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.”