Q&A

Ted Cruz is a ‘False Prophet,’ Says a GOP Presidential Candidate

Tea-party shenanigans have pushed onetime hard-liner Rep. Peter King toward the center.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 02: U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) speaks to the media after a meeting regarding the Sandy aid bill with Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) January 2, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The House Republican leadership was criticized for not acting on the Senate passed legislation for Hurricane Sandy disaster aid. 
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Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
Oct. 3, 2013, 4:05 p.m.

Ted Cruz may have over­taken Rand Paul as the GOP’s latest torch­bear­er of brash con­ser­vat­ism, but if you fol­low that lin­eage back far enough, past Michele Bach­mann and Al­len West, you’d find Peter King, a gruff New York con­gress­man who a few years ago earned com­par­is­ons to Joseph Mc­Carthy for hold­ing hear­ings to root out “ter­ror­ists” in Amer­ica’s Muslim com­munit­ies. But King is an in­sti­tu­tion­al­ist, and in post-shut­down Wash­ing­ton, he’s be­come Cruz’s un­likely ant­ag­on­ist. The two mem­bers of Con­gress, both flirt­ing with pres­id­en­tial bids, rep­res­ent dif­fer­ent paths the GOP could choose in the com­ing years. In an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al, King calls the sen­at­or from Texas a “fraud” and a “false proph­et.” Ed­ited ex­cerpts fol­low.

How did we get to a gov­ern­ment shut­down?

It was ba­sic­ally driv­en by the Ted Cruz wing of the party — the people who vote against John Boehner on every key budget is­sue of the past two years. They’re driv­ing the train. So I blame Cruz and the group that is with him in the House.

They bear re­spons­ib­il­ity for the shut­down?

Ob­vi­ously, the ini­tial blame goes to Re­pub­lic­ans. Hav­ing said that, the pres­id­ent of the United States can­not sit on the side­lines and act as if this is some­body else’s gov­ern­ment and say it’s all Re­pub­lic­ans’ fault — like he’s not go­ing to sully him­self by get­ting in­volved. For the pres­id­ent not to en­gage with Re­pub­lic­ans on this, not at­tempt to re­solve it, is, to me, in­ex­cus­able.

How can John Boehner re­as­sert con­trol over his caucus?

Un­for­tu­nately, and people will get hurt in the mean­time, we may need to wait un­til there’s a crit­ic­al mass; when people in the Ted Cruz wing start get­ting neg­at­ive re­ac­tions in their dis­tricts, when people start telling them to knock it off. Un­til then, it’s go­ing to be hard to get con­trol. Of course, when it does get re­solved, they’re go­ing to say we gave in too quickly. To me, I don’t think we should care what they think, but they are a real­ity with­in the party. John has a lot more pa­tience than I would.

You’re a pretty con­ser­vat­ive guy. Were you sur­prised to sud­denly be the adult in the room?

People who knew me grow­ing up can’t be­lieve that I’ve sud­denly be­come the voice of reas­on. It’s just something that happened. The whole time, I was go­ing along and was only vot­ing on those amend­ments [to de­fund Obama­care] be­cause I was told it was part of some en­dgame. But on Sat­urday night, I real­ized that there was no plan. And I saw real an­ger on the floor. People — wheth­er you call them the si­lent ma­jor­ity or whatever — are fed up with the Ted Cruz wing. I figured, every­one’s talk­ing, no one’s do­ing any­thing, and I hardly ever speak in con­fer­ences. But you can only be quiet for so long. So I spoke up. And that’s how I as­sumed this lead­er­ship. But it’s not something I was look­ing for. We’ll see where it goes.

On Monday night, it looked like a mod­er­ate re­bel­lion to the tea party was brew­ing, but it nev­er ma­ter­i­al­ized. Were you dis­ap­poin­ted more mem­bers wer­en’t be­hind you?

I was dis­ap­poin­ted but not sur­prised. They felt it was too risky to vote against it, since it was con­strued as a vote not in fa­vor of keep­ing the gov­ern­ment open but in fa­vor of Obama­care. John Boehner — and this is totally le­git­im­ate — made very per­son­al ap­peals to mem­bers to stick with him.

If you run for pres­id­ent in 2016, would you po­s­i­tion your­self as a coun­ter­weight to the Cruz wing?

The Amer­ic­an people are look­ing for an adult lead­er. Not this pan­der­ing and this ap­peal­ing to the low­est com­mon de­nom­in­at­or. Ted Cruz spent the month of Au­gust and the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber telling House mem­bers: “You de­fund Obama­care, and we’ll take care of it in the Sen­ate.” That was a fraud! From day one, he had no way of get­ting that through the Sen­ate. How these guys let them­selves get de­luded, or wanted to get de­luded, is bey­ond me.

So if Cruz is a fraud, what’s his real game?

Put­ting him­self out there. He’s locked in maybe 15, 20 per­cent of the Re­pub­lic­an Party. I don’t think he can go bey­ond that, but that’s a lot of people. I mean, you’re wast­ing my time and I’m wast­ing your time talk­ing about him. No one even cared about Ted Cruz a few months ago. But he has sold a false bill of goods. He’s a false proph­et.

How many GOP votes do you think there are in the House for a clean con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to re­open the gov­ern­ment?

This is one of those things that there’s no way you can prove wheth­er I’m telling the truth or not, but I’d say clearly two-thirds [of the GOP caucus] would vote yes if it was a secret bal­lot. Maybe even three-quar­ters. On an open vote, I would say it’d be sim­il­ar to the fisc­al-cliff vote, where there’d be enough [to pass it with Demo­crat­ic votes].

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