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RNC Launches with Tea Party’s Ted Cruz, Ann Romney and a “We Built It” Theme Shaped by Karl Rove

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Republicans have officially nominated Mitt Romney for president after nearly 15 months of campaigning. On Tuesday night, speakers, including Mitt Romney’s wife Ann, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and tea party favorite Ted Cruz, addressed the Republican National Convention crowd of delegates and their supporters for several hours. Many referenced the theme of the evening, “We Built It,” with testimonials about small business owners who have struggled under President Obama, and immigrant parents who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. The theme played heavily in a $9 million ad by Karl Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads, aired in battleground states this past July. We’re joined by Wayne Slater, senior political writer at the Dallas Morning News and co-author of three books, including “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This is “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency,” Democracy Now!’s special coverage from the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Tuesday night, Republicans officially nominated Mitt Romney for president after nearly 15 months of campaigning and more than five years since he declared his first bid for the White House in 2007. Romney’s nomination was briefly disrupted by backers of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the only Republican primary opponent who stayed in the race. But at just past 5:40 p.m. Eastern time, delegates from New Jersey put Romney over the top. House Speaker John Boehner announced the results.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: The chair is prepared to announce the results of the roll call. On this vote, the honorable Mitt Romney of the state of Massachusetts has received 2,061 votes, more than a majority of those votes entitled to be cast at this convention.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Later Tuesday night, speakers addressed the RNC crowd of delegates and their supporters for several hours. Many referenced the theme of the evening, quote, “We Built It,” with testimonials about small business owners who have struggled under President Obama and immigrant parents who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. The night culminated with addresses by eagerly—two eagerly anticipated speakers. The first was Mitt Romney’s wife Ann, who focused on love and their marriage.

ANN ROMNEY: I can’t tell you what will happen over the next four years, but I can only stand here tonight, as a wife and a mother and a grandmother, an American, and make you this solemn commitment. This man will not fail. This man will not let us down. This man will lift up America.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Up next was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who delivered the evening’s keynote address. Much of his speech focused on his own governing accomplishments, possibly setting the stage for a future White House bid. But in his final minutes, he finished by calling on voters to back Mitt Romney come November.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: I know Mitt Romney, and Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on a path to growth and create good-paying private sector jobs again in America. Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the torrent of debt that is compromising our future and burying our economy. Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the debacle of putting the world’s greatest healthcare system in the hands of federal bureaucrats and putting those bureaucrats between an American citizen and her doctor.

AMY GOODMAN: Another speaker on Tuesday night was Ted Cruz, the Republican Senate candidate from Texas with close ties to the tea party. Cruz was thrust into national prominence just a month ago after he won a primary runoff over an establishment opponent in the party, in what has been described as a tea party victory.

TED CRUZ: We are seeing something extraordinary, something that has dumbfounded the chattering class. It began in 2010 right here in Florida, in Utah, in Kentucky and in Pennsylvania. It continued this summer in the state of Indiana, in Nebraska, in Wisconsin and in the Lone Star State.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the Republican National Convention, we turn to Wayne Slater, senior political writer at the Dallas Morning News, co-author of three books, including Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Wayne.

WAYNE SLATER: Great to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Interesting, though your book on Karl Rove was about George Bush, he is as relevant—Karl Rove, that is—today as he was then. Talk about the first opening night of the Republican convention.

WAYNE SLATER: Well, I think what we saw was the theme, not just “We Built It,” but also “Barack Obama: Bad Man.” I think it was toned down a little bit, and likely because of Hurricane Isaac, but you heard that not so much from the first—potential first lady, but from Chris Christie and from a series of other speakers, most of them minority speakers representing constituencies that aren’t well represented in the party itself. The interesting thing about Chris Christie, I thought, was that he talked a lot about Chris Christie. And it was 12 minutes before he even mentioned Mitt Romney.

