Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
The conservative movement is clearly in a severe, anti-establishment mood. Its origins are easily diagnosed, if not easily treated. It evolved out of the George W. Bush presidency, viewed as a failure by many on the right. After squandering two years of one-party Republican rule in Washington by expanding entitlements and failing to address the long-term drivers of our debt, the groundwork was laid for a new batch of conservatives who would move the party further to the right and put principles ahead of their own quest for power and influence.
So the story goes like this: A group of Washington elites have no desire to move the country’s laws in a conservative direction. Instead, they’re going along and getting along while grasping for ever-more authority. In this version of reality, the Republican leadership, not the Democrats and the majority of the country who voted for them, are responsible for the leftward drift of government institutions.
You might be tempted to mock this view, but there’s strong evidence that indeed, a cunning and ruthless Washington elite uses conservatives for their electoral support — with no intention of pursuing conservatives’ goals. Namely, we have a particular political opportunist, forged in the very cradle of the establishment, who has managed to convince nearly the entirety of the base that he’s the most principled conservative in office.
How can I make such a claim about conservative darling Ted Cruz? I read his book.
The story of Ted Cruz does not begin with his 2012 Senate run. He’s best understood by his time working for the George W. Bush campaign in 2000. He labored tirelessly to become part of the very establishment he would later criticize. In an interview with a Princeton alumni publication in 2000, Cruz said:
“One of the reasons I was so eager to help Bush is the way he has described himself, as a compassionate conservative. That’s how I have always conceived of my own political views.”
Cruz was a very conventional Republican who backed his party, held many moderate positions, and eagerly sought ways to clamber up the ladder of government. In 2004, Cruz contributed to a book titled Reflections on the War on Terror, Defense of the Family, and Revival of the Economy. While many on the right were criticizing Bush for ramping up deficit spending without addressing the long-term drivers of our debt, Cruz wrote that those concerns were overstated. He supported the No Child Left Behind Act, and wrote the following gem:
As President Bush put it in the 2000 campaign, when voters hear “Abolish the Department of Education,” a lot of voters just hear “Abolish Education” and back away.”
Cruz used the same language as Bush on the subject of immigrants: “Americans by choice.” In 2000, he wrote a five-page memo for the campaign urging Bush to secure the border, but show compassion:
“But, at the same time, we need to remember that many of those coming here are coming to feed their families, to have a chance at a better life.”
It can be disorienting the first time you discover just how conventional a politician Cruz is. In a high school bio, Cruz’s plan and ambition are made clear:
Upon graduation Ted hopes to attend Princeton University and major in Political Science and Economics. From there he wants to attend law school (possibly Harvard) and achieve a successful law practice. He then wants to pursue his real goal – a career in politics. Ted would like to run for various political offices and eventually achieve a strong enough reputation and track record to run for – and win – President of the United States.
Criticizing politicians for ambition can be self-defeating. No good conservative should want that much power, but if no good conservatives seek power, our ideals go unrepresented in government. Reality requires us to tolerate a certain level of ambition from our representatives. Yet even by Washington insider standards, Cruz’s ambition was off-putting.
In his book, A Time for Self-Promotion Truth, Cruz said being passed over for a senior position in the Bush White House after working for the campaign was “a crushing blow.” Cruz was angling for a spot in the White House Counsel’s office under Bush the younger. When offered a lower position that he’d hoped, Cruz walked away. Former White House spokesman Ari Fleisher (one of the few members of the Bush team who says he likes Cruz) explained the situation:
Ted’s bosses were very put off by him and by how ambitious he was. And that’s why Ted got basically put in an agency very far from the White House during the transition.
Between a cantankerous personality and an ambition so palpable as to scare men who do little but deal with ambition, Cruz found himself outside the GOP establishment. Not outside of it by choice, or because of ideological distance, but because few who dealt with Ted Cruz liked Ted Cruz.
With the insider track to power now closed off, Cruz needed a different path. Conveniently, his exclusion from any position of relevance in the Bush administration turned out to be a boon. As dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and the “establishment” grew, Cruz had an avenue into national government. It merely required him to overhaul his principles.
There is of course nothing inherently wrong with changing one’s views over time. Many life experiences can cause a change of heart and mind. Few will openly admit their transition was prompted by a poll. Ted Cruz is among their ranks.
