In these early stages of the fight for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, it appears that the outsider anti-establishment candidates are striking a chord with rank-and-file GOP voters. But will one of them have the strength to prevail in the Party’s increasingly competitive nomination contest? The real challenge ahead for those on both sides of this longstanding GOP divide will be to find a path to solidifying broad enthusiastic support for the party’s eventual nominee, after the intra-party political bloodletting that clearly lies ahead.
One of the key players in this drama is the freshman Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, who burst on the national scene in 2012, gaining election after upsetting the GOP establishment’s anointed U.S. Senate candidate, the state’s then-well-liked lieutenant governor David Dewhurst. Cruz came out of the proverbial nowhere, running aggressive grassroots campaigns in both the primary and general elections, articulately hitting on strong conservative themes. He also capitalized on growing frustrations with Republican leaders in Washington who seemed incapable of effectively countering the many policy outrages (like Obamacare) foisted on the country by the farthest “left”-leaning president in history and his many acolytes in the Congress, in the media culture, and throughout the federal government.
Cruz promised to go to Washington to make some waves (“to tell the truth and do what I said I would do”) and not to be a quiet go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. And that he has done, much to the consternation of many more senior Republicans in the Senate and others in the Party who consider themselves much more politically astute than what they like to caricature as this wet-behind-the-ears-self-promoting-grandstander-and-legislative-troublemaker. And now, less than three years into his term, Cruz is an upstart candidate for president holding down a good segment of the “right” flank with a formidable following and a significant war chest that –win or lose – will surely enable him to stay the course of what promises to be a long and grueling campaign.
Cruz tells his own story in “A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America,” a newly released book timed precisely for the presidential campaign. In it, he traces his lifelong interest in politics, discusses his career in law and government, and answers his critics about his high profile battles in the U.S. Senate. He also elaborates on his admiration for the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his devotion to conservative principles, traditional values and the need for politicians of all stripes to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution.
He tells the story of how his father struggled to combat and escape the oppressions of pre-Castro Cuba in the late 1950s, eventually migrating to Austin, Texas on a student visa. There the elder Cruz learned English and spoke passionately at Rotary Clubs urging local businesspeople to oppose the Batista regime and support the revolution of the “freedom fighter” Fidel Castro. But soon after Castro came to power and his communist ties and brutality became apparent, Cruz’s father made a point to go back to every group to which he had spoken in order to apologize for unknowingly misleading them about Castro. The younger Cruz said this story was a lesson he took to heart on the importance of telling the truth.
Barely a month in office as a U.S. Senator in early 2013, Cruz thrust himself into a bruising battle with the Senate Republican leadership on the issue of raising the national debt ceiling. Rejecting the consensus of the Republican caucus to allow a clean debt ceiling bill to move forward as had already been done in the House, Cruz objected to unanimous consent, single-handedly forcing a cloture vote requiring at least five Republicans to openly join with all 55 Democrats to get the clean debt bill passed. Eventually 12 Republicans voted with the Democrats on the issue, but not before Cruz was vilified both in and out of the Republican caucus for what was seen by most of them – and their allies in the media – as a useless and politically-painful effort in futility.
Seven months later, Cruz forced the Republican caucus to wage what many saw as a doomed fight to try to defund Obamacare as part of the annual appropriations process. The fight, which was predictably stonewalled by unified majority Democrats, led to a 16-day government shutdown for which Republicans were largely blamed at the time in the liberal media. Cruz again was hammered by Republican leaders and others for not towing the party line to quietly accept the defeat that most saw as preordained in the 55-45 Senate led by the likes of Harry Reid. The Nevada Democrat was well known in Washington as a practitioner of ruthless political hardball even within his own caucus. The conventional wisdom (which turned out to be right) was that Reid was never under any circumstances going to allow a serious tactical defeat on Obamacare, especially at the hands of a precocious freshman Republican senator no matter who it was.
Cruz says in his book that he still believes a unified, determined and aggressively vocal Republican caucus could have prevailed to “pick off” six Democrat senators in the Obamacare fight, by forcing them to feel the political heat on the merits of the issue. He also notes that despite predictions that his losing battle would translate into big Republican defeats at the polls, the opposite happened when the GOP actually won control of the Senate a year later in the 2014 mid-term elections.
In any event, through these Senate battles, Cruz made a name for himself, or perhaps more accurately two names. To the inside-the-beltway Washington cartel, as Cruz calls it, – made up of the ruling class of establishment Republicans and Democrats and their fellow travelers – Cruz is a pariah, an uncompromising ideologue, and a political kamikaze who could be the architect of a grand-scale Republican demise of Barry Goldwater proportions. But to the outside-the-beltway grassroots conservative base of the Republican Party, Cruz is a hero, a breath of fresh air, a leader of great future potential, the kind that is needed to boldly confront the warped business-as-usual politics of those who are wittingly and unwittingly driving the country into the abyss.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Cruz’s political views or his tactics in the Senate, what comes across in his book and to those who know him, is that he is most certainly among the smarter kids on the block and a rock-ribbed principled conservative to boot. A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law, who clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Cruz is a veteran litigator who, as Texas state solicitor, argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court and many more in the Texas Supreme Court. While young in years, he seems to be more than prepared for the political fights and policy debates ahead.
Indeed, one of the more remarkable early assessments of Cruz came in mid-2013 from a most unlikely source, the diabolical Clinton-Democrat Svengali, James Carville. Cruz is “the most talented and fearless Republican politician” since Reagan, Carville said. “He is going to be something to watch.”
Gary Hoitsma served as special assistant to Ray Barnhart during Barnhart’s tenure as Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, under President Ronald Reagan and is a former aide to U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). Mr. Hoitsma is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.