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The Ted Offensive

Our junior senator is rising in the polls, but what is his real message?

By December 2015Comments

Cruz at the Values Voter Summit, in Washington, D.C., on September 25, 2015.
Photograph by AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

For a long time it was easy to discount Ted Cruz as a credible presidential candidate. As a junior senator with more ambition than power, Cruz has sought to pull the Republican party down around him, as quick to fight with his own leaders as he is the Democrats. He has often been portrayed in the media as a demagogue with a narrow base of support. Many of his colleagues in Congress, including fellow Republicans, consider him a blowhard, someone best ignored or occasionally mocked but certainly not a politician to be taken seriously.

Well, the time has come to take Cruz seriously. The man who pulled off one of the great upsets in Texas politics—defeating then–lieutenant governor David Dewhurst in the U.S. Senate primary in 2012—has joined the top tier of presidential candidates. His campaign has raised more money than any other. As of press time, he sat third in the latest Iowa polls, behind Ben Carson and Donald Trump. He seems well situated in New Hampshire and South Carolina. As Frank Bruni recently wrote in the New York Times, Cruz “seems to be positioning himself as the ultraconservative fallback—the rabble rouser in the bullpen—if angry voters rethink Trump or Carson and want an establishment-vilifying candidate with at least some government experience.” Cruz’s crowd-pleasing performance at the October 28 Republican debate, in Colorado, which was praised across the media spectrum, earned his campaign a boost in fund-raising and a fresh wave of momentum. That same week, Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post proclaimed that Cruz is “running the best campaign of any presidential candidate.”

He still seems too deeply unpopular with the general electorate to actually win the White House. (Presidential races are essentially likability contests, and as Cruz said in the Colorado debate, “If you want someone to grab a beer with, I may not be that guy.”) But that’s not the point. Whether Cruz’s campaign ends in the primary or the general election, the popularity of his rhetoric among the Republican grass roots should be worrisome to all Texans. That’s because he has not been a senator for all Texans. Rather, he appeals to a wing of the GOP that speaks its own language.

A Cruz speech on the campaign trail should come with a decoder ring. Take his appearance in late September at the Values Voter Summit, in Washington, D.C. He began with a few inside jokes. Standing next to the lectern—Cruz prefers to prowl the stage with a wireless microphone on his lapel—he touched the unused teleprompter. “I have to ask, what are these things for?” The crowd knew where he was headed—“It’s for Obama!” called a voice from the audience—and Cruz delivered the desired punch line: “Is Barack Obama coming?” Cruz chuckled and continued with what seemed like the opening monologue for a tea party version of the Tonight Show. “Yesterday, Pope Francis was in Washington. . . . I have to say the press conference was a little awkward. ’Cause every time the reporters addressed a question to ‘Your Holiness,’ Barack Obama answered.” The crowd loved it.

But then things grew a lot less funny. “If I’m elected president, let me tell you what I intend to do on the first day in office. The first thing I intend to do is rescind every single illegal and unconstitutional executive action!” This sounds like a line only a law school class would understand, but the applauding audience clearly knew exactly what he meant. It’s primarily a response to Obama’s executive order on immigration but also to some of his actions on Obamacare, which Cruz has argued are illegal, though they have not been overturned in court.

He later thundered that another thing he intends to do on his first day in office is “instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS and every other federal agency that the persecution of religious liberty ends today!” Persecution of religious liberty? No, you didn’t miss a memo: the First Amendment remains in effect. This line is a catchall that covers a range of perceived persecutions of Christians, including the recent legalization of same-sex marriage.

Cruz continued, “That means every serviceman and woman can worship the Lord God Almighty with all of his heart, mind, and soul. And his commanding officer has nothing to say about it!” Now, even a reasonably serious observer of politics might have to Google this one. Cruz was seemingly referencing an effort by the Navy to kick out a Pentecostal chaplain, who spoke against homosexuality and premarital sex, for being “unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment,” according to his commander. (The Navy dropped the effort, allowing the chaplain to retire.)

