Washington Builds a Bugaboo
How does Senator Ted Cruz tick off liberals? Let us count the ways.
Sep 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 03 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
Several times a day, especially if he’s out travelin’ and talkin’ to folks, as he always is when the U.S. Senate isn’t in session, Ted Cruz will stand before an audience and reflect, seemingly for the first time, about the generational shift taking place in the Republican party.
“I call them the Children of Reagan,” he says. He means the rising group of Republican officeholders who came to political consciousness during President Reagan’s two terms. He rattles off their names: “young leaders” like Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Mike Lee, Scott Walker . . . and then sometimes he’ll pause, letting you wonder if he’s leaving out any of the Children’s names. Sometimes a helpful fan in the audience will volunteer it, to general appreciation from the crowd.
Among that tiny fraction of Americans who are paying attention to such things, Cruz seems to be the only person who is forgetting Ted Cruz’s name.
“Americans who worry about democracy need to keep on this guy,” warned a reporter for the New Republic back in February. And no wonder! Skim the tweets or scan the blogs or, if you’re older than one of Reagan’s Children, read the actual newspapers, and you’ll soon discover that Ted Cruz is far more than the freshman senator from Texas, only eight months in office. He is also the “scary” “McCarthyite” “Taliban” “bully” and “bomb-thrower” known for his “extremism” and his “arrogant” and “nihilistic” “disregard of facts.”
When you follow him around, however—for he is in constant motion, from Iowa to New Hampshire to every corner of Texas—this nasty fellow you’ve been reading about, the caricature Cruz, never appears. If “Ted Cruz” didn’t exist, professional Democrats and the mainstreamers in the Washington press corps would have to invent him.
And, in a way, he doesn’t, and they have: Indeed, the invention of Ted Cruz as Republican bugaboo makes an excellent case study in how partisan journalism and politics commingle these days, as jittery Washington prepares for the post-Obama era.
Already the litany of Cruz’s extremism has become an item in the progressive catechism. Most of it involves alleged violations of Senate etiquette, and it’s useful to glance over a few of them, to see how the legend grows.
The unnerved New Republic reporter mentioned above was alarmed in particular by Cruz’s questioning of soon-to-be defense secretary Chuck Hagel during Hagel’s confirmation hearings.
Cruz opposed Hagel’s nomination. The reasons seemed straightforward—Cruz disagreed with the nominee on questions of national defense and foreign policy, including Hagel’s well-attested aversion, or “antagonism,” as Cruz put it, toward Israel’s behavior in the Middle East. Cruz grilled Hagel (the verb is required when writing about congressional hearings) about his association with a ferociously anti-Israel U.S. diplomat called Chas Freeman. In 2009 Freeman resigned from the president’s National Intelligence Council after pro-Israel senators like Charles Schumer said his “statements against Israel were way over the top.”
At the hearing, Cruz asked Hagel whether he and Freeman had ever worked or junketed together, as press reports suggested. Hagel said no. Cruz moved on.
“Those old enough to remember, or who are familiar with, the history, will recognize Cruz’s line of attack as classic McCarthy tactics,” wrote TNR’s reporter. The mention of McCarthy is catnip for a good mainstreamer. “The Reincarnation of Joe McCarthy?” wondered a columnist for Forbes. The mere scent jogged the memory of a left-wing reporter for the New Yorker, who, Pavlov-style, wrote a story headlined: “Is Senator Ted Cruz Our New McCarthy?” She dug out old notes she had taken at a speech Cruz gave to a group of right-wingers a couple years before.
The New Yorker’s reporter didn’t mention it, but other people who were there say Cruz’s informal speech was boisterous and funny, tailored to an audience of like-minded ideologues. Just as a mention of Joe McCarthy thrills people on the left, so the right delights in mockery of Harvard, especially its law school—and especially if the speaker, like Cruz, is a graduate in good standing.