I was at the state of Texas Republican convention a couple of months ago. Paul Ryan was a featured speaker. The delegates didn’t want to hear the name Mitt Romney. When our governor, Rick Perry, got on stage and mentioned Mitt Romney, he was booed, because Ted Cruz was the candidate of the grassroots tea party candidates. Mitt Romney—or, Paul Ryan never even mentioned Mitt Romney by name two years ago. A lot of stuff about Obama, very little about Romney.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Where did the tea party fall yesterday? Where were they? How did they figure during the convention?

WAYNE SLATER: Yeah, you know, you talk to these delegates, both—a couple days ago, I was at a Christian conservative meeting, and I do think there was a big overlap between fiscal tea party members and social conservatives. Not all of them are each, but there’s a lot of overlap. And you talk to people on the floor. They like—they like Paul Ryan. They’re still clearly reluctant about Mitt Romney. You saw some of the true liberty-minded Republicans represented in the Ron Paul demonstrations and efforts against him. But this is a party that has been taken over, in large part, I guess with Pat Robertson some years ago, by the church. It is now clearly a tea party party.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Ted Cruz. He is not known nationally, tea party favorite, a surprise upset, senatorial candidate for the Republican Party in Texas. Tell us who he is.

WAYNE SLATER: Yeah. Well, a very conservative, but then again, that’s a Republican in Texas. They’re all very conservative. I traveled with Cruz a lot during the primary. Interesting guy, very bright, Princeton-educated, Harvard Law. He clerked for William Rehnquist in the Supreme Court. His main claim to fame in Texas, at least that he talked about, was defending the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds, which was successful. He also fought against a treaty, state of Texas, represented Texas—fought against a treaty that all states had agreed to—in fact, 170 countries, I think, had agreed to—and said that you have to notify foreign nationals if they’re arrested in your state before you execute them. And he was on the side of, no, we don’t have to notify them of their rights.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And these are cases he actually argued for and won, is that right?

WAYNE SLATER: And he won, absolutely won. We ended up executing—the most interesting thing about Cruz, I think, was his defense of golf courses in America. He basically, as part of the campaign—I know this sounds crazy, but it was very successful. He basically argued that George Soros and United Nations are not only going to take our guns in Texas, but they’re going to take our golf courses. And what he was—it was on his website. And what he was referring to was a 20-year-old United Nations non-binding resolution about creating sustainable environments, by thinking about open spaces and so forth. He—it was a vague resolution. But Cruz said, “What they’re coming for is your pastureland, your highways and your golf courses.”

AMY GOODMAN: In his Tuesday night address to the Republican National Council, Texas Republican Senate candidate Ted Cruz quoted two significant but very different historical figures, who are part of what he called “the love story of freedom.”

TED CRUZ: It’s the story of civil rights pioneers, like Dr. Martin Luther King, who stood up to the scourge of discrimination and bravely championed that each of us must be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. It’s the story of President Ronald Reagan, who turned back the growth of government and restored morning in America, who stood up against the oppressive evil of communism and demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

AMY GOODMAN: Ted Cruz, the rising star of the Republican Party. Wayne Slater?

WAYNE SLATER: He’s a very impressive orator. And there you saw the two bookends of the Republican Party in modern America: Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King. An interesting observation. Republicans, as you know, have invoked King’s name a lot in the last decade and a half, two decades, in large part to try to get rid of affirmative action programs. Interesting guy.

AMY GOODMAN: By saying?

WAYNE SLATER: By saying essentially that Martin Luther King wanted people to be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin, which is true. That is Dr. King said. A very effective line by Republicans on Republican audiences. Cruz, remember, is not a Mexican American in Texas. Mexican Americans have had difficulty winning statewide races in Texas. He is a Cuban American. And that was known by Texans. That was recognized as a more acceptable Hispanic-Latino leader.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of Cruz talking about his father.

