U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz were the farewell lunch speakers for a conference held by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation on Friday afternoon, and, when it comes to policy, there was hardly an ounce of distinction between the two Republicans.
There were, however, differences to be noted, the same kinds of difference one might notice between a work horse and a show horse.
Cruz played the audience as if his campaign for president had never fizzled out. He discussed the issues before Congress in red-hot terms, throwing verbal bombs at the outgoing Obama administration and Democrats, alternatively giving descriptions of them that could match either a zombie who didn’t know what had hit him to “radicalized” worshipers of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
On the other hand, Cornyn was measured and diplomatic, a fitting demeanor for the Senate Majority Whip, the second-ranking Republican in that chamber of Congress. While sometimes funny, his statements were smooth and skilled, a fitting delivery from the tall, white-haired man who, shortly after his election in 2002, was jokingly referred to as the Senator from Central Casting.
Cornyn was not enthusiastic about President-elect Donald Trump during the campaign, and avoided using his name during the luncheon. “What a surprise this year was, but frankly I think it is an indication that people are tired of both political parties and the lack of results, and they wanted to shake things up, and boy they did,” Cornyn said. He noted that the presidency and Congress has been in one-party control fourteen times since 1945 and that this is only the third time for Republicans. Now, he said, Republicans in Congress will have a president who signs their legislation into law. “If we don’t get it done now, I don’t know when it will happened.”
Stage right to campaign Cruz. “Election day, known to the members of the media as the day of apocalypse, nobody knew for sure what was going to happen, but I was not really all that surprised. This was a change election, and the people of America overwhelmingly wanted change, and Hillary Clinton embodied the status quo.”
Cruz talked about how he spent five and a half hours at Trump Tower with the President-elect and his staff, making clear, “I want to do everything I can to lead this fight.” Then Cruz quickly added praise for Cornyn’s role as the number-two Republican in the Senate. Cornyn responded with self-deprecating humor. “I appreciate what Ted said about me being number two in the Republican leadership, but I’m always number two in my house, right behind the cat.”
No starker contrast existed between them than when they were praising retired Marine Corps General James “Mad Dog” Mattis as the nominated secretary of defense.
Cruz told a story about how one of his senior aides is a former Marine and turned into a “fanboy” when Mattis visited the Senate office. “General Mattis, his nickname is Mad Dog. I actually intend to petition the secretary of state to appear on the ballot as ‘Mad Dog Cruz.’ And if I can succeed with that, we’ll have 100 percent election in the state.”
Cornyn praised Mattis, and also told a humanizing story about the general. “He personally drove across the country to every Gold Star family that he could identify where they had lost a loved one under his command in Iraq and pay his respect and to show appreciation.” Gold Star families are military families that have a family member who died in service during times of hostilities.
At the very least, however, Cruz was self-aware enough of the contrast between himself and Cornyn. “Each of us has a different role in the Senate. John has a role in leadership. He’s number two in Republican leadership in the Senate. That is a big, big position,” Cruz said. “And I kind of like to mix it up sometimes. I do think that combination for the state of Texas is really potent in fighting for 27 million Texans.”
Cornyn opposed Cruz’s filibuster in 2014 on a stop-gap spending bill because it would have shut down the federal government. But before the TPPF, Cornyn harmonized. “Ted’s and mine style differs occasionally. How boring life would be if everybody was the same,” Cornyn said. “It’s not about personality. It’s about good policy.”