WASHINGTON -- Republican Sen.-elect Ted Cruz, who will become the first Latino senator from Texas when he takes office next year, blames his party's weakness with Hispanic voters on one statement: former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's claim that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on government and want to stay that way.
"You want to know why Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote? Tone on immigration contributed, but I think far more important was '47 percent,'" Cruz said Thursday at a gala for conservative group the American Principles Project.
He said it wasn't necessarily Romney's fault -- "everyone, if you put a camera in their face all day long, will say something poorly" -- it was that Republicans were unable to show that the party doesn't think those Americans want to improve their economic standing.
"Republicans nationally, the story we conveyed is that the 47 percent are stuck in a static world. We don't have to worry about them. ... I cannot think of an idea more antithetical to the American principles," Cruz said.
For an often barn-burning conservative speaker, Cruz seemed toned down, but still crowd-pleasing, at his first major appearance in Washington since the election. He heavily criticized President Barack Obama and the Democratic party as a whole, whose policies he said have decimated the economy, destroyed the education system and taken away rights. But kept a lighter tone than some of his previous speeches.
Like many Republicans, Cruz argued that Latinos are conservatives -- they just may not realize it. His own family came from Cuba, and he said Latinos in families like his align more with Republicans than Democrats on small business, education, jobs and gun rights.
He talked about an argument over gun rights, when he brought up the idea of a single mother who wanted a weapon so she could protect her family. He was arguing against a Democrat, whom he said seemed angry that he brought up a single mother.
"'You Republicans, you're not supposed to -- those are our people. We own the poor, we own minorities,'" he said the Democrat seemed to think.
"Look, i'm something that's not supposed to exist: a Hispanic Republican," he added.
Immigration and minority issues as a whole are a problem for Republicans, Cruz said, telling the crowd they should mute the television when politicians are asked about race or class and see how uncomfortable they appear. But he insisted Republicans didn't lose because of their actual policies. It was just how they expressed them.
"Immigration matters, especially tone. No one is going to vote for you if they think you don't like them," he said, drawing applause.
Unsurprisingly, the rising star predicted good things ahead for the party.
"It took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan, and I am convinced that the long-lasting legacy of Barack Obama is a new generation of leaders in the Republican Party standing up and defending liberty and getting back on track," he concluded.