TED CRUZ: It’s the story of my father, imprisoned and tortured in Cuba, beaten nearly to death. He fled to Texas in 1957, not speaking English, with a hundred dollars sewn into his underwear. He washed dishes, making 50 cents an hour, to pay his way through college and to start a small business in the oil and gas industry. My father is here today. When he came to America, él no tenía nada, pero tenía corazón. He had nothing, but he had heart, a heart for freedom. Thank you, Dad.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ted Cruz speaking at the Republican National Convention on the first night of the convention. Let’s think about that date he said. His father fled Cuba in 1957 after being brutally tortured. 1957, Wayne Slater, the significance of this? Most people in this audience must have felt, as most people in the country, though he didn’t say it, that we’re talking about fleeing the Castro regime.

WAYNE SLATER: Yeah, and that’s what happened. Early in the campaign, he had a commercial talking about his father, that same line. “My father fled oppression in Cuba.” And I guarantee you that every Republican who heard it last night and every Republican early on in Texas heard, oh, he fought against Castro. He actually—Ted Cruz’s father fought with Castro and Che Guevara. He fought against the brutal Batista government. And it was only later, when he fell out of favor with the established government, where Castro was clearly in charge, that he came to the United States and started a business here. So, Republican—

AMY GOODMAN: It was your paper, the Dallas Morning News, that revealed all of this.

WAYNE SLATER: Yeah, and he acknowledges it now. We also revealed that he was born in Canada. These are elements—

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Cruz.

WAYNE SLATER: —that the tea party folks don’t want you to know about, certainly Ted Cruz—

AMY GOODMAN: And there are similarities to Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, where he—although Cruz doesn’t say, “We fled Castro,” he just leaves you with that impression. With Marco Rubio, he has explicitly said “fled Castro,” but actually his family also left under Batista.

WAYNE SLATER: In the Republican Party, it seems to me that it’s not a very good talking point to say, “I worked with Castro in Cuba.” And so they just don’t say that. And you’re right, Marco Rubio did explicitly early on say something that was palpably false.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But, in fact, Ted Cruz, in clarifying, when he was asked about this, says, “I’ve said many times that my father fought with Fidel Castro in the broader sense, not side by side, but on the same side.”

WAYNE SLATER: Yeah, right, that’s—and he didn’t make that clear early on in the campaign, until we wrote about it. So it’s a problem. But, again, he was the Republican tea party candidate, able to fight against the establishment Republican candidate, with whom he held virtually no differences in terms of conservative politics in Texas. And Cruz won. He is a rising star in this party.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, can you talk about a little bit about how it is that he’s come to be a rising star and the role particularly of campaign finance in getting him where he is?

WAYNE SLATER: Yeah, interesting. Texas was a model, as so many states are becoming, of outside big money, you know, and independent groups that want to bankroll candidates they like. In this case, Club for Growth and other Beltway conservative business-minded groups came in with an awful lot of money to match, in large part, much of the spending of his opponent. So Cruz had a robust—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Is that a super PAC, the one that you’re mentioning?

WAYNE SLATER: It absolutely is a super PAC. Absolutely, it is. And there were other PACs that were helpful. Dick Armey and his group, FreedomWorks, worked for Ted Cruz. Other folks. They saw in Ted Cruz—the Heritage Foundation group. They saw in Ted Cruz someone who, on the business issues, are going to be on their side. They don’t really care as much about the issues of abortion and marriage. But Cruz is on the right with respect to abortion, marriage and business deregulation, so he’s the perfect candidate for this group in Washington. Although, again, Cruz tried to emphasize the idea that “I’m fighting Washington,” in fact he was bankrolled by Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Slater is our guest, who’s come to Tampa from Texas. He has written a number of books, among them, Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential. He also wrote The Architect: Karl Rove and the Dream of Absolute Power, continuing to cover his role in the Republican Party. I wanted to play an ad Karl Rove’s conservative super PAC, American Crossroads, paid $9 billion—$9 million to air in battleground states this past July. It highlights the Obama comment that prompted Tuesday night’s “We Built This” theme at the Republican National Convention. If you, Wayne, before we play that clip, can talk about Karl Rove here at the convention—you were just with him at a Politico event.

