Arguably the most contentious member of the U. S. Senate, Texas Senator Ted Cruz has captured the attention of the nation as the iconic superstar of the insurgent Tea Party movement. Though the movement preceded his emergence on the national stage, he nevertheless came to embody and represent its message of fiscal constraint, family values, constitutional principles and most of all, a willingness to stand up to the ruling political class in both parties to defend those values as none of his peers were quite able to.
On March 22nd, he was the first Republican to officially announce a 2016 presidential bid. Indeed, the animating message driving his campaign is clearly outlined in the introduction to his new book A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America:
The biggest divide in politics is not between the tea party and the [Republican] establishment. It is not even between Republicans and Democrats. The biggest divide is between career politicians-in both parties-and the American people.
Cruz has been repeating this unconventional yet insightful refrain virtually since he ran for the Texas Attorney General’s office back in 2009. During his upstart Senate primary campaign in 2011 against the powerful David Dewhurst, then Texas’s Lieutenant Governor, as he was turning out thousands of people at rallies all across Texas delivering this message to roaring crowds, his opponent pounced on it, thinking it a perfect opportunity for attack ads. However, the people of Texas delivered the powerful Dewhurst a stunning defeat, signaling who they really believed was the problem.
Since then, quite a number of people have picked up on this concept with great success, including Republican presidential candidates Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate independent senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (albeit in a vastly different context).
Cruz believes that the channeling of this frustration by the most qualified conservative candidate is the key to ensure victory for the Republican Party in 2016. Pointing to past failures to win the presidency by moderate Republicans like Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, and to the phenomenal electoral and popular successes of unabashed conservatives such as Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, Cruz says that if history is any guide then the path to victory is obvious. He firmly believes that a message that persistently promotes free-market principles, family values, and individual liberty and independence, will appeal well beyond the traditional Republican base and bring over those ever elusive Reagan Democrats (he humorously notes that there are no Dole Democrats or McCain Democrats or Romney Democrats). It will also serve to energize the base and grassroots of the Republican Party instead of disenfranchising them. This precisely, was his message during his campaign for the Senate in which he ended up winning 40% of the Hispanic vote. If he can repeat that trend nationally, then he may have a pretty solid chance at winning the presidency.
A lot of Ted Cruz is posturing. And this book does a whole lot of that. Most chapters open with a powerful historical anecdote. The common thread in all of them is the portrayal of the courage of individuals, many of whom seem to us now as larger than life, who boldly challenged the status quo, often drawing the ire and derision of their friends, party, state and country in the defense of truth. These include such a diverse range of personalities as Sam Houston, Kirsten Gillibrand, Ronald Reagan, Elie Wiesel, Anwar Sadat, Sherman Booth and Margaret Thatcher, among others. Clearly, Cruz identifies with these individuals and hopes the reader will likewise view his career in a similar light. After framing each chapter with these stirring episodes, the rest of the chapter thus seamlessly flows in a similar theme in the eyes of the reader. In any event, his keen grasp of history and politics and the role models he chooses ensure an engaging and informative read.
In a crowded primary field, which includes many conservatives, Cruz has to make the case that he outshines them all when it comes to actually fighting for those principles. And what emerges from the book is quite a compelling case. This is the positioning that will likely consume much of his campaign message. It’s clear that Cruz intends to go all out with the truth. The question is if he burns too many bridges in the process. He doesn’t shy away from criticizing powerful members in his own party in defense of what he sees as the truth. But he invariably does so with marked civility. He gives credit where credit is due and even attempts to make amends with one his sharpest critics, John McCain who has publicly called him a “wacko-bird”.
The book opens with a vivid portrayal of a lunch of the Senate Republicans in February of 2014 when the Senate Republican leadership demanded of their members to join with the Democrats and unanimously vote to lower threshold to raise the debt ceiling from 60 to 50 votes. This would enable the debt ceiling raise to pass with Democrat votes only and Republicans would be able to go back home and tell their constituents that they voted against it. These cynical, procedural gymnastics have come to define the GOP leadership in Congress.