According to the New Yorker reporter, Cruz said this two years ago:
“There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were 12 who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”
Having been found guilty as a McCarthyite, Cruz is of course granted no license for hyperbole, even among friends (and donors!). When Cruz attended Harvard Law, in the mid-90s, it was still the intellectual locus of a dying movement called Critical Legal Studies that was explicitly inspired by Marx, whose other followers, history shows, seldom reconciled themselves to the U.S. government. Earnestly, with that mock disinterestedness that characterizes the most dutiful of the mainstreamers, the reporter got an “equal-time” comment from a spokesman for the law school. The spokesman confessed to being “puzzled by the senator’s assertions.” For the record.
There is a professor at Harvard Law famous for, among other things, being a Republican. The New Yorker sleuth tracked him down. He told her that in fact, during Cruz’s Harvard years, 4 professors had publicly confessed to Republicanism. There were over 200 faculty at the law school at the time, but none, according to the New Yorker’s investigation, called for the Communists to overthrow the government. The question in the New Yorker headline answered itself.
The essence of McCarthyism is bullying, and Cruz is frequently called a bully—not only of men like Chuck Hagel but also of women like Dianne Feinstein, the California senator who redoubled her efforts for gun control after the killings at Sandy Hook elementary school. For his part, as a private lawyer, solicitor general of Texas, and now as a senator, Cruz expresses a special, not to say obsessive, fondness for the widest possible reading of the Second Amendment.
In a widely replayed exchange, Cruz asked Feinstein to explain why she felt that the Second Amendment allowed the government to restrict the kinds of weapons citizens were allowed to buy, when she would never allow similar restrictions on the First Amendment or the Fourth.
By any objective reading, Cruz’s point was weak—no constitutional right is completely unrestricted—and his unblinking insistence on pursuing it was unsettling to watch, but his tone was never harsh or disrespectful or, for that matter, bullying. It was Feinstein’s wounded, girlish reply, which quickly caromed around the Internet, that allowed his opponents to portray Cruz as a bully.
“Senator, I’m not a sixth-grader,” she said, adding, in a non sequitur, that she had, as a mayor in the 1970s, seen people who were shot. Therefore she didn’t need a “lecture” on the Constitution.
Feinstein’s reasoning was no more careful than Cruz’s. His larger transgression, however, was threatening to filibuster the gun bill with his Senate colleagues Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. In Cruz’s telling, the threat led to a delay in the Senate vote on the bill. This bought gun control opponents enough time to turn weak-kneed Republicans against it. The result was that a major piece of legislation that had looked unstoppable was turned back over a weekend. Gun control, for now, is dead as a federal issue.
In a more respectable cause—blocking an anti-abortion measure, for example, or stopping a cut in food stamp funding—Cruz’s defeat of the gun bill would look like what it was: a daring and skillful piece of parliamentary maneuvering. Instead it rendered him guilty of an offense even greater than bullying: effectiveness.
"Well, it’s been an interesting eight months,” he said one afternoon in August, when I met up with him in his Houston office. He is an unlikely bugaboo by the look of him. He’s of middling height, round of shoulder and wide of hip. His flat black hair, held in place with a touch of pomade, is starting to thin out as he approaches his mid-forties. His voice is a reedy tenor, and his suits hang from his frame as if they really would prefer to be somewhere else. His most distinctive feature as a public figure is his style of speaking. Even for full-dress speeches, such as his national debut at the Republican National Convention last year, he forgoes the traditional podium and standing mike. Instead he clips on a lapel mike and roams the stage right to left and back again, gesturing expressively, like one of those macro-biotic pitchmen who take the airwaves during PBS pledge-drives. Occasionally he turns to face the audience square with feet planted wide, hands folded in front, at which point the pitchman looks like he’s setting a screen for the power forward on his high school basketball team.
For a “loose cannon,” he is remarkably single-minded. My visit came as Cruz was starting on a speaking tour in support of his latest cause, to encourage voters to pressure their representatives to defund Obamacare. The House of Representatives, he said, could pass a continuing resolution by September 30, funding the entire government excluding Obamacare, and send the resolution to the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid would of course refuse to consider the bill. The government would shut down from lack of money. At this point, he told me, the Republicans would have to take their case to the public, framing the question like so: “Why is Barack Obama willing to shut down the government to preserve Obamacare?” Under pressure from an outraged public, President Obama would drop his single greatest legacy, reopen the government, and embrace a free-market solution to health care reform.