WAYNE SLATER: Just with Karl. He cited me from the audience in a bad way, as usual. He’s extraordinary. There was a moment in Godfather II, the movie, where one of the bosses says, when they’re in Cuba, the various business interests, says, “We’re bigger than General Motors.” There were those who said that Rove was finished after Bush’s—after 2008, when Bush left office and things looked awful. In fact—

AMY GOODMAN: And Scooter Libby was indicted and convicted—

WAYNE SLATER: Scooter Libby was indicted.

AMY GOODMAN: —and Karl Rove was about to be indicted.

WAYNE SLATER: That’s right. And he was worried about that. It didn’t happen. Karl Rove is not just the Republican Party, he’s bigger than the Republican Party. In Texas, when George W. Bush was governor, Karl Rove took over the Republican Party financing, did an end run about the—around the official thing, started a political committee. And he’s done the same thing here with the national Republican Party. He is everywhere. He is at these gatherings. He’s at private—he’s going to meet Thursday morning with some of his billionaire and millionaire super PAC donors. He’s a star everywhere he goes. He is very much an extraordinary figure representing the sort of conservative establishment wing of the party.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to that Crossroads PAC ad.

AMERICAN CROSSROADS AD: OK, fans, let’s go to the fumble of the week: Barack Obama drops the ball on his own one-yard line.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you’ve got a business, that—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

AMERICAN CROSSROADS AD: But Team Obama contests the call.

OBAMA SUPPORTER: Actually, he didn’t say that.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Twisting my words around, they start kind of splicing and dicing. Those ads, taking my words about small business out of context… Watch the tape.

AMERICAN CROSSROADS AD: You heard the man. Let’s go to the tape.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

AMERICAN CROSSROADS AD: Oh! Nobody else made that happen.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Watch the tape. You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

AMERICAN CROSSROADS AD: Sorry, Mr. President. The tape’s pretty clear. You’re just out of touch, out of ideas, and you’re out of there!

CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

AMY GOODMAN: That is Karl Rove’s American Crossroads ad. They spent $9 million on it, and it is now the theme of the Republican National Convention, written everywhere in the convention, “We Built It.” And many, many of the posters, “We Built It.”

WAYNE SLATER: Yeah, Karl is defining—helping define the narrative of the party at this point. Karl said a couple of days ago when I was with him that he thinks that Crossroads is going to—the super PACs are going to spend maybe—raise $300 million alone. That’s just Karl’s groups. And remember, he heads not one, but two PACs, super PACs. One, Crossroads—American Crossroads, reports its donors. But the bigger one, Crossroads GPS, a social welfare group under federal law, does not disclose its donors. We don’t know where that money is coming from, but I can guess.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what’s his relationship, Karl Rove’s relationship to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan?

WAYNE SLATER: He was really helpful of Ryan—not officially. But if you watched doing the primary on Fox News—and I know you did—he was clearly trying to keep the party in line early on in 2010, with Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. He saw the danger of the radical, really radical right smearing the image of the Republican Party. He really is an establishment guy who wants to represent the interest, largely, of business. And so, that’s where he is. He’s always saw Romney as the kind of guy—many, many George W. Bush acolytes and people who were with the Bush campaign and the White House are working with Mitt Romney. This is Karl Rove’s candidate.

AMY GOODMAN: The significance of Condoleezza Rice sitting with Mitt Romney—


AMY GOODMAN: —last night, as Mitt Romney did sit in the audience, as his wife, Ann Romney, spoke?

WAYNE SLATER: Yeah, extraordinary. And you looked at—I watched that, and what you saw here was a very visible representation of the continuation—Matt Latimer, who was a speechwriter for George W. Bush, said, “This is just the continuation of the Bush administration.” I guess it’s Bush III before we have Jeb Bush, and maybe Bush IV. So, very important. You have, again, a series of other people, including political consultants, policy advisers, all of whom—many of whom were around George W. Bush, all of whom Karl knows. This is the kind of candidate that Karl wants, not some crazy, wacky Republican who can’t be reined in, but a business-minded conservative like Romney, who wants to cut regulations and cut taxes for the rich.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I want to ask you about, overall, the Bushes. Even as Mitt Romney keeps his distance from the last Republican White House, the next wave of the GOP’s most recognizable family brand is highly visible at this 2012 RNC. He is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, speaking Sunday on Meet the Press about what he’ll discuss when he addresses the delegates tonight.

