HOUSTON (CN) — In Houston Monday night to support Ted Cruz’s campaign to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate, President Donald Trump called Cruz’s Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke a “stone-cold phony” who “wants to take away your guns.”
The estimated crowd of 16,000 in the Houston Rockets’ home, the Toyota Center, some of whom camped out overnight to get a seat, cheered loudly during Trump’s 45-minute speech when he combined the hot-button topics of illegal immigration and health insurance.
“In this election you can send a message to the radical Democrats: Don’t mess with Texas, vote for Ted Cruz and vote Republican. Democrats in Congress have already signed up for a socialist takeover of health care that would destroy the health insurance of more than 20 million Texans,” Trump said.
“Republicans will always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. The Democratic plan to destroy American health care includes free health care for illegal aliens, paid for by the American taxpayer.”
Some of those charges are unsubstantiated.
Trump said O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, had received an F rating from the National Rifle Association. “You know what an F means? He wants to take away your guns. I never even heard of an F,” Trump said.
Trump said nobody in Congress has helped him more with tax cuts than Cruz, and said, “We’re going to be putting in a 10 percent tax cut for middle class families.”
He said there would be no more tax cuts for businesses. “This is just for families,” he said.
“The Democrats, instead of a tax cut you’re going to have a big beautiful tax raise. You don’t want that. They are against law enforcement, ICE and they are against your vets. How do you win on that?” Trump said.
Katt Lomison, 60, traveled to the rally from Porter, an incorporated town of 25,000 residents about 30 miles northeast of Houston.
As “Sweet Home Alabama” blared from a PA system outside the arena before the rally, Lomison stepped to the side of a dense line of Trump supporters, many wearing red Make America Great Again hats, to tell what she likes about the president.
She said that thanks to the tax cuts Trump signed in December 2017, she is bringing home $112 more in monthly salary.
Lomison said O’Rourke’s criminal history makes him unfit for office. O’Rourke was arrested for misdemeanor DUI in 1998, but the charges were dismissed after he finished a diversion program.
“I think he’s a phony and he’s already went to jail for criminal things and how can he even possibly expect to become an important part of our Congress whenever he’s already a criminal?” Lomison said.
Trump is trying to make political capital from the thousands of Honduran and Guatemalan immigrants who have traveled to Mexico’s southern border, where authorities are letting them into Mexico in small groups to apply for asylum.
“I think it’s a Democratic plan to bring all those people over,” Lomison said, an unsubstantiated claim Trump also made in his speech.
“Do you know about the caravan?” Trump said “I think the Democrats had something to do with it. But they made a big mistake because people are starting to see how bad it is. That caravan is an assault on our people. There are some very bad people in that caravan,” Trump said. Amping up fear of terrorism and foreigners, he said the caravan was “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.”
He blasted Democrats for insisting on the FBI inquiry into Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault claims against Brett Kavanaugh before Kavanaugh was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and blasted the news media and Hillary Clinton.
“If you want the fake news to finally investigate Hillary Clinton we’ll just have to nominate her to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Trump said.
“How do you like that? Let’s see how she does. If Kavanaugh has to go through what he went through, and he’s a fine man, can you imagine Hillary up there? That would take three or four years of questioning,” he said.
The crowd broke into chants of “Build that Wall” and “CNN sucks” during Trump’s speech, and one man had to be escorted out by police as he looked down at the press gallery and shouted, his words muted by the eardrum rattling volume on Trump’s microphone.
Cruz, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Trump’s son Eric, and Eric’s wife Lara Trump gave short speeches before Trump came on.
Patrick, an ardent Christian conservative and former talk radio host, said there were 16,000 people inside the Toyota Center and another 10,000 outside.
“We are here to tell Beto O’Rourke and the Democrats we are not turning Texas into California. Not on my watch, not now, not ever,” Patrick said to thunderous applause.
He said Beto (short for Roberto) stands for “Border Enforcement Totally Optional.”
“He wants to abolish ICE and he wants to repeal our legislation against sanctuary cities,” Patrick said.
Signed into law by Abbott in May 2017, Texas Senate Bill 4 lets police question the immigration status of anyone they lawfully detain, and requires local police to comply with detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over undocumented immigrants for possible deportation.
Cruz told the crowd that O’Rourke is not good for the mainstay of Texas’ economy, the oil and gas industry, claiming that O’Rourke proposed a $10 per tax on every barrel of oil produced in Texas.
“That’s a good tax if you live in San Francisco, but that’s a terrible tax if you care about jobs in the state of Texas,” said Cruz, repeating a line he used during his Oct. 16 debate with O’Rourke.
“In El Paso he even proposed a tax on rain. I don’t even know what that is,” Cruz said.
The latest polls show Cruz leading O’Rourke by four to seven percentage points. Monday was the first day of early voting in Texas.
Cruz and Trump’s relationship has done a 180 since they clashed on the 2016 presidential campaign trail.
Cruz gave Trump his toughest challenge for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, and the accusations got ugly, with Trump making disparaging statements about Cruz’s wife, and saying that Cruz’s Cuban father was involved with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The insults led Cruz to withhold endorsing Trump’s nomination for president at the July 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, but he quickly came around after Trump was elected president, reportedly hashing out his differences with Trump at a four-hour meeting in New York.
Cruz has even take credit for persuading Trump to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
In Houston Monday, Cruz and Trump touted the economy and the unemployment rate, with both claiming that unemployment rates for Latinos, African-Americans and Asians are at record lows.
Blaq Belafonte, a black comedian who goes by his stage name, sat in a folding chair selling Make America Great Again hats from a table outside the arena. “I make a good living. I thank Trump for this. I love all his mega rallies,” he said.
The Augusta, Georgia native said he has been to “every last one” of Trump’s rallies this year. “And this one, other than Arizona, has been the biggest turnout,” he said.