Washington (CNN) – Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's advice for a conservative group facing criticism and hardship: "Stand your ground."
The choice of words appeared to be a reference to a string of negative press the American Legislative Exchange Council – a group made up of conservative legislators and corporate members – received for backing laws similar to the controversial "Stand your ground" self-defense law that made national headlines in 2012 and 2013.
"I will tell you this, my advice to ALEC is very, very simple: Stand your ground," Cruz said to applause and a cheer of "hear, hear" from the audience at ALEC's winter meeting in Washington.
ALEC Spokesman Bill Meierling said he thought Cruz was referring to the controversial law and the criticism the group had received for backing similar proposals.
"I believe that he used that as a rhetorical device because it is a phrase that everyone in this room recognizes because of the challenges of the past two years," said Bill Meierling, ALEC's senior director of communication. "Every single person also knows that we no longer have any model policy on that issue, or any firearms issues for that matter."
"Stand Your Ground" is a self-defense law that was adopted by Florida in 2005. ALEC, a group that works with state legislatures and corporate sponsors to back legislation, took a similar policy and made it one of their "model bills," meaning the group approved of its passage in other states. After Florida's passage, around 10 other states passed similar legislation.
The law – which allows people to use deadly force to defend themselves anywhere they feel a reasonable fear of death or serious injury – was at the center of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman, a Florida neighborhood watch volunteer, shot Martin on February 26, 2012 and claimed self-defense. Martin's family said Zimmerman profiled Martin.
The case grabbed national headlines with much of the trial being aired live. In July 2013, Zimmerman was found not guilty for the Martin murder.
But ALEC's support of laws like "Stand Your Ground" became a contentious issue for the group and led many corporate sponsors and legislators to withdraw their support. In a story published earlier this week, the Guardian newspaper chronicled funding lapses the group is currently experiencing because corporate members and legislators fled in the face for "Stand Your Ground."
Meierling, the group’s senior director of communications, acknowledged the issues "Stand Your Ground" created in an interview with CNN.
"Did the challengers of 2012 effect or impact our membership," he posited. "Absolutely."
Following the "Stand Your Ground" controversy, Meierling said corporate sponsors like McDonalds, Kraft, WalMart dropped their support for the organization. The spokesman also said those departures – and the difficult times of 2012 – allowed ALEC to look in the mirror and decide who they want to be.
In response, Meierling said ALEC has moved away from supporting legislation that does not address "limited government, free markets and federalism" which including ending its support to policies like "Stand Your Ground" and 400 other laws.
Cruz's speech – which he delivered by pacing the stage extemporaneously – went over well with the audience of 900 legislators, corporate sponsors and other interested parties. Multiple times during his remarks the audience roared with applause and as legislators left the hall, many spoke highly of the Texas lawmaker.
On top of standing their ground, Cruz encouraged the group to empower the American people.
"Every one of you knows the answers to the challenges we have in this country are not going to come from Washington, D.C.," he said. "They are going to come from the American people."
Cruz knocked the Obama administration repeatedly, faulting the President, Obamacare, foreign policy and gun policy.
He also took on the idea that the Republican Party is only the party of big business, an attack that Democrats usually use against other GOP lawmakers. Instead, Cruz said, big business "does great with big government."
"If you were flying a private jet five years ago, you are still flying a private jet," he said. "But who are the losers in the Obama economy? They are young people, they are Hispanics, they are African Americans, they are single moms. They are the ones who are losing their jobs."
Outside the hotel where Cruz was speaking, a number of liberal and labor groups got together to protest ALEC. Holding signs like "A Legislator for Every Corporation," the protestors chanted "Hey, hey, ho, ho, corporate greed has got to go."
Three floors down from the street, however, the protestors’ chants could only be heard as they were retold by legislators.