That’s the plan, anyway.
He quoted Margaret Thatcher: “First you win the argument, then you win the vote.”
It’s not clear that Cruz himself believes his plan could work. “The wheels are coming off Obamacare,” he said. “But look, if the traditional rules of Washington apply, this is a fight we can’t win. If the forum in which we must win the argument is Washington backrooms filled with smoke, the fight is absolutely unwinnable.
“But I’m convinced we’re seeing a new paradigm in American politics. We’ve seen what happens when America’s grassroots rise up and demand their elected officials do the right thing.” He mentioned the gun filibuster and the thousands of noisy gun owners who telephoned and emailed their senators to oppose the bill.
“Few things,” he said wryly, “focus the mind of politicians more than hearing from large numbers of their constituents.”
He paused, lost for a moment in thought. “You know,” he said, cocking his head, “I’m convinced that the real divide in American politics isn’t between Republican and Democrat—it’s between the people and the entrenched politicians in Washington, D.C.”
It sounded like an applause line to me. And so, coming from nowhere, did a call to abolish the IRS. He went on in this mode for a while, until, leaning back on a couch in his office with his press secretary a few feet away tapping her BlackBerry, he began to sound as if he was giving a stump speech, and then I realized: He was giving a stump speech. Line after line I had heard him say on C-SPAN or YouTube. He told me the life story of his father, a Cuban immigrant, in precisely the same words he had used in the convention speech. He launched into a tribute to Ronald Reagan that I had first heard last year in his campaign for the Senate. The Margaret Thatcher quote sounded familiar, too.
And it sounded even more familiar a few hours later when Cruz spoke before a meeting of the Kingwood Tea Party, north of Houston. His press secretary and I didn’t applaud in his office when he told us about the real divide in American politics, but they went wild in Kingwood. They nodded knowingly when he talked about what focused the minds of politicians. I paged through my interview notes to find something he might have told me that he wasn’t saying to the Tea Partiers right then, in nearly identical language. I failed.
I’m not complaining. Professional public speakers have no choice but to recycle material. And for the hack, hearing a politician say the same thing multiple times makes note-taking vastly easier. “Disciplined” is a term of art in politics, and generally a compliment. It describes a stubborn, admirable, and often necessary insistence on the part of a politician on talking about only what he wants to talk about, in terms of his choosing. I think Cruz senses that his fluency seems slightly artificial, a little too pat, since he takes care to alter his cadence and punctuate it with “you knows” and “let me tell yas” and those thoughtful pauses that allow him to glance reflectively off to the side and bite his lower lip, before rousing himself to deliver a sentence he has delivered several hundred times.
It doesn’t stop, though. Later we sat together in the back seat of a car driving to another speech. Cruz spoke in personal ways about going to his alma mater, Princeton, but the word clumps from the speeches, the set pieces that he arranges in one sequence or another and seldom departs from, were always within reach. He spoke of his father again. He mentioned the great divide in America, again, and was quoting Margaret Thatcher when I realized he was giving a speech again, except this time at close quarters, only a few feet away, in the back seat of a car. I made a quick calculation of how many vertebrae I would damage if I slipped the lock, opened the door, and did a tuck and roll onto the passing pavement. The answer was: too many. So I contented myself with looking out the window at the Houston exurbs until the speech wound down and I could ask another question, after which the speech resumed and I watched the endless series of tire stores and taco stands and Jiffy Lubes roll by.
In normal life a human being who was as disciplined as Cruz would seem merely creepy. But of course Cruz doesn’t lead a normal life, and nobody, not his detractors or his fans, would have it any other way.
"He was always a good talker,” his mother Eleanor Darragh told me not long ago.
Ted was born in Canada to Eleanor, from Delaware, and Rafael Cruz, whose inspiring personal story, as his son relates it, has lately taken on a new coda: a moving account of the senator’s swearing-in ceremony earlier this year, which took place under the proud and tearful gaze of his immigrant father. “For my family,” the senator says quietly, dozens of times a week, “it was a very special moment.”