His next item? “Rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal. . . . Under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. And if the ayatollah doesn’t understand that, we may have to help introduce him to his seventy-two virgins.” Having just insinuated the assassination of a sovereign country’s supreme religious leader, he laughed and so did the audience.

“That’s day one,” he said. “There are three hundred and sixty-five days in a year. Four years in a presidential term. And four years in a second term. By the end of eight years, there are going to be a whole lot of newspaper reporters and editors and journalists who’ve checked themselves into therapy.”

Oh, indeed there would be. Perhaps not for the reason Cruz implies—that the media is inherently liberal—but because journalism is, or at least is supposed to be, a profession devoted to fact. Politics, as we have increasingly seen lately, is not, and none of the serious presidential contenders have divorced themselves from fact as often as Cruz has.

All politicians exaggerate and deliver applause lines to friendly audiences, but Cruz blows the dog whistle better than anyone. He frequently starts with an established fact and exaggerates it to the point of distortion. That’s how the problems with the implementation of Obamacare, and Cruz’s perfectly legitimate ideological objections to the law, became “Obamacare is killing jobs and our economy,” as he posted on Facebook in late 2013. Whatever you think of Obamacare, this statement simply isn’t true; in the two years since the law was fully implemented, the U.S. has added about five million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Take another example. In a March appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers, Cruz was asked about climate change and said this: “Debates on this should follow science and follow data. And many of the alarmists on global warming, they’ve got a problem ’cause the science doesn’t back them up, and in particular, satellite data demonstrate that for the last seventeen years there’s been zero warming—none whatsoever.”

Cruz once again starts with a kernel of truth. In the past seventeen years, there has been little overall warming of the planet. By itself, that claim is largely true. But the time frame isn’t an accident: 1998 was one of the hottest years on record, thanks to El Niño, so starting there and using such a small sample size intentionally obscures the planet’s warming trend. Widen the sample—go back thirty or fifty years—and it becomes clear that the average temperature is increasing steadily. Cruz surely knows this. Given the obvious falseness of his statement, and the venue, this seems intentionally provocative.

So does another term Cruz often employs: “Washington cartel.” Asked recently on Meet the Press what that means, Cruz said, “I describe the cartel as career politicians in both parties who get in bed with lobbyists and grow and grow and grow government.” Here again, Cruz’s foundation is a basic fact: politicians often have close relationships with lobbyists, and corporations and the wealthy wield undue influence in the corridors of power. But his use of the loaded word “cartel” implies a criminality, even illegitimacy, as if members of Congress and lobbyists are engaged in racketeering. It plays into Americans’ worst suspicions about their government. There is assuredly corruption in Washington, as ever, but that’s not Cruz’s real objection.

What really bothers him is that Republican leadership won’t “stand on principle” or “do what they promised.” This essentially means they are not following Cruz’s agenda of implementing a flat tax, abolishing federal departments like the IRS, repealing “every word” of Obamacare, and shutting down the federal government over Planned Parenthood. But those issues are nonstarters with most Americans (except maybe the part about the IRS). A recent poll by USA Today found that 73 percent of Americans opposed a government shutdown to force the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

He calls this the “Republican party’s surrender politics,” which was the headline of a recent op-ed Cruz wrote for Politico in which he, displaying his rhetorical agility, at once advocated for shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood and blamed Obama for trying to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood. With Obama in the White House—and not enough Republicans to override a veto—the GOP had no chance for success. But Cruz portrayed the GOP’s reluctance to engage in a political suicide mission as gutless, even duplicitous.

The Planned Parenthood episode felt remarkably similar to the government shutdown over Obamacare, in 2013. Despite Cruz’s insistence that the GOP could succeed in defunding Obamacare, there was no way to win. The president would never agree to gut his signature legislation. This was perhaps the essential Cruz moment. He claimed that his side could win when it clearly could not. He then blamed the predictable defeat on a Republican leadership that couldn’t accomplish the impossible.