JEB BUSH: I’m going to talk about education, which is something that is not necessarily a federal program, but it’s something that is a great national priority. It’s actually a place where it’s not as—the partisan divide is not as sharp. But if a third of our kids are college- and/or career-ready by the time they reach 12th grade, that’s a tragedy, because there’s no amount of government programs that could ever fill that void. And we have this big debate now in our country about class warfare. The president is constantly trying to divide the country by saying rich people need to pay more, and they didn’t build what they built—it was a communal effort, I guess. And the fact is, if you don’t build capacity in people, they can’t pursue their dreams, no matter how hard they work. If they don’t have the power that comes from knowledge and a college education, they can’t do it. So, that’s what I’m going to talk about. It’s not necessarily going to be a driving political issue of the time, but I’m passionate about this because I think American political—the American political system has become so short run in its nature, and we need to be much longer term in our thinking and begin to solve problems.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. As a measure of the expectations about his political career, comedian Jon Stewart is calling his convention coverage on The Daily ShowRNC 2012: The Road to Jeb Bush 2016.” Wayne Slater, you have written a lot about the Bush brothers.

WAYNE SLATER: I have. And it’s—you know, in the family, Jeb was the smart Bush, George was the dumb Bush. But in 1994, George Bush was elected governor. Jeb Bush did not get elected to Florida governor in that year. So, George really emerged. Jeb has always been seen as the most likely to go to the White House. I think that clearly is what he expects to do. But listen to what he was talking about. It was education. Sounded very, very smart. He’s a policy wonk. But what was he saying? Vouchers, privatization—

AMY GOODMAN: Same thing that Christie is supporting in New Jersey.

WAYNE SLATER: Exactly, and teachers’ unions. And so, that’s what you have here. You’re going to see Jeb Bush—the interesting thing to me is—I talk to these candidates, whether it’s Rick Perry, Jeb Bush or others, these Republicans—is that I get the palpable sense that they all wouldn’t be that—be unhappy if Mitt Romney loses, because the Republican lineup in four years will be a very, very crowded field.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think we’re maybe going to be seeing Jeb Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton?

WAYNE SLATER: I think we could. Let me tell you, if Jeb Bush had run this year—there’s Bush fatigue, but I’m not dissuaded of the idea that he could have been a nominee.

AMY GOODMAN: And Rand Paul, right? You have the Ron Paul uprising last night. And if, in 30 seconds, you could talk about the significance of that—he, too, from Texas, from your state.

WAYNE SLATER: Extraordinary guy, represents, again, as you know, a true libertarian tradition, both very hands-off military, freedom agenda, meaning legalization or at least decriminalization of marijuana, and other freedoms, but on the other hand, a very radical economic policy. That has caught the attention—I don’t know how many states I went to and saw especially young people who really like Rand Paul, Ron Paul and that message. I think Rand has a future. I’m not sure he’s ever going to move out of the niche.

AMY GOODMAN: He talked about auditing the Pentagon the other night when he introduced his father at the celebration of Ron Paul.

WAYNE SLATER: And the great thing about Ron Paul is, if you watch him on stage—and I have a lot, in groups—he never moves his message. If it is critical of the Republican Party establishment, it will be critical of the Republican Party establishment. If it is in favor of liberty and so forth, then it’s in favor of liberty. Very principled guy.

AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Slater, we want to thank you very much for being with us, senior political writer at the Dallas Morning News, co-author of three books, including Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we have a presidential candidate in the studio, third-party candidate on the Justice Party line: former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. Stay with us.

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