As a rebellious young high schooler, Rafael lost his two front teeth to a jailer’s boot serving time for protesting the regime of Fidel Castro’s predecessor, Fulgencio Batista. He left Cuba in 1957, at the age of 18. Rafael’s mother had sewn one hundred dollars into his underwear. “I don’t recommend you carry your money in your underwear,” the son jokes, invariably.
Rafael arrived in Austin, Texas, and took a job washing dishes for 50 cents an hour. He learned English and got a scholarship to the University of Texas. After two years, Batista deposed, he returned to Cuba with high hopes, but he was appalled at the changes wrought by the revolution. His family’s property had been confiscated, and his sister would later face torture in one of Castro’s jails. Rafael made it back to Texas. He finished his degree and secured refugee status when his student visa lapsed. He got married, had two daughters, got divorced, remarried, and with Eleanor opened a business processing seismic data for oil and gas companies.
In 1968 they followed the Canadian oil boom to Alberta, where Rafael took Canadian citizenship. His son, Rafael Edward Cruz, known as Ted, was born in Calgary in 1970. Four years later the family business went bust and they returned to Houston. They rebuilt the company, and today, retired from business, Rafael is an itinerant pastor in a suburb of Dallas. It’s a moving story. Only in America. And Canada.
Occasionally estranged throughout Ted’s childhood, his parents finally divorced in the 1990s, but Rafael always remained close to his son, who will tell you, unbidden, “You know, my dad’s been my hero my whole life.”
“When he was 4 . . . I would declare and proclaim the word of God over him,” Rafael told the Christian Broadcasting Network earlier this summer. “I would say, ‘You know, Ted, you have been gifted above any man that I have known of. And God has destined you for greatness.’ ”
Though Rafael didn’t become an American citizen until 2005—to NPR recently he blamed “laziness” for the delay—he found it easy to transfer his political passion to the foundering U.S.A. of the mid-seventies. He took to conservative politics as the Reagan revolution was gathering force. The passion rubbed off on his son. When a retired natural gas salesman named Rolland Story trolled Houston high schools for students with an interest in conservative politics and economics, he found Ted, whose parents enrolled him in an extracurricular school Story had opened, the Free Enterprise Institute. Story introduced his students to the Federalist and anti-Federalist Papers and the works of Hayek, Bastiat, von Mises, and Friedman (Milton not Thomas), and taught them history out of The Miracle of America, an unapologetically patriotic effusion by the far-right folk historian Cleon Skousen, a favorite author of the talk show host Glenn Beck. Students memorized the “Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom,” the second of which Cruz occasionally drops into his speeches: “Everything that government gives to the people, it must first take from the people.”
Story’s educational efforts were explicitly countercultural, providing a spirited alternative to the wan curriculums of the 1970s as they edged toward full-blown, multiculti political correctness, even in Texas. “We just wanted to send our kids to school and not get them indoctrinated in the things we didn’t believe in,” says Paige Moore, a friend of the Cruz family from that time. “But the kids weren’t really getting educated. The textbooks were so boring. There was nothing in there but trendy stuff. They were just collections of facts that didn’t add up to anything.”
Story, on the other hand, had a gift for making history matter. After regular school hours he held mock constitutional conventions in which students would portray different delegates from 1787. “Then they’d have a debate,” Mrs. Moore says. “And they had to know what they were talking about to do that.”
Story chose four or five of his best students, led by Cruz, to join a traveling troupe called the Constitutional Corroborators. He hired a mnemonic specialist to teach them how to memorize the text of the Constitution up through the Bill of Rights. (Who wants to memorize the Eleventh Amendment?) Armed with an easel and felt pens, with Mrs. Moore or another parent at the wheel, the corroborators drove throughout Texas and occasionally beyond to breakfasts, lunches, or dinners held by the Rotary Club or Kiwanis or the VFW or any other civic group with an open slot for speakers. While the audience sawed away at the Chicken a la King, the corroborators wrote out various articles of the Constitution word for word. When the meal was over they’d take questions.
“The people just loved them,” Mrs. Moore says. “They knew so much, people couldn’t believe it! And you had to be a very polished speaker. Ted really worked at it. He’d practice at home in front of the mirror to get everything just right.”
