REWIND: ‘Cruz Only Speaks in Stump Speeches, and Won’t…Stop…Giving…Them’Posted: March 23, 2015
Andrew Ferguson’s Ted Cruz Profile September 23,2013
From yesterday’s New York Times, this:
In 2013, a Ferguson profile of Ted Cruz included a devastating section in which the journalist, trapped in cars and green rooms with his subject, realizes that Cruz only speaks in stump speeches, and won’t … stop … giving … them.
I remember reading the Cruz profile, “Washington Builds a Bugaboo” in in The Weekly Standard back in 2013, and the impression it left was permanent. Even now, it’s hard to look at Cruz without recalling the unflattering depictions of Cruz’s unyielding conversational style and tone-deaf careerism. It’s a good cautionary tale. Read the whole thing here.
September 23, 2013, Andrew Ferguson writes:
Several times a day, especially if he’s out travelin’ and talkin’ to folks, as he always is when the U.S. Senate isn’t in session, Ted Cruz will stand before an audience and reflect, seemingly for the first time, about the generational shift taking place in the Republican party.
“Ted really worked at it. He’d practice at home in front of the mirror to get everything just right.”
— Paige Moore, a friend of the Cruz family
“I call them the Children of Reagan,” he says. He means the rising group of Republican officeholders who came to political consciousness during President Reagan’s two terms. He rattles off their names: “young leaders” like Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Mike Lee, Scott Walker . . . and then sometimes he’ll pause, letting you wonder if he’s leaving out any of the Children’s names. Sometimes a helpful fan in the audience will volunteer it, to general appreciation from the crowd.
Among that tiny fraction of Americans who are paying attention to such things, Cruz seems to be the only person who is forgetting Ted Cruz’s name.
“Americans who worry about democracy need to keep on this guy,” warned a reporter for the New Republic back in February. And no wonder! Skim the tweets or scan the blogs or, if you’re older than one of Reagan’s Children, read the actual newspapers, and you’ll soon discover that Ted Cruz is far more than the freshman senator from Texas, only eight months in office. He is also the “scary” “McCarthyite” “Taliban” “bully” and “bomb-thrower” known for his “extremism” and his “arrogant” and “nihilistic” “disregard of facts.”
When you follow him around, however—for he is in constant motion, from Iowa to New Hampshire to every corner of Texas—this nasty fellow you’ve been reading about, the caricature Cruz, never appears. If “Ted Cruz” didn’t exist, professional Democrats and the mainstreamers in the Washington press corps would have to invent him.
And, in a way, he doesn’t, and they have: Indeed, the invention of Ted Cruz as Republican bugaboo makes an excellent case study in how partisan journalism and politics commingle these days, as jittery Washington prepares for the post-Obama era.
Already the litany of Cruz’s extremism has become an item in the progressive catechism. Most of it involves alleged violations of Senate etiquette, and it’s useful to glance over a few of them, to see how the legend grows.
The unnerved New Republic reporter mentioned above was alarmed in particular by Cruz’s questioning of soon-to-be defense secretary Chuck Hagel during Hagel’s confirmation hearings.
Cruz opposed Hagel’s nomination. The reasons seemed straightforward—Cruz disagreed with the nominee on questions of national defense and foreign policy, including Hagel’s well-attested aversion, or “antagonism,” as Cruz put it, toward Israel’s behavior in the Middle East. Cruz grilled Hagel (the verb is required when writing about congressional hearings) about his association with a ferociously anti-Israel U.S. diplomat called Chas Freeman. In 2009 Freeman resigned from the president’s National Intelligence Council after pro-Israel senators like Charles Schumer said his “statements against Israel were way over the top.”
At the hearing, Cruz asked Hagel whether he and Freeman had ever worked or junketed together, as press reports suggested. Hagel said no. Cruz moved on.
“Those old enough to remember, or who are familiar with, the history, will recognize Cruz’s line of attack as classic McCarthy tactics,” wrote TNR’s reporter. The mention of McCarthy is catnip for a good mainstreamer. “The Reincarnation of Joe McCarthy?” wondered a columnist for Forbes. The mere scent jogged the memory of a left-wing reporter for the New Yorker,who, Pavlov-style, wrote a story headlined: “Is Senator Ted Cruz Our New McCarthy?” She dug out old notes she had taken at a speech Cruz gave to a group of right-wingers a couple years before.
The New Yorker’s reporter didn’t mention it, but other people who were there say Cruz’s informal speech was boisterous and funny, tailored to an audience of like-minded ideologues. Just as a mention of Joe McCarthy thrills people on the left, so the right delights in mockery of Harvard, especially its law school—and especially if the speaker, like Cruz, is a graduate in good standing.
