As I noted in this post, I think that the race to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison comes down to three players: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Ted Cruz, and Tom Leppert. Since I had already satisfied my curiosity about Mr. Leppert, I turned back to Mr. Cruz because while I know a lot about his speechifying and judicial record, I really didn't know much about him if you know what I mean. Fortunately, he gave me some time to sit down and find out more about him and perhaps where he is coming from when he claims to be a "proven conservative".
First off, if you've been to a Ted Cruz speech, you know about his father. Born in Cuba, he fought alongside of Fidel Castro against Fulgencio Batista, was captured and tortured by Batista's forces, escaped to the U.S. at the age of 18 with $100 sewn into his underwear, learned English while working as a dishwasher to put himself through U.T., graduated with a math degree, went to work for I.B.M. in computer programming, and later formed a data processing company with his wife. But what about that wife?
Well, she is from Delaware but was living in the Braeswood area of Houston when it came time to go to college. The closest university was Rice and she could use the bus service to travel between her home, school, and her part-time job at Foley's downtown. She also graduated with a degree in mathematics, becoming the first member of her family to obtain a college degree. Her first job was also in computer programming but with Shell Oil, which spawned the idea for seismic data processing.
Their careers took them to Calgary, Canada during the oil rush of the 60's. It was in Canada that Rafael Edward Cruz was born in December of 1970. The family moved back to the U.S. when Ted was 4, his only memories of his early childhood being that "it was cold". Ted grew up in the Katy area in an upper middle class environment but one thing his parents insisted on was that his schooling be from a faith-based perspective. He attended Faith West Academy in Katy for a couple of years, then transferred and graduated from Second Baptist High in Houston.
Ted told me that while these schools were important in his education, the foundation of his conservative beliefs comes from time spent with the Free Enterprise Institute and specifically, a program called the Constitutional Corroborators. I thought I had found a picture of him at one of these events (look at that guy on the back row!) but Ted's campaign said it was not him. Darn it! But it does give you an idea of what they were doing. They would send a group of five teens to various Rotary Clubs, Chamber of Commerce meetings, business groups, etc., around Texas and the teens would each write from memory a mnemonic (shortened) version of the Constitution and then they would each give a talk about a specific aspect of it or a speech on the writings of the likes of Hayek or von Mises. By the time he graduated from high school, Ted estimates that he had spoken in front of 80 or more groups doing this. High preparation indeed for a future attorney.
After high school, Ted attended Princeton, where he became a champion debater, winning several national and international events. After Princeton, where else? Harvard Law, graduating Magna Cum Laude and was editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. Showing a bit of foresight for a possible political career, he was also the founding editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review.
So what does a guy with these credentials do when he graduates? Wall St. firm? D.C. power firm? No, of course not. Well, sort of. You become a law clerk for a powerful judge. First up, in 1995, was Judge J. Michael Luttig, whom many thought would be nominated to the Supreme Court at some point. After a year with Judge Luttig, he moved over to the Supreme Court, clerking for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. After time with "the Chief", Ted spent a couple of years in private practice in D.C., and then ditched the big bucks to work on the Bush/Cheney campaign in June 1999.
Of course, ditching the big bucks doesn't mean that it was for nothing. In fact, it landed him his biggest prize, his wife! That's right; he met his wife Heidi in Austin, Texas while working to elect a "proven conservative". He served as the Domestic Policy Advisor to the campaign and then after the election was given a job as Director, Office of Policy Planning, in the Federal Trade Commission, where he served from 2001-2003. In this role, he was responsible for trying to undo the legacy of the Clinton era, testifying in front of various state legislatures in hopes of eliminating barriers to E-Commerce and the collectivist mindset.
In 2003, Ted was tapped by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to be his Solicitor General, taking charge of all of Texas' appeal work. He served under A.G. Abbott for 5 and one half years, leaving in May of 2008 to become a Partner in Morgan Lewis, following, in their words, "a meteoric rise in law and government". He has remained active in the firm, even while campaigning the last two years, including briefing the Supreme Court on the recently decided Connick vs. Thompson, the case from Louisiana in which a man exonerated after being in prison 18 years, and on death row 14 years, was awarded $14 million by a jury. In this case, Mr. Cruz was on the losing side, the jury's award being overturned by the conservative side of the court, led by Justice Clarence Thomas. Obviously, these men are all more learned that I but reading through Mr. Cruz's brief, Justice Thomas' opinion, and many of the reactions to the case makes me wonder if maybe we've gone too far in appointing justices that approve of such broad protection of the state. Mr. Cruz may have lost this case in court but won me over to his side on the matter. What is our legal system for if not to provide justice to the abused?
I hope by now, if you've bothered to read this far, that you understand the picture that I'm painting: Ted Cruz is an enormously qualified attorney, has a perfect resume for an upcoming politician, his Hispanic heritage and youth are desperately needed in the Republican party, and is an all around nice guy. All of which, and more, led George Will to declare him to be "a candidate as good as it gets".