Cruz spent his last two high school years at the tiny Second Baptist School in Houston, which calls itself “a Christian College Preparatory School.” He applied to Princeton—“I fell in love with the campus”—and was accepted for early admission.
“I don’t think I knew anyone who had ever gone to an Ivy League college,” he said. “It was a world, frankly, with which I was not familiar. In many ways it was a culture shock. Many of my classmates were blue-blooded and accustomed to the corridors of power. The world from which they came was not a world I had contact with. My first job was at age 8, working as a computer operator for my dad at a dollar an hour.”
He reconnoitered behind enemy lines. “Both faculty and students were overwhelmingly liberal politically,” he said. “I remember there were students who had on their wall posters of Che Guevara and Karl Marx. They thought it was cute or chic. And if you come from a family with experience of communism—the Castro government confiscated everything my grandparents’ family had—you don’t think it’s cute or chic.
“But I took it as an opportunity to figure out how those who disagree with you think.”
His earliest and closest friend at Princeton, and later best man at his wedding, was a Jamaican named David Panton, admitted as a freshman at the age of 16.
“I had a tough time at Princeton,” Panton said. “I was very young. I wasn’t social. Really I was a geek. Ted, though, was very social, and his mentorship made me a better person.
“That’s the message I would like to get out about Ted: his compassion.
“He was never arrogant, he was always kind and patient with me, and with others, no matter how much success he had.”
Panton and Cruz became roommates. Cruz worked two jobs to help pay for school, filming promotional videos for Princeton and coaching students taking the law boards. Beyond a shared devotion to Super Mario Bros., Cruz and Panton spent most of their free time as teammates in the American Parliamentary Debate Association. As seniors they won the national championship and Cruz was named Speaker of the Year. The technique he had acquired under Story paid off.
“It helps that he has a photographic memory,” Panton said. “He reads something once and that’s enough. Everyone else is taking notes, speaking from notes. Ted almost never took notes. He didn’t need to. He would get out from behind the podium and get in front of the audience, just as you see today. It was very unique for those days—and very effective.”
Cruz’s background in debate is evident in every aspect of his public life. Anyone who has watched his practiced hand gestures will be able to imagine the high schooler standing in front of his bedroom mirror trying to get every move just right. The paragraphs that roll too easily off his tongue suggest a man who has memorized them too easily as well. Most significant is his insistence on casting the clash of political interests as an argument—a contest between ideas that, properly engaged, can be won or lost. The notion seems almost quaint.
Certainly it does among the mainstreamers, who see the contest between left and right in national politics not as a clash between ideas but as a clash between fact and opinion—their fact, that is, and their opponents’ opinion. In the political class—that creaking combine of progressive political reporters, politicians, staffers, lobbyists, and think tank fellows—this week’s favored cliché is an empty saying that wasn’t particularly clever even when Daniel Patrick Moynihan was overusing it a quarter century ago. “Everyone,” we’re told, “is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts”—as though facts were Lego pieces that can be stacked up and snapped together and self-evidently measured with laser-like precision, revealing an inevitable conclusion. Experienced debaters, who can argue different conclusions from a single set of facts, know reality doesn’t quite work like that.
The mainstreamers may know this too, but the conceit of fact versus opinion is too valuable to let go of. Not long ago, a columnist for the Washington Post, writing in favor of gun control, devoted an entire paragraph to what he called Cruz’s “trademark falsehoods.” The columnist offered his own factual rebuttal in parentheses. It went like this:
“Cruz claimed that his [alternative gun] bill was the ‘result of multiple hearings in the Judiciary Committee.’ (It was never brought before the panel.) He claimed the opposing legislation would extend ‘background checks to private transactions between private individuals.’ (The bill applied only to advertised sales.) Off the floor, he made the patently false claim that the ‘so-called “gun show loophole” ’ doesn’t exist.”
Yet the facts here are uncomfortably ambiguous. The columnist is right that Cruz’s bill was never brought before the committee, but it was written after the committee’s two gun-control hearings of several hours’ duration, at least one subcommittee hearing (attended by Cruz), and four different markups. It seems fair to say that the bill could be “the result of” all this gassing off.