In A Time for Naked Opportunism Truth, Cruz openly explains his political transition to the hard-right. While exploring the possibility of a Senate run in 2012, Cruz commissioned polls to judge the likelihood of his success and the mood of the electorate:
In our first benchmark poll, we asked a series of questions to assess where I stood compared to Dewhurst. One of those questions would become famous internally in our campaign: Question 10. It asked voters if they would be more or less likely to support me if they knew that “Ted Cruz understands that politicians from both parties have let us down. Cruz is a proven conservative we can trust to provide new leadership in the Senate to reduce the size of government and defend the Constitution.”
Those sentences polled over 80 percent among Republicans in Texas, and were liked by a majority of independents. So was born the Ted Cruz we know today. The man who once laughed off efforts to abolish the Department of Education would come to call for its abolition — not because he had any change of heart, but because it was the way to raise money and win in Texas.
Understanding this helps us make sense of some of the bizarre policy proposals and strategies Cruz has offered over the years. His ambition, and his need to set himself to the right of everyone in politics, help to explain his tenuous relationship with the truth.
Mike Lee joins Cruz in having a perfect 100-percent conservative voting record from Heritage action. The two are often painted as allies in the Senate, true believers acting as a thorn in the side of the RINOs. One can imagine Lee’s shock back in October when he presented a criminal justice reform bill to the judiciary committee, only to have Ted Cruz lie about its contents and impact.
Cruz claimed the bill would lead to 7,000 prisoners being released. He repeatedly referred to violent criminals being let out on the street. Since Cruz graduated from Harvard Law School and argued cases in front of the Supreme Court, we must conclude he can read. Of the two categories of criminals that would have been affected by the bill and might have conceivably gone on to be violent offenders, there were only 3,433 inmates. Of these, many had committed no violent crime, and all faced a review process before their sentences would be reduced. Some violent offences even had their mandatory minimums increased by the law. These facts are readily ascertained when you dig into the issue.
In response, Lee made changes to the bill that would close off these two categories if any potential violent offenders might be released, leaving Cruz no legitimate grievance. Cruz remains opposed to the bill. Ironically, Cruz supported the bill a year ago, when it was significantly more lenient than the current incarnations.
Mike Lee learned the hard way that if Ted Cruz cannot position himself to your right because there is no space there, he will invent it.
Lee is not the only member of the new generation of stalwart conservatives to discover Cruz will lie and shift positions to enhance his own image at the expense of theirs.
In his book, A Time for Talking out of my Rear Truth, Cruz wrote that Rand Paul (90 percent Conservative Action score) let him down on Obamacare when he spoke for a few minutes during Cruz’s 21-hour faux filibuster during the 2013 government shutdown. He said that Paul seemed intent on bolstering the GOP leadership’s attacks to undermine Cruz’s efforts. “I marveled that Rand had decided not to be with us in this fight.”
Cruz described the anger he and Mike Lee felt when Paul suggested there would have to be compromise to make Obamacare less bad. The trouble for Cruz is that we live in the 21st century, and transcripts of these exchanges exist. There was not an ounce of hostility when Paul and Cruz had their exchange on the Senate floor. The two repeatedly praised each other, and Cruz even said “The question Sen. Rand Paul asked was an excellent question.”
Paul further pointed out that Cruz sent Rand a lovely letter thanking him for his help during the shutdown. Cruz’s book paints a picture of Rand Paul that’s 180 degrees at odds with his own statements about Paul’s efforts at the time. In a recurring theme, we must ask ourselves: Which Ted Cruz was lying?
Was Ted Cruz lying when he repeatedly stated in interviews that he supported the Gang of Eight bill and its amnesty, or is Ted Cruz now lying now when he claims it was a poison pill and he was lying in interview after interview when he said he supported it? It’s a strange poison pill that makes a patient healthier, which Cruz acknowledged his amendment did at the time. (Though to be fair to Cruz, he claims he was lying.)
And a second point to those advocacy groups that are so passionately engaged. In my view if this committee rejects this amendment — and I think everyone here views it as quite likely this committee will choose to reject this amendment — in my view that decision will make it much much more likely that this entire bill will fail in the House of Representatives. [Emphasis added.] I don’t want immigration reform to fail. I want immigration reform to pass. And so I would urge people of good faith on both sides of the aisle if the objective is to pass common sense immigration reform that secures the borders, that improves legal immigration and that allows those who are here illegally to come in out of the shadows, then we should look for areas of bipartisan agreement and compromise to come together. And this amendment, I believe if this amendment were to pass, the chances of this bill passing into law would increase dramatically. And so I would urge the committee to give it full consideration and to adopt the amendment.