This kind of approach has the GOP worried. Following Mitt Romney’s loss to Obama, in 2012, the Republican National Committee produced an analysis of where the party stood. The report’s authors wrote, “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Rather than heed that warning, Cruz is turning his party into the skid. That may help his individual political fortunes, but at what cost? We have seen the impact in Texas, where the slice of the GOP that loves Cruz has gained enormous influence. Before Cruz won his seat in the U.S. Senate, Ken Paxton was an obscure state representative, Sid Miller was out of politics, and Dan Patrick was a vocal though ineffective state senator. Now Paxton is attorney general (indicted on three felonies), Miller is agriculture commissioner (and has defended deep fryers in schools), and Patrick is lieutenant governor. By showing how to harness the passions on the right, Cruz has led the way—and in Paxton’s case, essentially boosted him into office by promoting his campaign. Meanwhile, our political debate has, at times, become severed from reality, dominated by one absurd issue after another, from the conspiracy theories over the Jade Helm military exercise to the threat of sharia law to the supposed widespread discrimination against Christians.

And that’s not healthy. How can there be constructive dialogue in Washington and Austin when the most energized segment of the Republican party views such compromise and collaboration as defeatist? Cruz is championing the politics of delusion, and the consequences will have a profound effect on all of us.

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  • jammerjim

    Sid Miller has defended deep fryers in schools? Maybe you should have left him out if that’s the worst you can say about the man.

    • Indiana Pearl

      Hired all his friends on the taxpayers’ dollar.

  • Madrigalian

    Nice hit piece. Completely wrong, but a nice hit piece against yet another conservative, none the less.

  • sagest

    Author of this is totally wrong. Senator Cruz is doing a great job for Texas…even those that didn’t vote for him but are benefitting from his being in DC. I didn’t read the whole article btw….you lost me early. The grassroots are not worried at all. Where DO you get your misinformation?? Nevermind…I don’t want any more of it.

    • enp1955

      I didn’t vote for him, he doesn’t represent me, he obviously has no interest in representing me, and I can’t think of one single thing that he has done that has benefited me in any way. And I’m a Texan.

      • sagest

        He does represent you even when you don’t vote for him. Anything he does that benefits those that voted for him benefits those that didn’t.
        Accomplishments so far in the Senate: (a limited list)
        1. Led the fight against the Gang of 8 amnesty and won. A big deal for Texans…ALL Texans..unless you are an illegal alien.
        2. Led the fight against Obama’s gun control grabs after Sandy Hook and won. A benefit for all gun owners…..even if you don’t…someday you might be glad your neighbor or friend has one.
        3. Has shined the light on the corruption of both parties in DC that affects all Americans and is something we now know thanks to Senator Cruz.

        Shall I go on?

        • Brent Jatko

          Gang of 8 is a Faux “News” term. I had to Google it. I know it primarily as “the Rubio plan,” which was scuttled by a man (Cruz) whose father was treated as a refugee not an intruder.

          • sagest

            Gang of 8 is used on all news sites that report the truth. Rubio was in on it with Schumer, etc. It is a very commonly known term for the Obama amnesty that they tried to force on us.

          • Brent Jatko

            You have a lot of time during the workday.

            I had a stroke in 2008 and am looking for a job, even though I’m disabled; what’s your excuse?

          • sagest

            Wow. What an horrid comment. You are not entitled to my personal info.

          • Brent Jatko

            Whatever, dude.

            Now I know you’re just a hater.

            Thanks bud!

          • sagest

            So wrong on so many levels…not to mention biting the hands that feed you. FYI you made the hateful post. I just called you on it and didn’t return fire. Carry on.

          • Brent Jatko

            What was “hateful” about my comment, pray tell? Are you one of the hallowed, self-employed “job creators” conservative pols love to praise, yet have the free time to respond to Internet posters seemingly at will?

          • Indiana Pearl

            “Truth”?

        • wessexmom

          Bogus claims, every one.

          • sagest

            Not claims…facts. Don’t take my word for it. Do some reading outside your usual bubble of liberal websites.

        • Indiana Pearl

          Not for me . . .

    • wessexmom

      Please tell us how anyone is benefiting from Cruz being in DC and please be specific. I’m sincerely interested in seeing a list of things he’s accomplished on behalf of any Texans, even social conseratives!