So why bother to have an election? Right? That is the feeling I get from many Cruz supporters. They like him so much that they've decided their guy is untouchable, beyond reproach, and there is no need to bother with the usual vetting process that politicians go through. And if Ted Cruz were running for Texas Attorney General, I might be tempted to get caught up in that mindset – he is that impressive.
Thing is, there are no free rides in politics. Even in Texas, a state that quite possibly has the worst political media contingent in the country. Sooner or later, other candidates are going to start contrasting their campaigns with Ted's just as Ted is already doing to theirs. Such as saying in a supporter’s conference call that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is not a conservative, which is then tweeted to the universe. Seriously, Dewhurst isn’t conservative? Well, no, not in the Cruz world, he isn’t.
Cruz is adamant that neither Dewhurst nor Leppert can legitimately claim the label of conservative. I asked him what this meant and he, being the superior debater at the table (and intellect for that matter) turned the question around – what is my definition of conservative? I responded that I lean toward the fiscal side of things when discussing conservatives in political terms, adding that freedom and liberty are paramount. Hey, that’s just who I am. Probably too simplistic for him but he asked, right? He responded that he is a “movement conservative”, someone who puts principles first and then works to move the country towards those principles.
I’d heard the term “movement conservative” before but mostly from those working to move the country socially towards principles that they have determined are “right”. I asked him how do we determine who is conservative if the bar is steadily moving? In other words, during that push towards the principles that “movement conservatives” have deemed desirable, the farther you go, the farther people expect you to go, is there a line that we can draw to say, okay, that is far enough? I think that his answer was no: you keep traveling towards the principle because you’re never truly going to reach it, which is probably true. Somewhere in his answer lies the draw of the “tea parties” – the people involved understand, on a fundamental level, that something has gone awry, even if they cannot themselves articulate it, thus their cry for a reversal, and sometimes not understanding that they have “won” a particular victory, if only a step along a continuum.
The only formal definition I’ve found for “movement conservative” comes from Conservapedia, a website founded by Andy Schlafly, son of well-known social conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly.
A movement conservative is one who supports all or nearly all conservative principles with a coherent philosophy, and who advances broad conservative goals both individually and through teamwork. This is contrasted with cafeteria, or single-issue, or self-serving approaches. Movement conservatives, unlike cafeteria conservatives, understand that since conservative philosophy is a coherent whole, it is untenable to discard part of it without discarding all of it.
Simply put, a movement conservative is a conservative who seeks to help others, and the nation, by explaining, advocating and defending the logical and beneficial conservative approach. A movement conservative is not primarily seeking political gain for him or herself, but advocates the insights and values of conservatism for the benefit of others.
You can find the list of principles they espouse by clicking on the word conservative above. This conversation was very helpful for me in trying to get a feel for where Ted is coming from and why, especially the part about “working to move the country that direction”, because that portion of the “movement conservative” definition allows him to draw the line and say that Dewhurst and Leppert are not conservatives – in his mind, and likely in the minds of most, they haven’t been on the front lines pushing the agenda as outlined on Conservapedia. And I think that is a fair observation, in that context.
Sorry, no RINO hunters are attacking the Cruz campaign. If you do hear the term, it will most likely be coming from a Cruz supporter hurling it towards an opponent.
But if Ted can contrast his views with the other campaigns, shouldn’t they be able to do the same? And if so, where are the possible weaknesses they could exploit? Well, there is his record, for starters. Or lack thereof. Which I said previously and for which, Ted was very clear to me that I was wrong. Really? I was wrong to say that he had no record? Absolutely, says Ted – he has a record of defending conservative principles that cannot be matched. Go to his website and what do you see? A page called “Proven Record”, a page which Ted claims no other candidate does or can have because they are the ones with no record. I was familiar with this line of reasoning because it is a part of his stump speech but I still protested. “You’ve never held office, Ted.” I explained. “You have never had to vote on anything with one supporter twisting you this way and another twisting you that way.” Oh, he says, you mean a voting record. That isn’t the same as not having a record, he says. Honestly, I didn’t think that I had to differentiate between a voting record and a record of stuff you’ve done in your life when talking about a record, but okay, yeah, a voting record. He seemed really offended that I didn’t buy into the “Proven Record” as the equivalent of Dewhurst’s or Leppert’s political record. As a voter, I remain unconvinced that they are the same – you might well disagree with me and that is your prerogative but if I were running against him, I would certainly point that out.
I mean, is it “fair” to attack someone for voting a certain way when you’ve never stood in the box and had to make that choice? I get where Ted is coming from and his legal record and accomplishments are outstanding, to say the least. But I can’t get to the point of comparing them to the guy that literally has phones in both ears, listening to credible supporters telling him to vote different ways. I think that if Ted is elected, he’ll come to understand that someday.
Now, that is my take on it but I have to tell you that his argument DID change my wife’s view of the no-record issue, so that is something the campaign can massage and use if necessary. The argument that changed her view of his being just another lawyer with no record was his contention that he has been out there fighting for change (back to that movement conservative term), leading the way for others to follow, that Washington needs fighters and leaders, not just politicians that sway with the wind. He picked the cases that he thought would help move the country a certain way, got permission from AG Abbott to file them, then went out and won them. For the good of America. Worked like a charm on her.
