POSTED: Saturday, March 16, 2013 - 8:12pm
UPDATED: Sunday, March 17, 2013 - 8:22pm
ATLANTA (CNN) — Republicans may have lost the presidential election last year, but Sen. Ted Cruz declared Saturday that the conservative movement is winning the recent political fights with President Barack Obama and Democrats.
Cruz spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside of Washington, and he held the coveted final speaking slot on the conference's third and final day.
Conservatives have an advantage, he said, because of the position they took against the Obama administration on drones, their handling of the forced federal spending cuts known in Washington as the sequester and their opposition to the president's health care law.
"Something that hasn't happened in a long time has happened: We're winning right now," he said.
Cruz -- a freshman senator from Texas who was sworn into the body earlier this year -- pointed in particular to his first remarks on the Senate floor, which came during a filibuster led by Sen. Rand Paul. Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, led a nearly 13-hour filibuster demanding the Obama administration characterize their opposition on lethal drone strikes against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. The next day, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote Paul that the administration was opposed to that.
Cruz, and eventually other Republicans from both the Senate and House, joined Paul and aided his protest as the hours ticked by.
He said the decision of some Republican senators to not support Paul would cost them their "manhood."
The protest led Sen. John McCain to brand Rubio and Cruz as "waco birds." McCain later apologized for that remark.
"I have to admit, when Rand and I first heard that, we thought maybe it was a new kind of drone," Cruz quipped Saturday.
"But if standing for liberty and standing for the Constitution makes you a wacko bird, then count me a proud wacko bird," he added.
Conservatives also have the upper hand as the forced spending cuts known as sequestration kicked in. But the perceptions of many are that the effects of sequestration are not as bad as Obama publicly warned.
"The White House is astonished -- all of us remember the president's 'scare America' tour where he went all over the country talking about the dramatic consequences," Cruz said. "The White House was certain Republicans were going to fold under and cave and instead we stood our ground and finally got at least the first small step -- and I underscore it is a small step -- to reining in our uncontrollable spending and debt."
Both parties initially intended the cuts to never take effect, though some Republicans saw them as a way to reduce government spending without additional tax increases, such as those included in January's fiscal cliff deal.
Cruz noted that the cuts were a minute portion of the government's spending, joking that the CPAC attendees' meals had been reduced by the same amount -- just over 2%.
"Indeed (I) don't know how you're possibly able to still stand on 97.6% of your dinner," he said. "And I'll always be haunted by the sight of Newt Gingrich's emaciated face."
Cruz said his party also holds the upper hand on the president's health care law known as Obamacare. He introduced a measure in the Senate to repeal the health law, which Republicans say is too expensive and will hurt the economy; and in the House, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has proposed a plan which includes repealing much of the law.
With many Republicans -- including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus -- proposing ways forward for their party, Cruz offered his own plan.
"Number one: defend the Constitution. And number two: champion growth and opportunity," he said.
He proposed a number of policies popular with conservatives, including abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Education; construction of the full Keystone oil pipeline; and implementing conservative economic policies, which he said cause the economy to grow faster.
"Obama didn't learn the lesson from Reagan that if you want to turn the economy arouhd, you cut taxes, you reduce spending, you reduce the debt, and you don't send regulators like locusts to destroy small businesses and jobs," he said.
A presidential straw poll of nearly 3,000 CPAC attendees showed he has appeal to the audience, even when the field was crowded with 23 candidates and there was the option to write in additional names.
Cruz scored 4% of the total vote, tying for seventh place with the conservative neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson, who rose to prominence after speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast this year.
As for Paul, his Senate colleague who led the filibuster? He came out on top in the poll, scoring 25% and finishing just ahead of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, another top conservative voice.