      As it is, it will take a lot of “benefiting” to make up for the 25 BILLION taxpayer dollars our junior senator literally threw away while shutting down the government 2 years ago over Obamacare. And it will take a lot of explaining as well, since Cruz and his family are now enrolled in Obamacare as of earlier this year. That extremely hypocritical act quietly took place when his wife took a leave of absence from her job and their benefits at Goldman Sachs to join him on the campaign trail.

      And FYI: The majority of Texans don’t want anymore of your Grassroots either so the feeling is mutual.

      • sagest

        You have all the liberal talking points down pat. And you are wrong about the Texas grassroots. That is how Senator Cruz was elected by a landslide in Texas…and it is how he is running his successful campaign for POTUS….the grassroots are a powerful voice. Ask Abortion Barbie how successful Texas grassroots are. I will repeat a previous post about Senator Cruz’s accomplishments that benefit all US citizens as you must have missed it else where in the thread:

        Accomplishments so far in the Senate: (a limited list)
        1. Led the fight against the Gang of 8 amnesty and won. A big deal for Texans…ALL Texans..unless you are an illegal alien.
        2. Led the fight against Obama’s gun control grabs after Sandy Hook and won. A benefit for all gun owners…..even if you don’t…someday you might be glad your neighbor or friend has one.
        3. Has shined the light on the corruption of both parties in DC that affects all Americans and is something we now know thanks to Senator Cruz.

        You might want to research how many times the govt has been shut down through the years….it is quite numerous. You might also want to research what damage it does to shut down 17% of the govt in a shutdown. The amount that was actually shutdown during the incident you are describing……nonessential govt at that (which most of it is). Nobody suffered except for the Veterans when Obama shut down their memorials to make the shutdown seem horrible and costly in the news. You might not want to talk about “money wasted” when the entire govt is so bloated that nobody would notice if over half of it was obliterated.

        • wessexmom

          I speak from my own mind, buddy, not from any group’s list of talking points. And speaking of lists, I did read yours and it is complete and total BS. Ted Cruz is the political equivalent of a black hole, not a source of light. For starters, he excoriates WALL ST while failing to disclose that GOLDMAN SACHS employs his wife! He rails against crony capitalism while his campaign is bankrolled by Wall St Hedge Fund Tax-Dodging Billionaire Robert Mercer.

          I’ve done MY research; YOU need to check your facts, including the one you’re trying hardest to ignore: Ted Cruz owes the US taxpayers 25 BILLION DOLLARS–the amount HE wasted shutting down the government over OBAMACARE! Again, like everything Cruz does, this was yet another pointless temper tantrum which accomplished absolutely nothing–BORNE OUT by the fact that Cruz and his family are currently enrolled in Obamacare healthcare plans! That FACT sums this huckster’s ideological “purity” up perfectly!

          Dems can only hope and pray that Cruz becomes the GOP’s nominee. His landslide loss will dwarf Goldwater’s defeat in 1964–That will mark the beginning of the end of Wingnut rule in the GOP.

          • sagest

            LOL. Carry on

          • John Johnson

            Employed his wife. She quit. Your research is lacking.

          • Indiana Pearl

            Then took Obamacare so his family would be insured . . . oh the humanity!

  • Travis Bowie

    Big and powerful government doesn’t help us. It hurts us. We know this. It has been demonstrated repeatedly.
    With skyrocketing debt, record lows for workforce participation rate, record highs for the number of people on food stamps and welfare, record drops in Median Household income, and record lows for small business start-ups, why exactly should we “collaborate and compromise” with the continuation of these trends?
    We need to change course to what we know works to reverse those trends, and has been demonstrated to reverse those trends.
    That’s why Texans sent Ted Cruz to the Senate. He was sent to advocate for and fight for these issues. That’s what he said he would do, what he has done, and what he continues to do.

    • Jed

      you know a lot. do you know what you don’t know?

    • Brent Jatko

      “We know this.”
      How?
      “It has been demonstrated repeatedly.”

      How? Link?

