Ted Cruz: Der Doppelganger?
The more things change, the more they stay the same . . . especially if you’re a Republican. Take brand new Senator Ted Cruz, for example. Ted Cruz career trajectory is a thing of beauty, the stuff American Dreams are made of. Smart-as-a-whip Cuban-Irish-Italian boy works hard, goes to Princeton where he becomes a national debating champion, then on to a magna cum laude degree from Harvard Law, followed by a Supreme Court clerkship to the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Cruz was the first Hispanic ever to clerk for a Chief Justice of the United States.
From there it was a short hop to a post as Texas Solicitor General. Cruz was the first Hispanic Solicitor General in Texas, the youngest Solicitor General in the United States, and had the longest tenure—2003-2008—in the post thus far in Texas history.
When Kay Bailey Hutchinson retired from her Senate post, Cruz won his party’s nomination to replace her and entered the world of US politics-writ-large. Cruz won TEA Party and Republican Liberty Caucus endorsements and went on to defeat GOP establishment choice, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, in a Republican primary runoff. He then beat his Democratic opponent, Paul Sadler, handily in the November 6, 2012 general election for the Senate seat.
A flawlessly executed blueprint for achieving the American Dream, eh? But nothing that a case of seriously arrested development can’t F-up.
See, Ted Cruz has an ego the size of his home state and not a clue how to play well with others. Cruz doesn’t even seem to realize that there are “others”—he’s on the stage, in the spotlight, utterly alone. He’s the brainiac with no common sense and even less politesse, we’ve all known one. But Cruz may very well have reached his apogee and be fixing to crash and burn as a fascinated America looks on.
At a time when the Republican brand is so fragile that even the so-called Young Guns are keeping a lower profile, a loose cannon like Ted Cruz does nothing but confirm the general public’s already unflattering opinion of Republican politicians. Cruz is exactly the wrong man to help resurrect the troubled GOP and, in a rare show of bipartisan agreement, his Senate colleagues are beginning to agree that Cruz is a BIG problem.
In January, Cruz arrived in the Senate, just as he’s arrived at any other stage of his life, with friends in high places. Sen. John Cornyn, the senior senator from Texas and the #2 Republican in the Senate, needs Ted Cruz—for better or worse. Old Guard Cornyn is anxious to preempt a primary challenge from the right by cuddling up to his new TEA Party colleague, Cruz. Jonathan Martin of Politico reports that Austin insiders joke that “Cruz is the only freshman in Congress with two votes.” And, I suppose, the proof is in the pudding because when a vote was taken on John Kerry’s appointment to Secretary of State three Republican senators voted “nay”—Cruz, Cornyn and the irrascible Jim Inhofe.
Two former Cornyn aides are now helping run Cruz’s office, and Cornyn helped Cruz secure a coveted spot on the Judiciary Committee. It was Cornyn’s decision to leave the Armed Services Committee that opened up a spot for Cruz to serve on that panel, giving him a chance to question President Obama’s pick for Secretary of State, Chuck Hagel, in nationally televised confirmation hearings. That move, which I’m sure Cornyn now regrets, set the stage for a Cruz debut which has drawn public criticism from both sides of the aisle and the media, comparing Cruz’s over-the-top hounding of Hagel with the notorious “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy’s obsessive pursuit of closet Communists in the Fifties.
Indeed, I don’t think it’s too early to level a few well-placed “have you no decency, Sir” charges at Cruz.
While most freshman Senators are still getting lost on their way to the restroom and figuring out where to put their knicknacks, Cruz has been swashbuckling his way through Senate votes, media sound bytes and private party conclaves.
In less than two months, Cruz has racked up the following “no-compromise conservative” record: he suggested, during Senate confirmation hearings, that Chuck Hagel might have received compensation from foreign enemies; he called Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel a bully on gun-control; made an ass of himself challenging the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, Chuck Schumer on Meet the Press; voted against virtually everything before him — including VAWA, Hurricane Sandy relief, raising the debt limit, and the confirmation of John Kerry as Secretary of State. In his spare time Cruz expressed “deep concerns” with a bipartisan immigration-reform blueprint crafted by, among others, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and introduced his first bill, to “repeal every last word of Obamacare.”
As Jonathan Capehart observed of the Meet the Press incident:
In that 40-second clip, Cruz proved himself to be needlessly combative, lecturing and tone-deaf.
Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post reports:
Behind the scenes, Cruz has rankled even Republican colleagues, who think he lectures too much at private party sessions — “pontificates” is one word used — and listens too little, especially for a newbie. One Republican senator described Cruz to me as ‘Jim DeMint without the charm.’
And these are people who have seen a lot of Cruzes come and go.
Defenders of Cruz will argue that he was simply tenaciously and commendably doing his job. He has a right, nay, an obligation, to investigate a cabinet nominee’s credentials and qualifications then vote his conscience on the appointment.
And they’d be correct except that Cruz’s “rights” stop short of impugning a man’s integrity or lifelong career of public service with sleazy, sophomoric “six degrees of separation” innuendos without a shred of evidence.
He also has no right to “unilaterally rewrite committee rules, which require two years of financial information, instead of the five Cruz demanded” as committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), pointed out. Not to mention the fact that the committee already has a separate requirement that nominees disclose 10 years of records on any transactions with a foreign government.
Cruz might have learned about that if he’d listened to Hagel’s confirmation hearing rather than playing prosecutor.
Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) reaction was understated but important, I think:
In this country we had a terrible experience with innuendo and inference when Joe McCarthy hung out in the United States Senate, and I just think we have to be more careful.
Even the Senate’s resident Grumpy Old Man, John McCain, who was less than bowled over by Hagel’s nomination said:
All I can say is that I think the appropriate way to treat Sen. Hagel is to be as tough as you want to be, but don’t be disrespectful or malign his character.
Ted Cruz defends his actions so far in an email interview, saying:
I made promises to the people of Texas that I would come to Washington to shake up the status quo. That is what I intend to do, and it is what I have done in every way possible in the responsibilities that have been granted to me.
That’s one rather banal way of looking at things, Senator. Another way is that, as a United States senator you have a larger obligation to work on legislation that will make a difference in the lives of all Americans. You also have an obligation to honor and enhance the governmental institutions that the American people have established and evolved over time, and in which you now participate, at their pleasure.
We expect you to work in an affirmative way with the senators that have been equally carefully selected by other constituencies, in other states, with different needs, for the common good of all. We expect you to uphold our finely crafted system of checks AND balances. We expect you to be a model of citizenship and civility, a constructive American who might inspire our children to “pay it forward” and to participate in their own self-government, when their time comes, with wisdom and grace.
As one Senate Republican who asked not to be named, commented recently:
They [Freshman senators] don’t get to know the Senate or the other senators; they just start talking. And that takes away from [Cruz’s] ability to be an influential legislator.
Good advice. But, after Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) raised the specter of McCarthyism and was asked if she had spoken to Mr. Cruz about her concerns, she answered:
I’m not sure it would do any good. Do you?
Good question . . . stay tuned.