Cruz relays how most of his colleagues just nodded along in agreement to this cowardly scheme. He however, was having none of it and along with Senator Mike Lee from Utah refused to join the vote, which eventually forced a number of Republicans to vote with the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling. The reaction from his Republicans colleagues was swift and devastating. They were livid that he had the temerity to force at least 5 Republicans to vote with the Democrats and face a righteous outcry in their home states.
Cruz says he was punished by the leadership for daring to criticize his own party and they put pressure on major donors to quit supporting him which he claims they did. His PAC fundraiser also eventually quit after mounting pressure. Nasty personal comments directed at him appeared anonymously in the press from senior GOP aides. In an interview after the book’s release, Mitch McConnel refused to comment when asked about these allegations. A few days later, a Politico reporter again quoted anonymous GOP aides categorically denying them.
This story is unfortunate but at the same time effectively reinforces the notion that both parties are equally responsible for much of what’s wrong in Washington D.C. Equally disturbing, is the fact none of the other conservatives in the Senate joined Cruz and Lee in their fight against raising the debt ceiling, including Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
Cruz likewise has another bit of criticism for Rand Paul for what he perceived as an unwillingness to fully support him in his famous 21 hour speech to defund Obamacare. Cruz alleges that during the speech, Paul asked specific questions that seemed to directly undermine the effort. Paul has since reacted by saying that he’s puzzled by the rebuke, as Cruz had written him a note following the speech, personally thanking him. But Cruz supporters dismiss that as a gesture that is typical of the senator’s magnanimous nature. Indeed, throughout the book, Cruz is gracious about many of his fiercest adversaries in both parties. Multiple times he praises his chief rivals for the presidential nomination, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, devoting an entire section to Paul’s famous 13 hour filibuster, and referencing Rubio’s book about his upstart election to the Senate.
Another confrontation ensued after the book’s release with regard to Cruz’s allegation that Karl Rove demanded he quietly return former President George H. W. Bush’s endorsement during his campaign for the Senate as it was distracting donors for George W. Bush’s presidential library. Rove denied the story which forced Cruz’s campaign to release the incriminating emails. Such public spats with the establishment will undoubtedly make it difficult for them to unite behind him should he indeed win the nomination. Nevertheless, Cruz has persistently resisted attempts by the media to lure him into their favorite pastime of personally attacking fellow Republicans.
There is one glaring exception in all of the mentions he makes in his book, positive or negative: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Walker, a firebrand conservative governor is leading in most Iowa polls and is high up there in all national polls. Whether or not the omission is intentional is a matter of speculation. One can argue that as a Washington outsider, there was no opportunity for Cruz to bring him up. Yet, this argument falls flat upon considering one particular paragraph at the book’s conclusion. Cruz writes about the new, young generation of conservative leaders and goes on to list ten leaders, senators, congressmen and governors under the age of 52, yet he omits Scott Walker. It is hard to accept that as a simple oversight. It would seem that he views Walker as his primary threat at winning the nomination. There’s a backhanded endorsement if there ever was one.
The book traces Cruz’s life from his early education in West Briar, a private school founded by a group of Jewish doctors in Houston, Texas. Roughly half the school was Jewish, which in turn led him to believe that half the world is Jewish. He describes celebrating Hannukah with his Jewish friends, playing dreidel and eating latkes. This early exposure to the Jewish people likely influenced his subsequent solid pro-Israel positions.
In the summer of 2014, Cruz gave a speech at a Christian group, focusing on the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East. Although participants had been requested not to talk about Israel or the persecution of Jews by Hamas and Hezbollah, Cruz was determined to speak the whole truth and not omit the suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Yet, as soon as he so much as made mention of the Jews, and then Israel, the crowd began to boo him down. When he told them, over their jeers, that Christians in the Middle East have no greater friend than Israel, they became even more agitated. At this point, Cruz set aside his prepared remarks and said:
“…the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the very same reason”.
When those comments garnered hostile shouts to the point where he could no longer continue, he said, “If you will not stand with Israel, then I will not stand with you. God bless you, good night.” And with that he walked off the stage.
The above episode succinctly illustrates the courage that has come to define Ted Cruz. Most politicians would have avoided the controversial topics and instead focused on the persecution of Christians. But Cruz refused to back down from the truth. Many have called it arrogance and opportunism, but Cruz sees it as simple principle.
