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Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu March 13, 2016

Ted Cruz says he's engaged civilly with protesters at his campaign events

In light of protests in Chicago that led to the cancellation of Donald Trump’s rally in the city, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz suggested that Trump should take a cue from Cruz himself.

Cruz chided protesters for "behaving abusively" and Trump for telling his supporters to punch protesters in the face on NBC’s Meet the Press.

"I think it is important that any political candidate demonstrate respect for the voters. You know, listen, I get protesters at my events. But it's very different," Cruz said March 13. "When I have protesters at my events, I endeavor to engage in them with civility and respect. More than once, I've actually had a conversation with the protesters on substance."


Is it true that Ted Cruz, famed for his debating prowess, actually engages protesters?

When we asked the Cruz campaign for examples, they pointed us to a recent event at the University of Maine and Cruz’s interaction with actress Ellen Page at the Iowa State Fair. In fact, "more than once" is an understatement, Cruz spokesman Brian Phillips argued.  

"Admittedly, the press rarely writes about it, because it is common and generally a respectful exchange," Phillips said. "It happens all the time."

Campaign reporters we spoke with agreed with Cruz’s statement, and we came across several examples of Cruz interacting politely with people with dissenting views or at least addressing their policy concerns.

Let’s discuss

Cruz made headlines in July 2015 when he debated anti-war activists for 24 minutes at the Stop the Iran Deal Rally in Washington.

"We want diplomacy, not war," a Code Pink protester yelled a few seconds into Cruz’s speech.

"You know it’s very interesting thing to see those who profess to believe in free speech who are afraid of speech," he said, before inviting the protester and his colleagues to come forward and discuss their opposing views.

A month later, Cruz famously sparred with Ellen Page over the intersection of religious freedom and gay rights. Cruz disagreed with Page on most (if not all) points, but kept the exchange going for about six minutes.

Even beyond flashy rallies and famous actresses, Cruz does genuinely engage voters, not necessarily protesters, who disagree with him, reporters covering the Cruz campaign told us.  

For example, Politico reported on Cruz discussing Obamacare with a voter in Hubbard, Iowa, on Jan. 30. The voter pressed Cruz on his vow to repeal the health care law, and told Cruz that his brother-in-law finally gained health insurance under Obamacare but died because tumors were discovered too late.

"What are you going to replace (Obamacare) with?" the voter asked.

"Well, sir, I’m sorry for your family’s loss, I’m sorry for your wife’s loss," Cruz said and launched into a critique of Obamacare.

"My question is, what are you going to replace it what?" the voter continued to ask.

Cruz responded that he would allow insurance companies to sell plans across state lines and expand health savings accounts.

A day later, an angry farmer in Iowa grilled Cruz on his position against the ethanol mandate (as many cameras and microphones lurked). Here’s a snippet of their exchange:

Voter:  "Why are trying to put salt on our injuries and wanting to take away our subsidies for biofuels?"

Cruz: "Well sir, I’m not."

Voter: "Yes, you are, you made that statement. Don’t tell me you’re not. You’re gonna keep it for the big oil people in Texas."

Cruz: "Sir, I’m happy to have a conversation with you but not to yell."

Voter: "I’ll quit yelling."

Cruz: "Okay, I’m happy to have a conversation, but I’ll treat you respectfully."

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Voter: "I don’t understand it (Cruz’s ethanol position)."

Cruz: "Okay, I’m happy to answer."

Cruz then explained his policy views to the voter for six minutes and answered additional questions.

One-sided discussions

When it comes to actual protesters, Cruz’s engagement is sometimes a bit one-sided and is geared toward riling up his supporters, said Patrick Svitek of the Texas Tribune.

"(Cruz) doesn’t create a real dialogue. It’s more for show than anything," he said. "He doesn’t exactly talk with the protesters, but he does provide some kind of rebuttal. He is different from a lot of candidates in that he at least addresses what they’re trying to bring up."

Take, for example, how he handled protesters at the University of Maine on March 4. Cruz didn’t debate them, but did use their appearance to double down on his immigration policy.

"You wrote a sign that says, ‘There’s no human being that’s illegal.’ Now that’s true. Every human being is God’s creation, a precious gift from God. But if you really believe that no human being can break the law, you will discover the falsity of that if you resist the police officer right now."

When protesters interrupted him later, Cruz quipped, "They hear there’s a Mexican border and they start chanting ‘Bernie’? ‘Build bridges, not walls’ — you know that is a very interesting statement. But I’m curious, what do you say to all those people who lose their jobs, what do you say to all those people whose wages are going down, what do you say to single moms who can’t afford to provide for their families? Sir, sir, I appreciate you exercising your First Amendment right, but the First Amendment does not give you the right to silence others."

