JAKE SILVERSTEIN: Last night I Googled “Ted Cruz rising star” and got more than 40,000 results. What does it feel like to be the man of the moment?
TED CRUZ: Well, it has been an extraordinary journey. When we started this campaign a year and a half ago, I was at 2 percent. There wasn’t a soul in the state that gave us a prayer. And what happened was that we saw a team come together of activists and grassroots leaders who just poured their energy into this campaign. And that’s why we won [the Republican primary runoff].
JS: Your story is an unusual one: father from Cuba, mother from Delaware, born in Canada, raised in Houston, ended up at Harvard Law. There are certain parallels to Barack Obama. I wonder if you have any insight into the president because of the similarities in your backgrounds?
TC: There’s no doubt that President Obama is an extraordinarily talented politician. And, unfortunately, his substantive ideology is profoundly dangerous. I think Obama is a creature of the elite academic institutions of this country, and he reflects their far-left radical ideology.
JS: And you say this as somebody who is also a product of those institutions.
TC: Indeed. I have often joked that when people find out I went to Harvard, I have a lot to apologize for.
JS: And Princeton.
TC: Yes. I think that when President Obama was first elected, a lot of Republicans in Washington didn’t know what they were dealing with, because most people in ordinary life don’t run into honest-to-God socialists.
JS: And that’s how you’d classify him?
TC: I think he has pushed relentlessly for European-style socialism in this country, and I use that word in its literal sense. It describes a means of structuring an economy. Socialism is government ownership or control of the means of production or distribution. And, in my judgment, that has been the unified theme of this administration.
JS: Let’s come back to your own career for a second. Should you win in November, you’ll be by far the most prominent and powerful Latino politician from Texas. Do you see your candidacy as a transformative moment for Latinos?
TC: I am an American, not a hyphenated American. I think Texans are looking for a Texan who will stand for conservative values, who will stand for free-market principles, for individual liberty, and for the Constitution. That being said, one does not need to be a demographer to understand that if Republicans do not improve their standing in the Hispanic community, the days of Republican dominance in the state of Texas are numbered.
JS: So why have Republicans had trouble making inroads?
TC: It’s ironic, because, in my opinion, the values of the Hispanic community are profoundly conservative. The values that resonate in our community are faith, family, patriotism. As I often point out, the rate of military enlistment among Hispanics is higher than any other demographic in the country. Hard work, individual responsibility, the American dream—those are all conservative values. Unfortunately, an awful lot of Republican politicians don’t do a very good job sharing the reality that our values and their values are one and the same.
JS: So it’s a messaging problem, not a policy problem.
TC: I think that’s exactly right.
JS: Okay, so let’s talk about a policy area that is of interest to the Hispanic population, which is immigration.
TC: Sure. I don’t think immigration is a complicated issue from a policy perspective. I think the politics are quite complicated, but I don’t think the policy is. We should do everything humanly possible to secure the border and to stop illegal immigration, and at the same time, we should remain a nation that not only welcomes but celebrates legal immigrants. The unhappy truth, however, is that both parties are given to demagoguing the issue.
JS: During the GOP presidential campaign, at one of the debates, Governor Rick Perry, in defense of his policy of offering in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants, said those who don’t support the policy don’t “have a heart.” And he was booed, famously. I gather that you would have sided with the booers that night.
TC: I don’t support in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. And I don’t think it is beneficial to attack personally those who disagree with you and to cast aspersions on their hearts or brains.
JS: You often say that career politicians from both parties have gotten us into the mess we’re in. Would I be wrong in assuming that that category includes the longest-serving governor in Texas history, who’s held elective office since 1984?
TC: That’s ultimately a decision for the voters of Texas to make.
JS: Governor Perry supported your opponent in the primary, but on election night he tweeted a congratulations to you, and he used the hashtag #strongerthangarlic. What does that mean?
TC: As I understand it, that is one of the highest compliments Governor Perry can give, and I am humbled and honored by his characterization.
JS: The senator whom you will replace if you win the general election has been in office a long time. Should Texans be at all worried that if you’re elected you won’t push as hard as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has to bring federal money back to Texas?
TC: I am absolutely opposed to earmarks. When 435 members of Congress and all 100 members of the Senate go to Washington and view their jobs as feeding at the public trough, that’s how we bankrupt our country, and I don’t think Texans want their senator to be part of that.
JS: But some people say that as long as the spigot is on, we should put our cup out so that the people back home are taken care of. You would disagree with that?
TC: If there is legitimate federal spending that is consistent with the Constitution, then of course I’d like to see those dollars spent in Texas. But everything that government gives to you, it must first take from you. Texans are paying a great deal in taxes, and I would rather reduce the tax burden on Texans than keep growing the leviathan that is the federal government.
JS: Does NASA qualify as a legitimate program?
TC: Absolutely. I think NASA is overwhelmingly in the national interest.
JS: Are there examples of programs that you wouldn’t feel that way about?
TC: There are a number of federal agencies that I think should be eliminated: the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the National Endowment for the Arts. The agency I’d most like to eliminate—and this is a longer-term project—is the IRS, through passing fundamental tax reform: scrapping the tax code and moving to a flat tax or the fair tax.
JS: Looking ahead to the next ten years, what are the three issues most important to the state of Texas?
TC: The issues facing Texas and the nation are one and the same. Texans want to see this nation strong. Texans want to see individual liberty preserved. Texans want to see the opportunity that all of us have enjoyed preserved for our kids and grandkids. For centuries, every generation of Americans has given to the next generation greater opportunity, greater prosperity, a brighter future. We’re on the verge of being the first generation to give our kids and grandkids a bleaker future.