  • Gary Boyd

    And here I thought this was going to be another TM puff piece about Ted Cruz… It was nice to be proved wrong for once.

  • sagest

    First of all, I would like a link to even one time he has said that he doesn’t represent those Texans who disagree with him.
    Next, you are expecting one Senator to look after ALL of your desires RIGHT NOW. He’s been there 3 years. You obviously are much older than that…..so how about directing your anger to those who came before him….and a LOT toward Obama because he and his minions have blocked a lot of things that you seem to feel you are entitled to…like better healthcare…that Obama thinks he has already provided you. Did you vote for him?
    Next, Senator Cruz has said his plans will protect SS and Medicare for those already receiving it…and for the younger some new options. DEMS want to do nothing about it ….it is already “overdrawn”. Better save your money if you vote for them.
    Surely you jest about climate change aka global warming aka global cooling. Read the data. If you don’t believe the data, then what are YOU doing to help your children and grandchildren avoid climate change?
    Next, he has stated that he is fighting for religious liberty for EVERYONE…where have you been? Theocracy? That’s in your imagination. Have you noticed that the people being discriminated against these days are Christian…agnostics and unbelievers are doing just fine and are the ones who are doing the discriminating.

    So only elected officials that do what you want to benefit you represent you. Tell me who is that?

    • enp1955

      I’m sorry I don’t have the link, but just the other day he said that “everyone I talk to thinks Obamacare should be scrapped.” That’s obviously not true, as I talked to his staff about NOT scrapping it. But as my opinion doesn’t match his, he will not acknowledge that opinion. I don’t feel “entitled” to better healthcare – I like my doctors. It’s our insurance system that is the problem. Maybe you have an extra $100K or more to handle an emergency, but I don’t. That’s supposed to be what insurance is for – if you can get it. As to SS & Medicare, note that I’m not there yet and he has not promised to protect it for those of us close but not there – those of us that have paid in for 40 years. Note I said change – not warming. What am I doing? Everything I can to preserve energy and use renewable resources where I can – including driving a Volt that uses almost no gas and very little electricity. But Cruz doesn’t believe we should do anything except give the oil & coal industry whatever they want.

      Question: When a Christian refuses service to someone that believes something other than what they believe, who’s doing the discriminating? When a coach pressures everyone to kneel and pray, who’s doing the discriminating? When a judge removes a child from a lesbian couple (see Utah), who’s doing the discriminating? I could care less when or how much you pray, or who to, but why am I expected to participate?

      • sagest

        Why do you not want Ocare scrapped if you are not happy with your insurance under it?
        Senator Cruz proposes to get the govt out of healthcare insurance, open up the markets across state lines and give patients options. That will bring premiums down and give options to plans…something that is not happening under Ocare which is one size fits all plan exhorbitant premiums on the rise and outlandish deductibles.

        Climate change is just the latest name for global cooling and then global warming. Data doesn’t support the theory, so they keep changing the name.

        The DEMS promise of SS and Medicare always existing is just not a viable promise when they are both well past life support. Changes need to be made but they are not willing to even acknowledge any…much less enumerate any.

        Senator Cruz is on record as saying that he thinks we should investigate all forms of energy. That’s for the private sector…not the govt to spend tax payer money on developing.

        When a Christian refuses to service someone that would cause them to violate their conscience or religious beliefs, that is not discrimination. The person is free to go elsewhere to seek the service. What IS discrimination is when the Christian/Muslim/Jew is taken to court, sued, loses their business AND the person goes elsewhere anyway to seek the service….THAT is discrimination. It is wrong if a person is a Jew or Christian or Muslim or Agnostic. Americans have the freedom of religion guaranteed, and it’s wrong to force someone to violate that. Who is expecting you to participate? Don’t get that at all.

      • wessexmom

        AMEN!

    • wessexmom

      Laws based on any particular religious doctrine are unconstitutional. Thus, YOUR right to practice YOUR faith DOES NOT supercede OUR right NOT to practice YOUR faith! Neither you nor Senator Cruz nor the 5 Catholic male justices on SCOTUS have any legal or moral right to impose Sharia-like doctrines on the rest of us! PERIOD! So…

      If YOU don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one;
      If YOU don’t believe in contraception, don’t use it;
      If YOU don’t believe in homosexuality, don’t be one.

