(CNN) - Sen. Ted Cruz tried to compare his relationship with his favored grassroots Friday with the momentum that propelled Republican President Ronald Reagan into the White House.
The response to the economic malaise of the late 1970s was “the grassroots revolution,” Cruz told a friendly crowd in Des Moines, Iowa. “The Reagan Revolution.”
More than 30 years later, Cruz is trying to ride his own grassroots movement, one built around the Texas Republican’s opposition to President Barack Obama and his health care law. Cruz said the movement is dedicated to one word, “growth.”
Reagan’s policies were the exact opposite of Obama’s, Cruz told the crowd of about 600 Republicans at the Iowa GOP Reagan Dinner. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and Gov. Terry Branstad attended the annual event.
Cruz’s speech was all about the grassroots, something new to D.C. that “has official Washington absolutely terrified,” he said. “This new paradigm has been beta tested, unlike the Obamacare website." The paradigm’s first run-through, Cruz said, was the 1980 election that swept Reagan into power.
Part of the allusions to Reagan was likely as a unifying factor as Cruz and other speakers insisted that the “civil war” in the GOP is a myth and that what is really happening in the party is a natural evolution.
Declarations that such a rift doesn’t exist between the Republican establishment and others like the tea party were belied Friday by admonitions by Cruz and other speakers against some of the Republican leaders, especially in the Senate, who did not hold firm on Cruz’s efforts to defund Obamacare.
Cruz’s keynote speech was part of a two-day swing through Iowa for the freshman senator and is the third time he has travelled to the state of 3 million in the past three months. He received a warm welcome, with local speakers praising his “principled leadership” during the partial government shutdown.
For Cruz, that principle means running one direction and one direction only in elections. He admonished against wisdom that says Republicans run to the conservative right in primaries and then to the moderate left in the general election.
“What complete poppycock,” Cruz said. Candidates who do that, he said, “destroy any reason someone has to show up and vote.”
In addition to Friday’s speech, Cruz will speak at Republican Rep. Steve King's 6th Annual Defenders of Freedom event in Le Mars, Iowa. Cruz will be King’s guest at the congressman’s Col. Bud Day Pheasant Hunt Saturday. Cruz goes hunting several times a year, he recently told the Des Moines Register.
Cruz’s frequent trips to Iowa, a crucial early Republican caucus state, have helped fuel speculation that he is planning a 2016 presidential bid. The former Texas solicitor general has repeatedly demurred on his intentions.
Asked recently by CNN's Dana Bash when he plans to make his 2016 intentions known, Cruz said his focus is "entirely on the U.S. Senate." The reason he travels to other states, he said, was to "to energize and activate the grassroots of the American people."
The Iowa crowd and others like it have become Cruz’s preferred audience as he continues to form his anti-establishment tea party credentials.
Rising poll numbers among conservative voters show Cruz already well on his way to firmly ensconcing himself as a man off the anti-Washington people, after helping push the government into a 16-day partial shutdown when he attached a bill defunding Obamacare with one funding the rest of the government.
Cruz’s establishment detractors on both sides of the political aisle attacked him for the defunding maneuver, saying he knew all along the move would fail and would be completely untenable to Senate Democrats and President Obama, who vowed to veto anything harming his signature legislation.
But then, Cruz is in Iowa precisely because he’s not appealing to the establishment but rather to the tea party and the Republican base. That’s likely why he spent 21 hours on the Senate floor in the run-up to the government shutdown railing against Obamacare while lambasting Congress’s failure to “listen” to the American people about the evils of the health care law.
“21 hours is a long time,” Cruz told the crowd Friday.
“That's almost as long as it takes to sign up on the Obamacare website.”
The number one reason the defund tactic failed, Cruz said after the shutdown ended, was that Senate Republicans failed to back up their colleagues in the House of Representatives.
The Senate marathon was part of a series of populist maneuvers by Cruz before, during and after the shutdown.
In the months leading up to the shutdown, Cruz traveled the country railing against the ills of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. During the shutdown, Cruz was one of the more vocal detractors of the government gating off federal parks and memorials.
After the shutdown ended, Cruz declared victory, lauding the 2 million people who signed a petition against Obamacare and saying that he has ruled out no strategy in his continuing efforts to dismantle the law, including another shutdown.
“We accomplished a great deal,” Cruz insisted of the shutdown Friday, elevating the national debate about the destructive impact of Obamacare.
The key to victory in the future, Cruz said, is to be bold. Playing it safe was why Republicans lost the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2012. The one real victory, of 2010, was because the party and grassroots didn’t shy from its principles of growth and freedom, Cruz said.
Keeping your head down, Cruz said, “that’s not how you win races.”