The second of Cruz’s “trademark falsehoods” is supported by the bill itself. Contrary to the columnist, the bill (in Section 122, if you have a copy handy) applies to any sale “pursuant to an advertisement” or “at a gun show,” where, as Cruz says, private transactions often take place.
As for the third, the question of whether the gun show “loophole” is truly a loophole is a matter on which men of good faith, assuming any could be found, can disagree.
Federally licensed dealers are required to do background checks of their customers at gun shows. Not everyone who sells a gun at a gun show is a federally licensed dealer, however. In most states, citizens are free to sell a limited number of guns from their homes, from their cars, or from lots of other places, even if the venue can be considered a gun show. If these private transactions constitute a loophole, it’s a very big one. It could only be closed by requiring the federal government to determine which gun sales constitute a “gun show,” and then forcing every citizen who wants to sell a gun to obtain a license. Such a vast regulation of traditionally private activity could fairly be considered much more extensive than merely “filling a loophole.”
A generous reading of Cruz’s remarks would acknowledge the ambiguities. But as a right-winger who’s proved himself highly skilled at rousing the rabble, Cruz can never be awarded the benefit of the doubt. So the legend grows.
The chief means for the marginalization of Ted Cruz has been that newly born journalistic convention, the fact check. No recent politician has been subjected to more fact checks than Cruz, or come off looking worse because of them.
At the risk of getting lost in pedantry—if we’re not there yet—consider one recent “Fact Checker” column from the Washington Post. The Post fact checker gave Cruz three Pinocchios, meaning the senator had made “significant factual errors.” The three assertions the fact checker checked come from a new TV commercial and form the backbone of Cruz’s case for defunding Obamacare.
In the ad, Cruz’s first assertion is that Senator Max Baucus, Obamacare’s lead author, recently called Obamacare a “huge train wreck.”
Cruz is making an elision here, as often happens in brief polemical TV ads. But an elision isn’t a factual error. Baucus used the phrase in an exchange with Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary and the official most responsible for implementing the law. Baucus complained to Sebelius that her “educational efforts” regarding the law’s employer mandate were inadequate. The mandate’s deadline was, at the time, mere months away. Baucus worried that without reliable information employers would be unable to comply with the law.
“I just see a huge train wreck coming down,” Baucus told Sebelius.
The phrase train wreck, the fact checker insists, thus referred to the implementation of Obamacare, rather than to the law itself; Cruz’s elision is that he fails to make this distinction clear. The fact checker considers the elision an unfair sleight-of-hand. And the fact checker has a point.
But so does Cruz. Implementation and enforcement are a big part of any law. If the law can’t take effect without causing a lot of damage, then there’s something wrong with the law: Whatever causes a train wreck can fairly be called a train wreck too. Baucus’s comment was a comment on an aspect of Obamacare itself.
But wait! The fact checker tells us that Baucus recently published an op-ed in a magazine. The op-ed was a classic Washington “walk back,” the implied disavowal that often follows an impolitic statement. In his op-ed Baucus announced that he no longer foresees a huge train wreck. Why? “The administration announced it would delay implementation of the employer mandate until 2015 in order to give businesses more time to get ready for the law.”
That mandate and its delay are funny things, as we’ll see.
The next Cruz assertion the fact checker disputes is: “The president is quietly granting Obamacare waivers to big corporations.”
The fact checker doesn’t like anything about this statement. He doesn’t like the word “waivers” to describe the delay of the mandate. He does note that “some columnists” use the word “waiver” and “delay” interchangeably. And so they do! One such columnist is the Post’s own chief economics writer, who has pointed out that a delay is a kind of waiver.
So waiver, upon inspection, must be okay. But what about quietly? The fact checker doesn’t like quietly. Cruz is referring to the manner in which the announcement was made. It was deliberately downplayed. It appeared first in a blog item posted by an assistant secretary of the Treasury late on the afternoon before most Americans began the Fourth of July holiday. By Washington standards, that’s quietly. Indeed, six weeks before questioning Cruz’s use of the word, the fact checker himself wrote that the Treasury blog post appeared under “a title designed to not give away the news.” So Obama’s announcement was not only quiet, it was also misleading.
We are far into the fact check now and have yet to be shown a factual error.
