Senator Ted Cruz drew unintended laughter from a crowd by saying he’s never seen a presidential speech quite as “unhealthy” as the one that President Joe Biden delivered in Pennsylvania earlier this month where he sounded an alarm about Donald Trump and “MAGA Republicans” posing an extremist threat to the nation.
The Texas senator made the chuckle-invoking remarks while appearing at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Saturday, where a responsive audience of festivalgoers appeared to be laughing at - rather than with - the Republican politician.
“Conservatives are, they’re wary of being targeted,” the Republican senator began.
“Listen, we saw Joe Biden stand up in Pennsylvania and give a speech – bathed in red light like Emperor Palpatine, that was bizarre — where he called half the country fascist, or I guess semi-fascist was the term he used,” said Mr Cruz, referring back to the prime-time address the president made at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall that drew the ire of conservative pundits and Donald Trump loyalists for weeks afterwards.
“That’s not healthy. I’ve never seen a president give a speech like that,” he continued, before being interrupted by the giggles of an audience that seemed primed to recall Mr Trump was no stranger to making eyebrow-raising speeches.
David Drucker, the Washington Examiner journalist who was mediating the conversation with the Texas senator, then jumped in – fighting off his own chuckles – to offer up his own suggestion as to what Mr Cruz might’ve been trying to get at when he made the initial comments that stirred the laughter in the crowd.
They literally laughed at you CLOWN pic.twitter.com/XfsH3qf7SA
— BLUEDAVE (@azardey3) September 25, 2022
“Might a way to look at this be, I’ve seen a president give a speech like that. It wasn’t a good idea when he did it, and it’s not a good idea when his successor did it?” Mr Drucker said, referencing Mr Trump without actually saying his name.
Mr Cruz countered by conceding that it isn’t uncommon in politics to see two candidates go after one another. “Nobody should be surprised to see Donald Trump essentially calling Joe Biden the son of a bitch, or Joe Biden calling Donald Trump a son of a bitch. That’s politics,” he clarified.
But, he added, Mr Biden’s seeming direct rebuke of the adherents of Mr Trump’s politics, the so-called “MAGA Republican” that the president claimed, “represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” was what rubbed Mr Cruz the wrong way.
“What is unusual about where we are today, what was unusual about Biden’s speech in Philadelphia is, he wasn’t demonising his Republican opponents,” Mr Cruz said. “He wasn’t attacking Trump. He wasn’t attacking me. He was attacking the voters. He was attacking half of America. And that is rare.”
To further illustrate his point, the Texas senator went on to provide another example of what he saw as Democratic leaders villainising Republican voters.
Governor Kathy Hochul of New York, the senator pointed out, had made remarks in the summertime where she had told her Republican challenger, Lee Zeldin, to take his politics south to Florida and leave the state as his values didn’t represent New Yorkers.
“And we are here to say that the era of Trump, and Zeldin and Molinaro, just jump on a bus and head down to Florida where you belong, OK? Get out of town. Because you do not represent our values. You are not New Yorkers,” Ms Hochul said in August.
“I got to say, I found that horribly offensive,” said Mr Cruz on Saturday. “Listen, there are a lot of Democrats in the state of Texas. There are a lot of Democrats in this auditorium. You know what? Okay. I cannot imagine saying to you what the Democrat governor of New York said, get the hell out of Texas you don’t belong here. It’s my job to represent you, whether I agree with you or not.”
“I think there is a dangerous arrogance when you have politicians attacking the voters,” he said, clarifying that this was the portion of Mr Biden’s speech that made him uncomfortable.
“It’s different than anything certainly I’ve seen watching politics in my adult life.”
Mr Biden was heavily criticised on the right following his prime-time address, with pundits on popular programs on Fox News calling it an “angry and rancid” speech, while conservative social media users critiqued the president’s choice of using a red backdrop as evoking that kind of iconography used by authoritarian leaders.