan, framing him as a bedrock conservative who battled the establishment of his day. Cruz did not acknowledge that Reagan, while animating conservatives and attracting Democrats from the middle, also fashioned a series of compromises with Democrats and moderate Republicans on taxes, budgets, immigration and Social Security, among other issues.
Another conservative favorite, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, offered the convention a long indictment of what he called a welfare state that has locked millions of Americans in poverty.
"We have to get that message to Americans, that you are not a victim," Carson said.
The author and frequent television commentator said in an interview that he will decide by May 1 whether to run for president. He has never held public office.
Earlier Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he is considering a presidential bid. Graham, who was re-elected in November, said he is exploring his viability beyond his home state.