What the Media Got Wrong About Ted Cruz

A raft of predictions welcomed the junior senator from Texas to Washington. A lot of them really whiffed.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) answers questions from the media after meeting with Republican senators regarding a bipartisan solution for the pending budget and debt limit impasse at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. The U.S. government shutdown is in its sixteenth day as the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives remain gridlocked on funding the federal government and the extending the nation's debt limit.
National Journal
Marin Cogan
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Marin Cogan
Oct. 22, 2013, 1 a.m.

Ted Cruz thinks the press doesn’t un­der­stand him. Ad­dress­ing the bar­rage of cri­ti­cisms he’s faced since he launched the gov­ern­ment shut­down earli­er this month, the ju­ni­or sen­at­or from Texas told CNN’s Dana Bash in an in­ter­view on “State of the Uni­on” Sunday: “The strategy in Wash­ing­ton is to launch per­son­al at­tacks “¦ and to en­cour­age the me­dia to do what a lot of folks in the me­dia like to do, which is cov­er this like it’s a Hol­ly­wood gos­sip column — this politi­cian versus this politi­cian, who’s up, who’s down, who’s mad. Who cares?”

Point taken: this is a cri­ti­cism the right and left (and, yes, many journ­al­ists) would prob­ably ad­mit is true. Cruz might have some stand­ing as a me­dia crit­ic. A great deal has been writ­ten about him since he beat the es­tab­lish­ment choice, Dav­id Dewhurst, in a con­ten­tious primary last year — and some of it, even by the au­thors’ ad­mis­sions, turned out to be wrong. Here’s a brief cata­logue.

1) Ted Cruz is the Re­pub­lic­an Barack Obama. “A young, Har­vard-edu­cated law­yer, an ‘in­tel­lec­tu­al‘ with a com­pel­ling life story, the son of an Amer­ic­an moth­er and an im­mig­rant fath­er, a prac­ticed orator thrust in­to the na­tion­al polit­ic­al spot­light, and buoyed by a cult of per­son­al­ity,” Re­pub­lic­an strategist Mark McKin­non kicked off a column from The Daily Beast last sum­mer. “[I]s Ted Cruz go­ing to be the Re­pub­lic­an Barack Obama?”

No. Nope. Not even a little. Bey­ond a few ba­sic bio­graph­ic­al sim­il­ar­it­ies, there’s vir­tu­ally noth­ing the two have in com­mon. While it’s true that Barack Obama is, a year in­to his second term as pres­id­ent, in­tensely dis­liked by the op­pos­i­tion, Cruz has in very short or­der made him­self ex­tremely un­pop­u­lar both among the op­pos­i­tion and his own party. That’s noth­ing like Obama, who man­aged to come through a con­ten­tious primary against an es­tab­lish­ment fa­vor­ite with the party united be­hind him. To put it an­oth­er way: Can you ima­gine a Sec­ret­ary of State Mitch Mc­Con­nell in the Cruz ad­min­is­tra­tion? Didn’t think so.

In Au­gust 2012, McKin­non said that Cruz’s vic­tory could be good for Texas, the Tea Party, and maybe even the GOP it­self. He’s since changed his tune. Last month he told the Fin­an­cial Times that he “hardly re­cog­nizes” the per­son he’d al­ways con­sidered a “thought­ful, really smart guy”; in a CNN seg­ment last week, he said: “I think he ba­sic­ally burned down the repu­ta­tion of the Re­pub­lic­an Party and is stand­ing on the ashes to just stand a little taller for him­self per­son­ally.”

2) Ted Cruz is the next Marco Ru­bio. “Can Cruz pull off an up­set and be­come this year’s Marco Ru­bio?” asked The Week in 2012. Yes, by that stand­ard — pulling off an up­set in a Re­pub­lic­an primary — Cruz may have seemed like “the next Marco Ru­bio.” But there really needs to be a morator­i­um on the journ­al­ist­ic habit of com­par­ing a new law­maker from a minor­ity back­ground to the most re­cent ex­ample of a law­maker from a sim­il­ar minor­ity back­ground. Cory Book­er is not the next Barack Obama — he’s just an­oth­er up-and-com­ing politi­cian who hap­pens to be black. Kirsten Gil­librand is not the next Hil­lary Clin­ton, al­though, yes, they’re both blonde New York wo­men, and Gil­librand suc­ceeded Clin­ton in the Sen­ate. How per­cept­ive! Ted Cruz and Marco Ru­bio are both Cuban, but their modi op­erandi couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. Ru­bio worked quietly to build up a great re­serve of polit­ic­al cap­it­al that he used in an ef­fort to pass sweep­ing, bi­par­tis­an re­form on one of the most im­port­ant polit­ic­al is­sues in the coun­try, im­mig­ra­tion re­form. Cruz tossed the whole no­tion of polit­ic­al cap­it­al aside and led a quix­ot­ic charge on the Sen­ate floor, then stuck to it in the press as his col­leagues stuck it to him.