      And if those options don’t work for you, then feel free to change faiths or opt out entirely. What you may NOT do is legislate YOUR doctrine into laws which affect the rest of us! Because in America, freedom OF religion also means freedom FROM religion! THAT is the founding principle of this nation.

      • sagest

        Don’t ask me to pay for or force me to follow your irreligion….and you may practice whatever you wish. Not at my expense….THAT is where you trample my free religion right.

    • wessexmom

      YOU read the data and open YOUR eyes–The arctic ice is melting more rapidly than anyone predicted. See for yourself. And then google “black ice”.

      http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/27/world/greenland-is-melting-away.html?_r=0

      • sagest

        Data read with my eyes wide open. Also read the false “data” with brain wide open. You are falling for the biggest hoax ever.

  • PatBryanTX2

    Rafael Jr. likes to characterize himself as an expert in the US Constitution. It is clear that he has rote memorization of the document, but no comprehension of its concepts.

    • Candace

      And he calls himself Constitutionalists yet wants to repeal parts he doesn’t like.

    • wessexmom

      Because Senator Eduardo is the TRUE foreign-born son of a Communist revolutionary. Papa threw Molotov cocktails in Havana; Jr is dropping stink bombs, not only on the Senate floor, but on our entire political infrastructure.

  • Paul LeBon

    If you want to learn what a sleazy liar Ted Cruz is, like his father Rafael the illegal immigrant and law breaker,Rafael Cruz, read the book Liar Liar Cruz on Fire with it’s accompanying video of the Cruz men’s 76 lies.

  • Marvintyson

    So, you’re saying that he only represents you if he stops representing the majority of Texans?

    • Jed

      representation is tricky.

    • enp1955

      Not at all. I’m saying that he has a responsibility to listen, consider, and represent both majority and minority views in his work. He was elected to represent all of the citizens in Texas, not just the ones he agrees with or those that agree with him. Cruz has made it extremely obvious that he doesn’t give a rip about anyone that doesn’t agree with him and gives them no consideration in his comments or actions. To me, that person is doing a poor job of representing Texas.

      • Marvintyson

        When that minority and the majority are diametrically opposed, he must represent the majority. That’s the way a Republic works.
        If he perceives the majority of Texans support an issue or a subject he is honor bound to speak and cast his votes that way. That’s the way representative government works.
        If you feel that your viewpoint is getting short shrift the key is education. Do your best to educate the people as to why your view is correct, and let the weight of majority then come down on your side.

        • Brent Jatko

          “Do your best to educate the people as to why your view is correct, and let the weight of majority then come down on your side.”

          When 40 percent of people believe the earth is flat, it’s pretty useless to try and reason with them.

          It’s best to mobilize your side and get them to the polls

      • Wes Dorman

        One might say that about Obama, as 48% of the public voted against him (unlike Cruz’s 16 point win), but Obama certainly has taken ZERO actions to show he represents all of the country.

  • Madrigalian

    Another Left Wing hit piece from TM.

    • wessexmom

      In other words, the truth.

  • kiacook

    “His campaign has raised more money than any other.” What’s your source for this?

  • Wes Dorman

    Dave Mann needs to take a basic course in economics. The fact that overall jobs have increased does not prove that Ted Cruz’s statement is false. You see, Obamacare can (and has) cost lots of jobs, but jobs in other areas (primarily the oil & gas industry which liberals and the media (BIRM) hate) have offset this loss. Don’t take my word for it–the nonpartisan CBO says so: https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/workingpaper/51065-ACA_Labor_Market_Effects_WP.pdf

  • AZTEX00

    This is a hit piece that is beneath TM. Coming on the heels of the author’s article defending the Arab kid in Irving who brought a clock to school that looked like a bomb, and excoriating police and school authorities, I’d say TM has a reporter with a political agenda on its staff.