The inside-the-beltway publication that keeps tabs on all of the “inside baseball” minutiae of Washington’s permanent political class does not understand why it is smart for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to oppose his party’s leadership, which he was elected by Texans to do.
In previewing its newest magazine article about Cruz, Politico tweeted, “Ted Cruz is a smart political operator—so why does he pick so many fights with his party?” Erica Grieder, the article’s author and senior editor at the left-of-center Texas Monthly, displays, like most of the mainstream press, that she has no clue why he does. She reveals a presupposed belief that the “way to win” is still through the D.C. political establishment.
The answer to Politico‘s question is a simple one. Cruz represents a movement in a party that Gallup has discovered has become more conservative over the last thirteen years, and his fights with the GOP establishment have catapaulted him to the front of presidential polls among Tea Party voters. In addition, the Republican establishment is distrusted and unpopular among conservatives, and Cruz got elected to take on that ossified permanent political class. In that sense, Cruz is doing what is politically smart. However, he is also showing that he is the rare politician that has gone to Washington and done exactly what he promised Texas voters he’d do if they elected him.
Cruz, Grieder writes, has offended his colleagues on both sides of the aisle by opposing gun control and amnesty, supporting the defunding of President Barack Obama’s disastrous Obamacare law, and forcing Republicans to go on record to allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling without any spending reductions.
What Grieder does not mention, though, is that Cruz’s opposition to gun control and amnesty was central in halting those efforts. Republicans did not fully support Cruz’s defunding strategy until the very last minute – after they were forced to by the pressure Cruz ginned up among the grassroots – and did not allow Cruz to put as much pressure on vulnerable red-state Democrats to join his effort. She also does not note that during the defunding fight, Republicans who were raking Cruz over the coals for his strategy insisted that keeping the sequester or getting more spending reductions in the budget negotiations was far more important. After Republicans joined Democrats to give up sequester spending levels as part of a budget deal, they then agreed to raise the debt ceiling without any spending concessions, which prompted Cruz to filibuster, forcing at least five Republicans to publicly declare their support for moving the bill forward in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he had to vote to advance the bill to save the country and then promptly voted against its final passage, as did every other Republican who had voted to break the filibuster.
Cruz does not play the “I voted against the bill that I voted to advance” game, and that is partly why the Washington establishment loathes him. What the mainstream press does not understand, though, is that the Washington establishment also hates Cruz because he has not ignored the voices of the conservative base that powered him to an unlikely win over Texas’s moneyed lieutenant governor in the Lone Star State’s 2012 GOP Senate primary.
Republicans from red states have often gone to Washington vowing to change it, only to have Washington change them. Even Grieder admits to being surprised that Cruz actually means what he says and is not “all hat no cattle” when he declares that he is “not at all” afraid of losing fights after standing on principle:
Every politician says things like that. Cruz, however, has a record of meaning it: He began his career in electoral politics in 2012 by launching a quixotic campaign for Texas’s Republican Senate nomination against an incumbent statewide officeholder, lieutenant governor David Dewhurst, who is ludicrously wealthy and was supported by most of the key members of the state’s political establishment. It was genuinely risky. It wasn’t the kind of bet most successful, pedigreed, politically minded lawyers would make.
Once he got to Washington, Cruz neither ran away from nor took for granted the conservative grassroots that elected him. In so doing, Cruz has amplified their voices in Washington much to the chagrin of the Republican establishment. Most recently, House Republicans were upset that Cruz had the influence to essentially put the brakes on their “immigration principles” after he called it “amnesty” in an interview with Breitbart News that was splashed across the Drudge Report. Cruz, after he had participated on a tele-town hall event the night before, told Breitbart News, “Anyone pushing an amnesty bill right now should go ahead and put a ‘Harry Reid for Majority Leader’ bumper sticker on their car, because that will be the likely effect if Republicans refuse to listen to the American people and foolishly change the subject from Obamacare to amnesty.”
Grieder is surprised that Cruz would say that Social Security reform did not get enacted under George W. Bush because “Congressional Republicans ran for the hills” because “the dominant instinct in Congress is risk aversion.” After writing that this was a “cutting thing to say” and “exactly the kind of comment that might irritate his colleagues,” Grieder shows she does not understand that the Tea Party was starting to form in response to the big-government programs of the George W. Bush administration.
“For a long time, the federal government, I believe, has spent too much, taxed too much, regulated too much and borrowed too much,” Cruz told her. “And that has been a bipartisan affliction – an awful lot of Republicans were complicit in exploding the size, power and spending of the federal government.”
Grieder wonders why Cruz would again take on his own party before whining that Cruz did not reveal interesting personal details to someone like her in the mainstream press that has already tried to use his college roommate to embarrass him. Yet after spending half the article insinuating that Cruz is a Tea Party pest lacking in substance, she concedes that Cruz “always perked up when my questions turned to fiscal matters and budget cutting – and the subject of whether his fellow Republicans really got it.” Grieder says that he gave an “impassioned take on his plans for fiscal discipline when he mentioned the need for entitlement reform, saying that he wanted to ensure the viability of Social Security and Medicare over the long term, rather than whittling away at them.”
She also noted that Cruz has listened to his colleagues – even those across the aisle. For instance, Cruz decided to support Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) bill “to address sexual assault in the military by taking the decision-making authority for such prosecutions out of the chain of command” after listening to the evidence that was presented in committee.
Later in the article, she admits that she had “been following him around for more than three hours” and “pelting him with sometimes frivolous questions.” Yet Cruz remained placid even though she “wouldn’t have resented a flash of annoyance at what was obviously a trolling follow up” to one of her previous attempts at “small talk.”
That picture of Cruz is decidedly different from her portrayal of him at the beginning of her article as someone who bored her by not giving her interesting information or taking an interest in small talk, even though Cruz had warned her in advance that he could be “grumpy” because he was sick. Grieder says that Cruz, “when asked about politics, policy or the law… came to life: ferociously smart, talkative, engaged.” Apparently, like many in the mainstream press more concerned about gossip and the horserace than substance, she was neither interested in these discussions nor the movement that Cruz represents and that drives him.