3) Ted Cruz would fol­low the ex­amples of past Texas deal­makers. To be fair, this was more of the Hou­s­ton Chron­icle’s wish than their pre­dic­tion. They en­dorsed Cruz over his Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent, Paul Sadler, after pay­ing Sadler com­pli­ments, be­cause they felt he was nev­er go­ing to be able to win the elec­tion (which raises in­ter­est­ing ques­tions about what they think an en­dorse­ment ed­it­or­i­al is sup­posed to do, but nev­er mind). In en­dors­ing Cruz, the ed­it­ors said they ex­pec­ted “that Cruz will be schooled by the ex­amples of pre­vi­ous sen­at­ors from Texas, be­gin­ning with [Former Sen­at­or Kay Bailey] Hutchis­on and con­tinu­ing with Lloyd Bent­sen and Lyn­don B. John­son.”

By last week, they were lament­ing just how fall short of ex­pect­a­tions he’d fallen. “One reas­on we par­tic­u­larly be­lieve that Hutchis­on would make a dif­fer­ence in these hec­tic days is that if she had kept her seat, Cruz would not be in the Sen­ate. When we en­dorsed Ted Cruz in last Novem­ber’s gen­er­al elec­tion, we did so with many re­ser­va­tions and at least one spe­cif­ic re­com­mend­a­tion — that he fol­low Hutchis­on’s ex­ample in his con­duct as a sen­at­or. Ob­vi­ously, he has not done so. Cruz has been part of the prob­lem in spe­cif­ic situ­ations where Hutchis­on would have been part of the solu­tion.”

4) Ted Cruz would help the GOP win His­pan­ic voters. It was in vir­tu­ally every piece about Ted Cruz — the as­ser­tion that his Cuban her­it­age would help lure His­pan­ic voters to the party. But Cruz’s po­s­i­tions are ana­thema to the po­s­i­tions held by a ma­jor­ity of His­pan­ic voters. In a Pew poll of Latino voters, 89 per­cent sup­por­ted the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision to let the chil­dren of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants stay in the coun­try; Cruz said in 2012 that if Rom­ney was elec­ted he should seek to over­turn it. Sixty-one per­cent of them ap­prove of the health care law Cruz cru­saded against. While 80 per­cent said the un­doc­u­mented should be offered a chance to stay in the coun­try if they haven’t broken any laws, Cruz was do­ing his best to quash the Sen­ate’s im­mig­ra­tion bill. As The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Jen­nifer Ru­bin has poin­ted out, Cruz over­stated his per­form­ance among His­pan­ic voters in his 2012 Sen­ate race and was bested in the demo­graph­ic by his un­der­fun­ded Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent.

“Cruz and oth­ers op­posed to cit­izen­ship for il­leg­al im­mig­rants are try­ing to con­vince fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans that they will do fine with His­pan­ics by vot­ing against im­mig­ra­tion re­form. There is a mound of data from polling, fo­cus groups and elec­tion res­ults that says anti-im­mig­ra­tion re­form rhet­or­ic and votes mat­ter quite a lot, and not only with His­pan­ics. If Cruz’s ar­gu­ment that all this data is wrong rests on an in­ac­cur­ate as­ser­tion about his own ex­per­i­ence, then Re­pub­lic­ans should be wary,” Ru­bin wrote.

5) Ted Cruz is as good as it gets for the GOP. Here’s Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist George F. Will on can­did­ate Cruz in 2011: “For con­ser­vat­ives seek­ing re­in­force­ments for Wash­ing­ton’s too-lim­ited num­ber of lim­ited-gov­ern­ment con­sti­tu­tion­al­ists, it can hardly get bet­ter than this.” Will went on to praise Cruz’s Ivy League ped­i­gree, pres­ti­gi­ous leg­al ca­reer and Cuban her­it­age in a column that could unite the es­tab­lish­ment in Wash­ing­ton in uni­ver­sal agree­ment of its wrong­ness.

But Will has since soured on Cruz. In a column mas­ter­fully com­par­ing Cruz to a Red Army gen­er­al march­ing his troops through the mine­fields, Will dis­mantled the Sen­at­or’s strategy to force the de­fund­ing of the health care law. “Well,” he wrote of Cruz, “Those people who are best at de­ceiv­ing oth­ers first de­ceive them­selves. They of­ten do so by al­low­ing their wishes to be the fath­ers of their thoughts, and be­gin by wish­ing that everything has changed.” It’s a good les­son for the press, too.

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