Cruz reacted similarly, reaffirming his opposition to eminent domain when protesters chanted "hands off our public lands" at a February rally in Las Vegas.

"Thank you very much, sir, for expressing your views. One of the great things about the First Amendment is that it even allows Bernie Sanders supporters to come to our events," Cruz joked. "And let me say sir, you have a First Amendment right to express your views, but at the same time, 85 percent of the state of Nevada is owned by the federal government. That will end when I become president of the United States."

Heckling hecklers

Of course, Cruz’s reaction isn’t to talk issues every time he’s interrupted. Often, he brushes it off with jokes.

When a heckler yelled, "Ted Cruz looks so weird" at a Jan. 31 Cruz rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Cruz responded with wisecracks: "Apparently, the bars let out early tonight" and "Is that Donald Trump yelling in the back?"

A few weeks earlier, a man interrupted Cruz’s Jan. 12 Second Amendment rally in Hudson, N.H.

"Why is everyone so excited about guns? They kill people," the heckler said.

"Sir, you are welcome to be a part of the crowd, but you are not a part of this group. I understand that you’re very confused," Cruz responded, chuckling, as the man was escorted off stage.

As Cruz began to transition into a stump speech about freedom, a second protester got up on stage, prompting Cruz to take a harsher tone: "Oh, we’ve got another young man who’s very confused. Son, thank you — hey, hey, this is not your stage. … Boy, it’s almost like the Bernie Sanders people are scared. The Bernistas are out in force!"

A month later, two men  — who appear to be the same guys at the gun rally and identified as a "guerilla comedy" duo by the Huffington Post — tried to perform an exorcism on Cruz in Raymond, N.H., on Feb. 8.  

"Ted Cruz, look in the mirror and let the evil spirit leave, leave your power-hungry, demonic soul," one called out.

"They’re very nice young men, a very confused fellow. Apparently, they’re Bernie Sanders campaign," Cruz laughed.

"Look at yourself in the mirror," the heckler yelled back.

"You know, the very odd things, usually lefties don’t believe in God," he said as the two were escorted out of the event.

Cruz cracked a Bernie Sanders joke when protesters interrupted his rally in Houston, Texas.

"I understand you seem confused about the First Amendment," he said, addressing the protesters. "You have a right to speak, but you don’t have the right to disrupt others. I’m curious, does that coordinated effort suggest the lefties are getting scared?"

Our ruling

Cruz said, "More than once, I've actually had a conversation with the protesters on substance."

There are numerous examples of Cruz engaging with people with dissenting views. He’s had policy discussions with opposing voters and activists.

When it comes to protesters, it’s debatable whether Cruz and the protesters are actually participating in conversations. Nonetheless, Cruz does usually address their issues. And he repeatedly affirms their First Amendment rights to protest.

We rate his claim True.

Our Sources

NBC, "Ted Cruz' Full 'Meet the Press' Interview," March 12, 2016

Email interviews with Catherine Frazier and Brian Phillips, spokespeople for Ted Cruz, March 13, 2016

Interview with Patrick Svitek, reporter at the Texas Tribune, March 13, 2016

Youtube, "Ted Cruz to Hecklers at Houston, TX Rally: The lefties are getting scared!" March 1, 2016

The Blaze, "Watch How Ted Cruz Handles a Heckler Who Repeatedly Interrupts Event, Calls Him ‘Weird’," Feb. 1, 2016

C-SPAN, Clip from Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz Rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, Feb. 22, 2016

Houston Chronicle, "The Latest: Hometown protesters interrupt Cruz in Houston," March 1, 2016

CBS News, "Ellen Page confronts Ted Cruz over LGBT rights," Aug. 21, 2015

Breitbart News, "Ted Cruz Takes Down Code Pink Hecklers on Iran," July 23, 2015

Politico, "Cruz tangles with Iowa voter over Obamacare," Jan. 30, 2016

Youtube, "Watch Ted Cruz Get Ambushed By Angry Iowa Farmer, Then Turn Him Around," Jan. 31, 2016

Youtube, "Cruz Tangles With Protesters During Maine Event," March 5, 2016

WMUR-TV, "Protesters jump on stage to interrupt Ted Cruz during Second Amendment rally," Jan. 12, 2016

Youtube, "Man attempts exorcism on Ted Cruz during campaign event. ‘He’s possessed by a demon’," Feb. 8, 2016

Huffington Post, "Hecklers Tried To Perform An Exorcism On Ted Cruz In New Hampshire," Feb. 9, 2016

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Ted Cruz says he's engaged civilly with protesters at his campaign events

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