So what about Cruz’s mention of big corporations? The mandate and the delay apply only to companies that employ more than 50 workers. Those are pretty big companies. But, says the fact checker, most of these big corporations—“about 96 percent”—already offer health coverage to some of their employees, who therefore won’t be affected by the waiver, er, delay.
Then the fact checker makes a concession: Owing to complications, he says, nobody knows how many employees will be affected by the mandate delay. Nobody. Not even fact checkers.
The fact checker still doesn’t like it. “Cruz,” he insists, “is overstating the case when he suggests this action was aimed only at big corporations.”
But Cruz didn’t suggest that, did he? I’ve heard Cruz make this point roughly 20 times, in person and on video, and I’ve watched the ad till I could almost recite it myself. I never picked up on the suggestion that the fact checker infers. Of course, I’m not a fact checker. Fact checkers are stubborn things.
And so on to the third “factual error”: In the ad, Cruz quotes a union president saying that one provision of Obama-care “will destroy the foundation of the 40-hour work week.” Helpfully, the fact checker cites the very document in which the union president did indeed say exactly that.
So what’s the problem? Well, says the fact checker: “The employer mandate that was supposedly causing this problem has been delayed for one year.”
There’s that delay again! You probably can’t understand what the delay has to do with Cruz’s assertion that the union president said what he said. But you aren’t a fact checker either.
“Ironically,” the fact checker concludes, the delay in the employer mandate will actually solve the problems that Cruz points to. “And then Cruz turns around and . . . uses the delay as another strike against the law. Cruz can’t have it both ways.”
Sure he can. And so can the fact checker (though he might want to look up “ironically” in the dictionary). So can Baucus, Obama, and anyone else who finds this fact check of Cruz persuasive. On the one hand, the fact checker insists that the employer mandate won’t have significant effects because it lands on so few companies: Ninety-six percent of big companies already offer insurance. Yet on the other hand, he tells us that delaying this trifling mandate by a single year will avert a “huge train wreck” that threatens the entire regime of Obamacare. You go right ahead, Fact Checker—have it both ways.
Very few mainstreamers, of course, will have the patience to look so closely into the fact checker’s argument to see its weaknesses, which may or may not be signs of bad faith. All the mainstreamers will see are those three Pinocchios and be reassured in their conviction that Ted Cruz is a liar.
Cruz still points to his encounter with Rolland Story as a turning point in his life—the time when, as Paige Moore said, “he found the reasons to believe the things he already knew were true.” But there were other turning points to come.
At Princeton Cruz pursued his interest in the Constitution under Robert George, the well-known political philosopher whose course in constitutional interpretation is considered one of the toughest at Princeton.
“The course attracts a self-selected group of students, a lot of them superstars,” George said. “I’ve taught thousands and thousands of students, and Ted is easily in the top 10. He was so interested in the theory and ideas, I thought he’d go to law school and get a good clerkship somewhere, and then become a professor.”
Cruz did go to law school, graduating magna cum laude in 1995 and rising to articles editor of the law review, and he did get a good clerkship, with Michael Luttig, a conservative stalwart on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Then he got an even better clerkship, with the chief justice of the United States, William Rehnquist. With such a resumé, says one veteran of Washington legal circles, “Cruz could have gone anywhere he wanted.” He let himself be recruited by a small, politically well-wired Washington firm specializing in appellate litigation run by two prominent Republican lawyers, Charles Cooper and Michael Carvin. His young-man-in-a-hurry persona came as part of the deal.
“I always tell people Ted was the best law partner I ever had,” Carvin says drily. “The only problem is, he was a junior associate at the time. He was always interested in the high-end stuff, the big questions, constitutional issues. When it came to the other stuff, answering interrogatories or taking depositions, he wasn’t so interested.”
At Cooper Carvin, Cruz argued several high-profile cases, including on behalf of the NRA in briefs challenging gun control laws. Fellow advocates and adversaries were struck by his unflappable calm, the lucidity of his arguments, his ability to construct answers in advance to every conceivable objection—the craft he’d been training for since he was a high schooler teaching the Constitution to masticating Kiwanis. When Cooper was called before the committee charged with impeaching President Clinton, Cruz drafted arguments to prove that Clinton’s various perjuries constituted high crimes and misdemeanors.