According to the New Yorker reporter, Cruz said this two years ago:
“There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were 12 who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”
Having been found guilty as a McCarthyite, Cruz is of course granted no license for hyperbole, even among friends (and donors!). When Cruz attended Harvard Law, in the mid-90s, it was still the intellectual locus of a dying movement called Critical Legal Studies that was explicitly inspired by Marx, whose other followers, history shows, seldom reconciled themselves to the U.S. government. Earnestly, with that mock disinterestedness that characterizes the most dutiful of the mainstreamers, the reporter got an “equal-time” comment from a spokesman for the law school. The spokesman confessed to being “puzzled by the senator’s assertions.” For the record.
There is a professor at Harvard Law famous for, among other things, being a Republican. The New Yorker sleuth tracked him down. He told her that in fact, during Cruz’s Harvard years, 4 professors had publicly confessed to Republicanism. There were over 200 faculty at the law school at the time, but none, according to the New Yorker’s investigation, called for the Communists to overthrow the government. The question in the New Yorker headline answered itself.
The essence of McCarthyism is bullying, and Cruz is frequently called a bully—not only of men like Chuck Hagel but also of women like Dianne Feinstein, the California senator who redoubled her efforts for gun control after the killings at Sandy Hook elementary school. For his part, as a private lawyer, solicitor general of Texas, and now as a senator, Cruz expresses a special, not to say obsessive, fondness for the widest possible reading of the Second Amendment.
In a widely replayed exchange, Cruz asked Feinstein to explain why she felt that the Second Amendment allowed the government to restrict the kinds of weapons citizens were allowed to buy, when she would never allow similar restrictions on the First Amendment or the Fourth.
By any objective reading, Cruz’s point was weak—no constitutional right is completely unrestricted—and his unblinking insistence on pursuing it was unsettling to watch, but his tone was never harsh or disrespectful or, for that matter, bullying. It was Feinstein’s wounded, girlish reply, which quickly caromed around the Internet, that allowed his opponents to portray Cruz as a bully.
“Senator, I’m not a sixth-grader,” she said, adding, in a non sequitur, that she had, as a mayor in the 1970s, seen people who were shot. Therefore she didn’t need a “lecture” on the Constitution.
Feinstein’s reasoning was no more careful than Cruz’s. His larger transgression, however, was threatening to filibuster the gun bill with his Senate colleagues Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. In Cruz’s telling, the threat led to a delay in the Senate vote on the bill. This bought gun control opponents enough time to turn weak-kneed Republicans against it. The result was that a major piece of legislation that had looked unstoppable was turned back over a weekend. Gun control, for now, is dead as a federal issue.
In a more respectable cause—blocking an anti-abortion measure, for example, or stopping a cut in food stamp funding—Cruz’s defeat of the gun bill would look like what it was: a daring and skillful piece of parliamentary maneuvering. Instead it rendered him guilty of an offense even greater than bullying: effectiveness.
“Well, it’s been an interesting eight months,” he said one afternoon in August, when I met up with him in his Houston office. He is an unlikely bugaboo by the look of him. He’s of middling height, round of shoulder and wide of hip. His flat black hair, held in place with a touch of pomade, is starting to thin out as he approaches his mid-forties. His voice is a reedy tenor, and his suits hang from his frame as if they really would prefer to be somewhere else. His most distinctive feature as a public figure is his style of speaking. Even for full-dress speeches, such as his national debut at the Republican National Convention last year, he forgoes the traditional podium and standing mike. Instead he clips on a lapel mike and roams the stage right to left and back again, gesturing expressively, like one of those macro-biotic pitchmen who take the airwaves during PBS pledge-drives. Occasionally he turns to face the audience square with feet planted wide, hands folded in front, at which point the pitchman looks like he’s setting a screen for the power forward on his high school basketball team.
For a “loose cannon,” he is remarkably single-minded. My visit came as Cruz was starting on a speaking tour in support of his latest cause, to encourage voters to pressure their representatives to defund Obamacare. The House of Representatives, he said, could pass a continuing resolution by September 30, funding the entire government excluding Obamacare, and send the resolution to the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid would of course refuse to consider the bill. The government would shut down from lack of money. At this point, he told me, the Republicans would have to take their case to the public, framing the question like so: “Why is Barack Obama willing to shut down the government to preserve Obamacare?” Under pressure from an outraged public, President Obama would drop his single greatest legacy, reopen the government, and embrace a free-market solution to health care reform.
That’s the plan, anyway.
He quoted Margaret Thatcher: “First you win the argument, then you win the vote.”
It’s not clear that Cruz himself believes his plan could work…. (read more)
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