When I told one of my Australian friends recently that I was meeting with Ted Cruz, he excitedly shouted back to me over Skype:
” Hey, that’s great. Tell him I loved him in Rain Man.”
That Cruz should be confused with Tom Cruise the movie star is not so surprising, but not because of the similarity in the pronunciation of their names. Among certain conservatives he has developed a star power almost as efflorescent as that of his namesake.
I met Cruz, with about 15 other people, in a swanky Beverly Hills Hotel last Friday afternoon. He was affable and down-to -Earth and began our conversation by suggesting that we throw no soft balls, only hard ones.
That’s fine because there a quite a few to toss.
Why, for instance, has he taken such a strong stance outside the mainstream Republican Party and created a division which could eclipse the potential for sending a conservative president into the White House in 2016?
How, by now threatening to prevent the continued funding of the government unless the President agrees to withdraw his executive action on immigration, is he going to win over the Reagan Democrats who are necessary to achieving victory for Republicans in 2016 ?
Does he still believe that his filibuster in September 2013, in which the government WAS actually shut down, was ultimately effective for the purposes of the Party? Did it not make the Republicans look like spoiled children who won’t eat their Wheaties unless they get their way?
These are not questions Cruz has failed to field before and he was quite ready for them.
He related to me a story about Ronald Reagan who in 1978 was identified by the great conservative commentator George Will as the founding member of the ‘Kamikaze Wing’ of the Republican Party – someone who was committing the Party to to political suicide.
Today that kind of characterization sounds laughable. There is almost no Republican alive who does not view Reagan as the savior of the Republican Party in the 1980s and as the Republican role model.
The point is that history shapes perceptions and what might seem extreme today will in the future seem reasonable and appropriate.
Cruz has no regrets whatsoever for any of his actions taken in the past few years. A freshman senator in 2012, he burst onto the national political scene as a more tenacious flame thrower than anyone had seen in staid Washington in decades. He quickly made a name for himself as a Tea Party poster boy, determined to push conservative values and principles, even at the expense of Republican unity. No kowtowing to party dowagers John McCain and Lindsay Graham for this guy. He was going for broke.
Going for broke is something Cruz seems to have been doing for years.
He is son a former political prisoner of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. A brilliant student he started in conservative politics early where, in high school, as a member of the conservative program, the Constitutional Corroborators, he was required to memorize the U.S. Constitution and recite it at public events, and at times, speak about conservative ideas.
After high school, he enrolled in Princeton, and graduated cum laude in 1992 with a Bachelor’s degree. While there, Cruz was part of the highly successful university debate team, the American Whig–Cliosophic Society. In 1992, he was awarded the U.S. National Speaker of the Year and was a member of the National Team of the Year. He was also named First Place Speaker at the North American Debate Championships.
After Princeton, Cruz went to Harvard Law, where he became the founding general editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review and served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After graduating magna cum laude with a law degree in 1995, Cruz clerked for Fourth Circuit Judge Michael Luttig for a year, before joining the office of Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
At 33 years old, Cruz became the youngest solicitor general in American history when he was so appointed in Texas. He resigned as Solicitor-General in 2008, and reentered private practice, serving as a partner at Houston-based Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, where he specialized in litigating appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate courts, becoming one of the finest litigators in the country.
Everything he turns his hand to, seems to succeed.
Last week Cruz called on Senate Republicans to follow through on their promise to “do everything possible to stop President Obama’s illegal amnesty.” Last Monday, his communications director, Amanda Carpenter, lashed out over the legislation that House Republicans were putting the finishing touches on. He failed to stop the funding bill going through, but that does not seem to have affected his determination. He cites ObamaCare as the gravest threat to both American prosperity and American freedom since the Wilson Administration.
“It is amazing that the wisdom of the chattering class to the Republicans is always, always, always ‘Surrender your principles and agree with the Democrats,’ ” he told us. “That’s been true for my entire lifetime. The chattering classes have consistently said, ‘You crazy Republicans have to give up on what you believe and become more like Democrats.’ And, I would note, every time Republicans do that, we lose.”
He goes on to tell us how only those Republicans who ran as true conservatives – Nixon, Reagan, George H.W.Bush and George W. Bush won presidential elections (how they governed, however, is another matter) while Ford, Dole, McCain and Romney lost because they ran as moderates.
I think he is forgetting Barry Goldwater, the first true conservative of the modern era, whose candidacy went down into flames under the avalanche of the Johnson landslide in 1964.
But no matter.
Today, polls show Cruz in the middle of the pack for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, along with Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal. Last year he won the Values Voter Summit’s Presidential straw poll; Six months ago, he won the straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference and, not surprisingly, the straw poll at the Texas G.O.P. convention. That is pretty impressive for someone who in 2011 had never run for public office and has only served in the Senate for 24 months.
As for his 21 hour filibuster speech last September, where he read, among other things, selections from Dr. Seuss and the work of Ayn Rand in order to prevent a government funding bill which included money for ObamaCare, Cruz is still defiant:
” Many voices in Washington say the fight that we had last fall was not successful,” Cruz told us. “Like any good litigator, at times you think of a battle as a long-term battle. You don’t always accomplish everything in the first skirmish. As a consequence of millions of people last summer and fall getting engaged in that battle, I believe we dramatically elevated the national debate over the harms of Obamacare. And today Democrats are running scared, and it is my belief that the Republicans won control of the Senate because of Obamacare.”
Some of that is of course true. The disastrous ObamaCare roll out that followed only a few weeks later seemed to validate his perspective and may have served to bolster his reputation – at least in the short term.
But the filibuster in September 2013 did have negative consequences, including exposing the deep fissures in the party between establishment Republicans and traditional conservatives and embittering the already caustic divide between Republicans and Democrats.
Cruz , of course, is unapologetic and keen to demonstrate that he will never back down, a lesson his Republican colleagues are learning quickly about this brash firebrand from Austin. And the truth is there is something deeply refreshing about the staunchness of his convictions. He is certainly not some ‘wacko bird’ as John McCain has dismissively characterized him and he is not a political meteor, as others have contended, who will burn brightly for a while and then fizzle. He seems here to stay and he will almost certainly continue to make his presence felt.
Today he has a huge Twitter following and perhaps he can indeed summon enough support to win the Republican nomination. But could he ever convince an electorate swinging much more to the political left than anyone ever anticipated, that he can be president? Will the shadow of Barry Goldwater haunt him?
Its a tough call. But as his own record has shown, he is a man who sees all obstacles as challenges which he knows he can overcome and if his instincts prove correct, he may just turn out to be one of the most adept political tacticians in modern American presidential history.
Perhaps. For some, Cruz doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of becoming President of the United States. In response the Texas senator might take heart from his namesake in the first Mission Impossible movie who boasted:
” We just rolled up a snowball and threw it into Hell. Now we’ll see if it has a chance.”
It seems to me as if Cruz’s snowball is already accelerating deep into a particularly fiery political pit. And it could have more than even chance of hitting its target.