Cruz’s intellectual gifts become apparent in high school after getting involved in the Free Enterprise Institute (then known as the Free Enterprise Education Center). Students were required to prepare a speech after reading a curriculum of economic fundamentals including the works of Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Adam Smith, among others. These works became the intellectual foundation for the young Cruz and has fundamentally shaped his philosophy as an ardent defender of the free enterprise system and vocal opponent of government overregulation.
Eventually, Cruz won the city speech contest during all four years of high school, earning him scholarship money which proved vital when the time came to go to college. As a result, he was booked by the Center to speak at Rotary, Kiwanis, and Exchange clubs and Chambers of Commerce all over Texas. Thus a thirteen year old Ted Cruz found himself lecturing on free-market economic principles in front of several hundred business people at a time, teaching him valuable lessons about public speaking which he practiced and honed until he mastered his current engaging and electrifying style.
The next step in his intellectual development took form as he got involved in a spin-off program called the Constitutional Collaborators where he studied the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers and the Debates on Ratification. After a while he had memorized the entire Constitution in a shortened mnemonic form. To this day, Cruz’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Constitution and all of the underlying arguments and philosophies remains unmatched by most of his colleagues in Congress. Indeed, later on in the book he describes his shock soon upon his arrival in the Senate when it became apparent that senators propose legislation on any number of topics without giving a second’s thought whether or not they even had the constitutionality to do so. It’s just not their first order of business. He relays the continuous attacks and disdain that come his way when even questioning Senate colleagues on these fundamental issues. These early scholarly exercises are crucial to understanding the ideas that animate the young, fiery senator.
The book follows his time at Princeton and Harvard where he studied under Professors Alan Dershowitz (who later famously said that Cruz was “off-the-charts brilliant”, and “one of the top students”), and Charles Fried, an influential conservative academic. He received recommendations from both of them for his application to clerk at the Supreme Court. During his job interview with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Justice noted the obvious curiosity of receiving recommendations from these two polar opposites. He landed the highly coveted job, subsequently getting involved in roughly 25 cases. Cruz provides a singular perspective and offers amusing sneak peeks of the goings on in that august institution.
In 1999 Cruz was hired by the Bush campaign as a domestic policy advisor and was later recruited as one of lawyers during the Florida recount debacle. At the time, he’d been working at Cooper & Carvin, a firm founded by two protégés of Edwin Meese, attorney general under Ronald Reagan, where he represented Ford Motor Company and was involved in multiple cases for the NRA. He also assisted in preparing testimony for the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
Cruz describes his impression of Bush as charismatic, driven and inquisitive. He does however take the opportunity to dissect the nature of Bush’s conservatism. He describes it as “gut conservatism”, which he says doesn’t flow from a foundation grounded in the intellectual or scholastic dictates of free-market economics espoused by the likes of Milton Friedman and others. Rather, it’s a sort of hybrid of cultural conservatism and small-business common sense. It would seem that Cruz is subtly suggesting that that is a somewhat inferior form of conservatism that is subject to change when exposed to the Washington D.C. climate, giving voice to the widespread disappointment many conservatives felt during Bush’s presidency. It is also a soft jab at similar conservatives and presidential rivals, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.
After a short stint at the Federal Trade Commission in the Bush administration, Cruz was hired by Texas attorney general Gregg Abbot (currently the governor of Texas) as solicitor general for the state of Texas representing the state multiple times before the Supreme Court. During his five years on the job, he was involved in several high-profile cases defending conservative principles. He wrote an amicus brief for the Supreme Court defending the right for the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited in public schools. He managed to recruit all 50 attorneys general to join the brief and ended up winning the case by a unanimous vote. He also represented Texas in Van Orden v. Perry defending the right to display the Ten Commandments at the Texas State Capitol. Cruz believes that the most significant case of his career was Mendellin v. Texas, in which he challenged the Bush administration’s attempt to coerce state courts to cede to the authority of the World Court. He won that case 6-3.
The rest of the book deals with his aborted run for the attorney general’s office, his spectacular senate campaign and his turbulent career in the senate. Each page is more unconventional than the preceding one and is peppered throughout with typical Texas humor. If nothing else, the book provides an intimate glimpse into the life and mind of a truly enigmatic personality.