Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas walks through the Capitol complex in Washington, Friday, March 22, 2013, after his attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act was defeated during a flurry of votes on amendments to the budget resolution. (AP)
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tried last week to instigate meaningful action to repeal President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law.
But that hasn't disillusioned Konni Burton, a stay-at-home mom from Colleyville, Texas who crisscrossed the state volunteering and helping to get Cruz elected to the Senate last November.
Introducing legislation to repeal Obamacare was one of Cruz’s top campaign promises, a vow that endeared him to many Tea Party-minded activists and supporters. But despite Friday’s setback, Burton and others remain extremely happy with the kind of splash the Republican senator has made in his first few months on the job.
“All of us like-minded Texans feel the very same way,” Burton said. “We have been starving for somebody that will fight for the principles that we believe in. The fact that he is jumping out there and fighting for those principles right off the bat, it just pleases us even more."
Cruz, who did not comment for this article, has wasted little time making his mark on the national stage. Within days of taking office in January, he dove right into the gun control fight, blasting politicians for trying to “exploit” the Newtown shooting to put stricter gun measures in place. The former solicitor general of Texas, he followed that up with some sharp questioning of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, for which he received Democratic and even some Republican criticism.
He exploded quickly after that, not all of it flattering: Senate colleague Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) made an allusion to Sen. Joe McCarthy, the notorious and aggressive Communist pursuer of the 1950s, and the New Yorker reported on a years-old speech Cruz once gave declaring there were Communists at Harvard Law School when he attended.
At the time, Cruz’s office responded to the New Yorker article exclusively to TheBlaze, calling it “curious” the magazine would “dredge up a three-year-old speech and call it ‘news’” but that regardless, his “substantive point was absolutely correct.” The senator has since said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News that such attacks “may be a sign that perhaps we’re doing something right."
Cruz reached new heights earlier this month when he put his prosecutorial style to Attorney General Eric Holder on the constitutionality of killing an American citizen with a drone strike on U.S. soil, before joining Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster over the issue.
Though Paul (R-Ky.) was the undisputed hero in the filibuster saga, it was a very significant moment for Cruz, a top conservative organizer said.
“I think Ted Cruz is the new standard-bearer for constitutional conservatism, with Rand Paul being a slightly more libertarian version of that,” Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a conservative grassroots training organization that backed Cruz during the campaign, told TheBlaze.
Cruz was the third member to show up on the Senate floor, behind Mike Lee (R-Utah). At one point, Cruz began reading printouts of the supportive Twitter messages that were pouring in under the label “#StandWithRand.”
“[He] brought the voices from Twitter, the voices from the outside that were paying attention, that actually magnified what was the most closed of Senate institutions, the filibuster, and made it a worldwide trend,” Kibbe said. “It's a marriage of the inside operations of this new class of upstart senators and this nationwide constituency.”
Cruz, 42, is the son of an Irish-Italian mother and a Cuban father who fled to the United States in 1957. The elder Cruz fought for Fidel Castro against Fulgencio Batista because “they didn’t know Castro was a Communist, what they knew was that Batista was a cruel and oppressive dictator,” Cruz said in 2011.
He repeated his father’s story in the keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference several weeks ago.
“[In] 1957, my father came from Cuba. He had been imprisoned, he’d been tortured in Cuba and he came to Texas with nothing, with $100 in his underwear, didn't speak a world of English. Washed dishes making 50 cents an hour,” Cruz said. Five decades later, he watched from the gallery as his son was sworn into the U.S. Senate.
Cruz graduated from Princeton University and went on to Harvard Law. He clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court, the first Hispanic ever to do so. After some time in private law practice, he was a domestic policy adviser to George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, then went on to serve in the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission.
In 2003, he was appointed solicitor general in Texas, again the first Hispanic to hold the job. As the state’s top lawyer, he authored dozens of briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court and argued in front of the bench multiple times. Among the victories he’s credited with are defending the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds and preserving the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance.
He defeated Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the runoff for the Republican nomination for Senate last summer and ultimately won the seat vacated by the Kay Bailey Hutchison. Among his notable backers were former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, for whom he gave a surprise introduction at CPAC several hours before his keynote.
Cruz is now almost universally mentioned in the same breath as Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio when discussing the future of the Senate GOP.
“He joins Rand Paul and Mike Lee and the whole Tea Party class and they're creating a new center of gravity,” Kibbe of FreedomWorks said. “And you're noticing a lot of senior members who used to think they were in charge are now following the lead of the junior members. It's very reflective of the transformation of politics across the country.”
The most prominent senator to have publicly clashed with the new guard is Arizona Sen. John McCain, who found out the hard way what happens when going up against a group with the support of the conservative grassroots movement.
McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, referred to Paul and Cruz as “wacko birds” after the filibuster and earned such a scathing backlash that the self-styled “maverick” formally apologized on national television.
Cruz nevertheless poked fun at McCain’s words, telling the CPAC audience, “I have to admit, when Rand and I first heard that, we thought that was maybe a new kind of drone.”
“But if standing for liberty and standing for the Constitution makes you a wacko bird,” Cruz declared, “then count me a proud wacko bird.”
With Cruz’s meteoric rise has come the inevitable speculation about 2016.
Kibbe noted that it wouldn’t be unheard of for Cruz to switch gears and make a bid for the White House barely four years into his Senate term.
“It's definitely a possibility and it wouldn't be unprecedented, given Obama's short service in the U.S. Senate,” Kibbe said. “The challenge for Ted Cruz would be the fact that we brought so many new potential candidates to the potential 2016 race, you just go down the list of interesting candidates, whether it's Marco Rubio, Rand Paul or maybe [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker, any of the governors. It's a very different situation than 2011, so for Ted Cruz he'd be entering a very crowded field.”
Cruz earned 4 percent of the vote in the CPAC straw poll – not a landslide by any means, but tying with political newcomer Dr. Ben Carson and coming in ahead of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin. Rand Paul won the contest, closely followed by Rubio. The CPAC straw poll is nowhere near a predictor of who will win the White House, but it’s at least a sign of where conservative activists are putting their faith.
Maggie Wright, a 67-year-old grandmother from Burleson, Texas who volunteered for the Cruz campaign and was invited to his swearing-in, told TheBlaze it’s an issue she raised directly with Cruz about a month before the November election.
“I whispered to him…‘Well, I just hope that I’ll live long enough that I get to see you as president,’” Wright recalled. “And he said, ‘Let's just cross one bridge at a time.’”
More profiles on emerging Republican leaders: