The Man in the Arena

During his first year in the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz has proved that he can throw a punch (and take one), rally his troops (and unite his enemies), and become the most influential freshman in Congress (if not the most reviled). The question is, Does that strategy lead to victory or defeat?
Photograph by Jeff Wilson

On a crisp autumn morning, Ted Cruz emerged from the headquarters of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., and dashed toward a black BMW that was waiting to whisk him to the Capitol. Cruz was moving quickly, dressed in a slightly baggy charcoal suit with black ostrich cowboy boots, but he made it only a few steps beyond the building’s classical facade before he paused, coughed, and seemed to lose his focus.  

He had just finished giving a speech, and he had been in fine form, ignoring the lectern to speak directly to the crowd without notes. The subject at hand was Bond v. United States, a Supreme Court case involving a wronged wife in Pennsylvania who had tried to poison her husband’s mistress and been prosecuted under a federal law, the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act, based on an international treaty. “The topic this morning is not Obamacare,” Cruz had said, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet, “but is instead two of my favorite topics in the world, one of which is U.S. national sovereignty and the other of which is the structural constraints that are present in the Constitution that protect our liberty.”  

Over the next hour or so, Cruz reminisced about Medellín v. Texas, one of eight cases he argued before the Supreme Court, by most accounts brilliantly, as solicitor general of Texas. Both cases were examples of executive overreach, he argued—an offense that has been among his many concerns about the Affordable Care Act. After fielding a couple of questions from the audience, he wrapped up to rapturous applause and scooted offstage.  

But now that Cruz was out of the spotlight, he looked a bit worn. A bug had been going around his family for about a month; his wife, Heidi, had needed three full weeks to recover. Plus there was the fact that his first year in D.C. had been totally bonkers. Only a month earlier, he had been square in the middle of that year’s signature congressional crisis, the federal government shutdown, which had cost the national economy some $24 billion, according to one analysis, and had left a majority of Americans even more unimpressed with Washington than usual. Cruz, who had been in office about nine months when the stalemate began, on October 1, had been a key player in the drama. He emerged as the ringleader of a Republican effort to defund the Affordable Care Act, which Cruz insisted was “the biggest-job killer in the country” and therefore bad for millions of Americans, particularly those groups he identified as the country’s most vulnerable: African Americans,

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