It wasn’t a hard sell to get Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to speak at Donald Trump’s famously plush Mar-a-Lago Club mansion in the wealthiest county in Florida.
Palm Beach County Republican Party Vice Chairman Mike Barnett has been holding the spot for Cruz since last year, when conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham beat him to the punch and headlined the county party’s 2013 annual Lincoln Day fundraiser.
But that was before a tumultuous year in Washington made Cruz a household name nationwide. So even the soft sell paid off big when a crowd of 600 ticket-buying conservatives turned out Friday for a big-name evening as rich in humor as it was in politics.
The Florida crowd also heard from Dr. Ben Carson and newly appointed Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera at the 110,000-square-foot estate.
Introducing Cruz, Mar-a-Lago host Trump noted the venue has a reputation for bankrolling worthy causes in the Sunshine State and throughout the United States.
“This room has raised more money for charity than any room in Florida by far, and one of the most, actually, in the country,” Trump said. “They raise millions and millions for charity here, almost on a nightly basis.”
That kind of philanthropy makes headlines and draws big names, including one of the biggest names in contemporary Republican politics. Trump jokingly acknowledged the headlines Cruz generates aren’t always complimentary.
“One of the reasons I like Ted Cruz so much is that he’s not controversial,” he said, drawing a round of laughter from the crowd.
“But the truth is, he shouldn’t be controversial because what he’s doing is right,” Trump said. “I don’t understand the controversy. It’s common sense, its good government. It’s so many good things.”
Not everyone in Republican politics agrees – and Cruz used part of his speech to poke fun at his own unpopularity among party leaders in Washington.
“It’s a little nerve-racking to be introduced by Donald Trump. You don’t quite know if it’s going to end with ‘you’re fired,’” he joked. “Which if it did, it might make him an honorary member of the Republican leadership.”
Cruz hit the other party too, drawing laughter and applause when he noted the weather in Washington had been so cold lately, “I actually saw a Democrat with his hands in his own pockets.”
Cruz promised to keep the speech short, at least by the standards of his 21-hour filibuster last September when he tried to keep Obamacare from going into effect – a speech that led to the 16-day government shutdown in October.
A 21-hour speech, he joked, is “almost as long as it takes to sign up on the Obamacare website.”
But the evening had a serious purpose, and Cruz took it on.
“The reason all of you are here tonight … is because of your kids, because of your grandkids,” he said. “The reason we’re here is everyone in this room … you love this country, you love freedom, and you love our kids and grandkids and want the best world for them.”
It was a receptive crowd, and Sid Dinerstein, the long-serving former chairman of the Palm Beach County GOP, credited Barnett for the evening’s success.
“This is all because he got Ted Cruz here tonight,” Dinerstein told BPR. “He made this happen.”
See more Lincoln Day Dinner Photos by Marisol