We certainly know Cruz supported amnesty during his time on the Bush campaign. This means his repeated claims during the debates that he never supported legalization do not fly, even if you grant his “I was lying” defense on the Gang of Eight. Which is more likely, that Ted Cruz was always, secretly, a principled immigration hawk despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, or that he saw an opportunity to position himself to the right of Marco Rubio (94 percent Heritage action rating) and seized the opportunity?
Every time Cruz attacks his fellow Republicans (generally for holding positions that he himself held shortly before), his profile rises among the base, and his fundraising explodes. Following the shutdown, Cruz’s fundraising doubled from the previous quarter. As Cruz burns his party around him, no new one rises to take its place. His most frequent targets aren’t the moderates of the party, but the true conservatives. As long as Ted Cruz is the only voice in the wilderness fighting the government Leviathan, then only Ted Cruz can be trusted by the base, and only Ted Cruz is worthy of donations and support. Mike Lee was unable to turn his joint support for the shutdown into almost any fundraising. You are either Ted Cruz, or you are the problem in Washington.
How Cruz intends to make any lasting changes in government when his actions so frequently damage the allies he need to enact such change is only an interesting question if you believe that Ted Cruz is acting out of principle, not opportunism in pursuit of the presidency.
Cruz’s sudden conversion to the right-most possible position of any given issue is not seamless. He often miscalibrates, or abandons conservatism entirely to support the more popular position.
When the Trans Pacific Partnership came into focus, many on the right doubted that Barack Obama could share an ideal with them and began to wonder what secrets had been buried in the deal. In reality, every president since perhaps Hoover has taken steps to enlarge free trade. Democratic and Republican administrations alike have always improved our economy by pursuing trade deals with an ever-larger group of countries.
Conservative populists eventually began to speak out against the deal, some out of distrust for Obama, others out of a misguided belief that protectionism helps American workers more than it hurts them. Cruz was naturally there to bend on principle and seize the opportunity. His current stance is that he opposes the deal as it contains secret immigration provisions. Again, we must conclude from Cruz’s legal career that he can read, and therefore know that he is lying. The text of the TPP is readily available. It is based on numerous existing trade deals that the United States already has in place.
A principled conservative would support free trade even when it is unpopular with his base.
Cruz’s position on taxes is even more bizarre. He wishes to abolish the IRS, and repeats this mantra at every campaign stop and every debate where he has the opportunity. Abolishing the IRS is not impossible. The Fair Tax proposal contains a plausible plan for no longer requiring a federal tax collection agency. A national sales tax that replaces all other taxes and uses existing state sales tax collection agencies could plausibly exist without an IRS. If only Cruz had simply copied and pasted this plan as his own.
Cruz has proposed a value-added tax, famous for making taxpaying enormously more complex for corporations and making the tax burden invisible to those who pay it. Aside from the obvious complaints — such a tax will not replace an income tax, but will end up existing alongside it, as in Europe — the complexity of a VAT would almost assuredly require an IRS as large as it is today or larger.
When pressed on this question, Cruz has acknowledged that there will still be an agency that handles tax responsibilities. This reduces Cruz’s promise to one of renaming the agency. This has not stopped Cruz from repeating his abolish-the-IRS mantra to his loyal fan base, who love the way Cruz lies to them.
Ted Cruz is playing a character for an audience of conservatives who feel betrayed by the George W. Bush Administration. There was a time when I overlooked his incessant lying and self-promotion, because his commitment to the role made him a useful vote in the Senate. But you have to wonder how committed he’ll be to the part when Question 10 of his poll is put before the general electorate. It will respond differently from the Texas electorate. Will he flip as quickly as he did to protectionism? If not, will he continue to fundraise by tearing down the people he’ll need as allies if he’s to do things like repeal Obamacare?
We can confidently say that Ted Cruz is driven by ambition, not principle. One might reply that this is true of all politicians. Perhaps, but when did the argument for Ted Cruz become that he is no worse than other politicians? Why should we get into the tank for a political opportunist only because he trashes other political opportunists?
We despise every other politician for talking a good game but failing to get anything done. Why would we exempt Ted Cruz?Published in