By Alyssa Farah and Alana Cook
WASHINGTON – When Ted Cruz speaks, the tea party listens.
And then they cheer like he is a rock star.
“You would have thought he was the president,” said one attendee, describing the raucous and adoring welcome given the senator from Texas at a major tea-party event in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, got the biggest applause, the warmest welcome and the longest ovation, during a series of speeches celebrating the fifth anniversary of the tea-party movement.
In fact, after his 17-minute speech, Cruz lingered onstage, basking in the warm reception, shaking hands and posing for pictures.
The leaders of the GOP may not appreciate the Texan’s straightforward candor, but the grassroots tea-party members reveled in it.
“The most exciting thing to happen in politics in recent years has been this grassroots effort,” he observed. “I am hopeful and optimistic that we will turn this country around. Liberty is never safer than when politicians are terrified.”
Cruz believes America is repeating history.
“Scriptures tell us there’s nothing new under the sun,” he said. “I’m convinced we are where we were in the 1970s. The same economic and environmental policies caused stagnation. Then, in the late 1970s, something amazing began to happen. A grassroots movement began. The same grassroots movement is happening again.
“People are waking up in overwhelming numbers. It is the single honor of my life to bring back freedom, liberty and the same constitutional protections that made America the greatest nation in history of world. That’s what we are fighting for.”
It's been five years since Rick Santelli famously launched into his scathing rant against the Obama administration's economic recovery plans on CNBC's "Squawk Box," inspiring the populist movement that would grow into the tea party.
Since then, numerous groups have taken on the tea-party name and launched full-time operations to promote its causes. As one of the largest and most influential of those, Tea Party Patriots, which bills itself as the country's premiere grassroots tea-party organization, celebrated its fifth anniversary with an all-star lineup of conservative speakers.
In addition to Cruz, that lineup included radio talk-show host Mark Levin; Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas; Tea Party Patriots Co-founder Jenny Beth Martin and many more.
Sen. Rand Paul said he had good news and bad news. The good news? Your government is open. The bad news? Your government is open.
Mark Levin spoke at the gathering about the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Constitution.
"Today, we live under a lawless president, thankless Congress and our own powerful Supreme Court. ... We are being devoured by the very government that is supposed to serve us. The centralization and concentration of power is now moving at breakneck speed as the Constitution's bylaws have been breached," he said. "The tea-party movement is the only thing left that is standing between the republic and the tyranny of a runaway government.
"You are citizens from all walks of life and every part of country who possess the spirit of the Founding Fathers," Levin continued. "You are astutely aware of the peril of the moment and all that is at stake. And for this, you are smeared and attacked by the ruling class, Democrats and Republicans alike. By the media, from the New York Swines to the Wall Street Journal. And countless others who are running this nation into the abyss. And I know at times you wonder if its all worth it."
Levin quoted "The Crisis" by Thomas Paine: "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."
He declared, "Triumph we must, and triumph we will."
Rep. Michele Bachmann warned Americans that it's important to realize the battle over control in Washington is a war over the future of the nation.
She told the audience it was interesting that the progressive movement only wants to talk about the 2016 elections – when a replacement for Barack Obama will be picked.
"They don't want us to think about 2014 elections," she noted. "Why are they so important? The Senate."
She said conservatives have made their presence known in America and in Washington through the tea party, and through the takeover of the U.S. House.
"What you did took the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi's hand," she said.
But more needs to be done, Bachmann warned.
"We have a ways to go," she said. "There's a temptation in our movement that when things don't go our way we can take our marbles and go home."
But she said progressives have been working on their agenda for decades, and conservatives need to have stamina.
"Part of our problem is, we have listened too closely to what mainstream media have to say about us. It's important we understand [the] art of war. [We] need to know ourselves and our enemy."
The goal, she said, is to contend for the "here and now," and then "elect the most conservative people we can to the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate."
Bachmann continued, "We have a very real opportunity to throw sand in the gears and … take the gavel out of [Sen. Harry] Reid's hand this November. If we do that, it means the door is wide open for a generational shift of electing constitutional conservatives in 2016."
She said, "If we do that, not only will our children thank you, the world will thank you."
Rep. Steve King noted the movement's greatest successes were realized "when we had the biggest issues in front of us that we had a chance to change.”
The event was to "reflect on why the movement formed, the significant victories it has achieved, and the road ahead in a contentious 2014 as it comes under assault from both sides of the aisle," according to the Tea Party Patriots.
"Our organization may be five years old, but our principles are timeless," TPP Co-founder Jenny Beth Martin said.
"Over the last five years, Tea Party Patriots has fought tirelessly for the freedom of the average American to choose their health care, ensured that their tax dollars are spent wisely and demanded that elected members of Congress fulfill their duty to represent the people," Martin added.
Sen. Mike Lee:
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., called Obama "the most tyrannical president we've ever had in the history of the United States."
"I want to talk about the label we get called all the time, and that's 'extremists,'" he said. "Barry Goldwater once said 'extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.'"
Salmon said, "If balancing the budget ever again is extreme, then guilty as charged, I'm extreme. If sending Obamacare to the netherworld is extreme, then I'm extreme. If fighting for justice for Brian Terry, a border agent killed under Fast and Furious, is extreme, then I'm extreme. If fighting for justice for Chris Stevens who was killed in Benghazi is extreme, then I'm extreme."
Rep. Louis Gohmert: