Greenville, S.C. — “I don’t know how you do it. I’m so stressed over this election I can barely keep it together,” a woman lamented somewhat breathlessly to Ted Cruz, at the start of his question and answer period at the Poinsett Republican Women’s Club Thursday afternoon.
Cruz has long cast 2016 as the most important election voters may see in their lifetime. But that sense of urgency took on a desperate quality this afternoon, when Cruz faced an audience that seemed to buy wholeheartedly into the grave vision he presents of another four years with a Democratic president.
“This is the most important election of our lifetime, and if we don’t get it right, there’s no recovery,” the woman concluded after a minute or so of venting her anxieties. “I guess I don’t have a question.”
The death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia has given Cruz a new narrative by which to explain what he sees as a the dire cost of nominating a Republican candidate who cannot win in a general election.
“It underscored the stakes of this election. We’re not talking about one branch of government; we’re talking about two,” Cruz intoned, his pacing on a small elevated stage reflected in the full-length mirror behind him. Speaking before a predominately female audience, he launched into an impassioned speech on the decisions that could be reversed if a Democratic president were to nominate a liberal-leaning justice, dramatically shifting the balance of power on the Court.
“We are one justice away from the Supreme Court mandating unlimited abortion on demand,” Cruz said.
“We’re not far from the court ordering the chisels to come out to remove the crosses and the Stars of David from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers,” he said.
“We are one justice away from the Supreme Court concluding that the World Court and the United Nations can bind our justice system, and that the president can give up our sovereignty and undermine the authority of We the People,” he added.
The crowd of several hundred, arrayed at tables named for the states — “I wish I was in Hawaii,” one woman was overheard saying, when someone asked her where she was seated — drank it in.
At one point a woman stood up to tell Cruz that she was born in Czechoslovakia, and that she had come to the United States so she could support leaders like him.
“To me if America loses hope, the rest of the world will lose hope,” she said, her voice sounding as though she were near tears. “And I just want to tell you that I’m praying for you. And I hope that people will see that it is leaders like you that will change this country.”
Though his stump speech is peppered with jokes and asides, Cruz pitches himself with gusto as the serious candidate surrounded by craziness. His argument, in the final 72-hours before South Carolinians go to the polls Saturday, is that he is the one who can be trusted to buck the Washington establishment, but also the one with the accumen to make the tough decisions.
“Everyone gets why someone would support [Donald] Trump. . . . Trump feels like a way to tell Washington to go jump in a lake,” Cruz said. But, Cruz said, between the open Supreme Court seat and the foreign threats the country faces right now, voters needed to pick someone “who has the experience, who has the knowledge, who has the judgment, who has the temperament” to make the right decision.
“Temperament was on display Saturday night,” Cruz said of the debate. “And it says something that everyone knows exactly what that means.”
South Carolina Republicans, Cruz said, should make “the right decision to save this country.”