“After two years it was clear he could become one of the top appellate advocates in the country,” Cooper says. “But he told me it was always in the back of his mind that he might want to pursue a political career. And against my own interest I encouraged him in that notion.” When his fellow Texan George W. Bush announced his presidential candidacy, Cruz joined his campaign as a policy aide and managed always, as one colleague puts it, to “put himself in the middle of things.”
The Republican operative Ken Mehlman, who worked with Cruz in the 2000 campaign and considers him a friend, says: “He was always very ambitious. He didn’t really live by the Reagan saying, ‘You’d be surprised at how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.’ Ted cared very much about who got the credit.”
This gift for attention-getting distinguished him from the rest of Bush’s corporate, anonymous apparat, where the rule was, as one loyal staffer said, “you kept your head down or it got bitten off.” Attention-getting suggested a deficiency in Bush loyalty. After the election Cruz was passed over for a plum job in the Department of Justice. He took a counsel’s position at the Federal Trade Commission for a couple of years before returning to Texas to become solicitor general in the state attorney general’s office. The attorney general’s nose for controversy and attention matched Cruz’s own. They argued cases for abortion restrictions, the public display of the Ten Commandments, states’ rights, and of course against the slightest whisper of a hint of legislation restricting the ownership of guns.
These cases, most of them conservative victories, were team efforts, products of the attorney general’s office, but as lead public advocate Cruz could plausibly claim credit for them as he reached for the next rung of the ladder. When the attorney general decided to seek reelection in 2010, Cruz raised his sights toward the Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. By then Cruz had become a wealthy man. Leaving the solicitor’s office he had taken a partnership in the Texas office of a national law firm. His wife Heidi is a regional executive for Goldman Sachs. Even working part-time, running for Senate during 2011 and 2012, Cruz managed to earn nearly $3 million. As he entered the Senate this January, his income was three times that of the second-wealthiest freshman.
"I'm here to thank you!” Cruz said to the Tea Party crowd in Kingwood. They responded warmly—more than warmly. Implausibly, this fixture of the Texas legal establishment became a creature of the Tea Party in 2012. The attachment was politically invaluable not only for Cruz but for the mainstreamers, for whom the tag “Tea Party favorite” always carries a frisson of nuttiness.
And wandering around the community center where various Tea Partiers were holding raffles, I felt far away from the mainstream indeed. A lucky winner could collect a gift certificate to Applebee’s, a bottle of Scotch, framed reproductions of the Declaration of Independence, and a large enough number of guns to send Dianne Feinstein screaming back to California.
Cruz himself had brought a present, a large flag, beloved of Texas Tea Partiers, emblazoned with the silhouette of a cannon and the words come and take it. Once, in the early days of the campaign, after a series of scuppered airline flights, Cruz rented a car at a distant airport and drove all night to make a breakfast meeting with members of the Kingwood Tea Party, and they haven’t forgotten. “We knew he’d be our man in Washington,” one told me. Before the 2012 race was over he had gathered the endorsements of the Club for Growth, Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, radio talk show hosts like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, and Sarah Palin—the mainstreamer’s haunted house of horribles. An underdog at the start, Cruz won the primary handily and the general election too, though he took 100,000 fewer votes in Texas than Mitt Romney.
“It’s been an interesting eight months,” he tells his audiences now, and they respond with knowing laughter. He ticks off the names he’s been called, the insults he’s taken, the scorn he’s received at the hands of the liberal media.
“And I couldn’t have done it without you,” he says, “so I mean it: Thanks a lot!”
The mainstreamers need their Ted Cruz to be a monster, the emblem of Republicanism run amok; and his supporters need for the mainstreamers to think of Cruz as a monster, meaning one of theirs, a man the mainstreamers can never corrupt. And Cruz stands happily in the middle, pleasing both sides by advocating measures he knows will never come to pass: defunding Obamacare with a continuing resolution, abolishing the IRS . . .
But first he needs to make the argument.
He pauses and the lower lip vanishes for a second. “You know, Margaret Thatcher once said . . ”
Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.
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