That is the issue that I would use the most (even if my wife wouldn’t) but there are a few others. Before his move to running for a congressional seat (and again, sheesh), Michael Williams’ supporters were hitting Ted on several fronts – his wife’s involvement with the Council on Foreign Relations in writing the famous “Building a North American Community" report, his being born in Canada, his being an “elitist” and part of the Establishment (Canada, Princeton, Harvard, Bush administration), his calling for a constitutional convention – you know, stuff that most “tea party” types would recoil against. None of them were particularly effective and if Williams couldn’t pull them off it is hard to see Dewhurst or Leppert doing it but they are there to try.
About that constitutional convention claim: I asked Ted about that and he told me he is not in favor of having one. I asked him if he recalled being quoted in the Washington Post about it and he did not. After our meeting, I sent the WaPo link to his campaign and also contacted the author of the piece, Robert Barnes. Both responded and here are their replies:
From the Cruz campaign:
Ted’s focus has always been on the imperative need to pass a strong Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA). In this, he agrees fully with Sen. Mike Lee, who just published a book “The Freedom Agenda: Why a Balanced Budget Amendment is Necessary to Restore Constitutional Government.” Ted had previously discussed that there are two ways to propose a BBA: from Congress or from a constitutional convention called by the States. In the panel discussion being described in the Washington Post, Ted was saying (1) that we are in a unique moment of time to get a BBA – the people are rising up demanding that government power and spending be seriously limited, and (2) that a constitutional convention was one avenue whereby that could happen.
A great many conservatives have expressed serious doubts about what might happen at a constitutional convention that it might spiral out of control. Ted has certainly listened to those concerns, and his focus as a U.S. Senator will be on CONGRESS passing a BBA.
Ted’s view is that he does NOT support a constitutional convention. What he does support is a strong Balanced Budget Amendment. And, as a U.S. Senator, he will fight tirelessly to get one passed and sent to the States for ratification. Right now, Harry Reid’s Democratic Senate is ignoring the overwhelming will of the People to get a strong BBA. If Congress continues to ignore the will of the People, a constitutional convention is a real possibility. That’s why—for those who quite reasonably want to avoid a constitutional convention—the best way to do so is to support Ted Cruz for Senate, because he will move heaven and earth to get Congress to actually pass the amendment and send it to the States.
From Mr. Barnes, after reviewing the Cruz campaign’s response:
Ok. It sounds as if we are mostly in agreement.
My notes certainly indicate he wants a balanced budget amendment, but don't indicate his preference for congressional action or a constitutional convention. He talked a lot about the 10th Amendment. But he did say he thought it wrong to be so worried about a runaway constitutional convention:
cruz–"any convention could propose a whole bunch of wacky amendments and they would have no prayer of being ratified. . . . people inside the beltway get very afraid when people get energized and start expressing their views."
In addition, Mr. Barnes provided a link to the original discussion; you can view the entire two hour presentation by clicking here. I think it is safe to say that we can put this one to bed – there is no issue for his opponents to attack. A huge thank you to both the Cruz campaign and to Mr. Barnes for helping me on that one.
Another one of the attacks that is not going to work is the traditional take on “Cruz is getting most of his money and endorsements from out of state”. First because, while he is raising a lot of money out of state, his in-state contributions are keeping up and even outpacing that. Second because he is embracing the national focus. As he told me, all of the recent high profile Senate races have been national – Rubio, Lee, Brown, Toomey, Angle, and O’Donnell – and he wants Texas to be a part of that wave. I think he’s right, even if I wish he were wrong. Stupid 17th Amendment. ;-(
Be careful – pride goeth before the fall
If there is one thing that I’d watch the campaign for it is arrogance.
Mockers are proud and haughty; they act with boundless arrogance. Proverbs 21:24
I’m not talking about Ted necessarily but the campaign and its supporters. Ted has had a pretty good run of it and they are proud of that and rightly so. But having watched their behavior over the course of a long period of time, they are getting a reputation for being arrogant. And arrogance is a trap that can bring even the best candidate down.
Let’s take straw polls for instance. There have been a number of straw polls held in this race, two by Republican groups, and I think four or five after Senate forums such as this one. Ted won them all. It got to the point that his team would tweet stuff like “another straw poll, another Cruz win”. Hey, if you got it, flaunt it, right?
No, be careful. Walk humbly. You know why? Because if you have decided that you are the tea party candidate, there is no other, you are the man, you will (yawn) win every straw poll and every tea party vote because those are your people, what happens when you don’t?
And he didn’t. That is an embarrassing loss given the context of his campaign and should serve as a wakeup call. Nothing in politics is a given. Nothing.
This has gotten incredibly long but wait! There’s more! Okay, there is, but I’ll save that for another day. What’s the takeaway?
Well, it is the same as it always has been for me when it comes to Ted Cruz. In March 2009 on the now defunct Lone Star Times in a post titled “Ted Cruz – The Next Big Conservative Star from Texas?” I quoted Ted and then responded to that quote:
“As Attorney General, I will stand up for rule of law, and will work to combat activist judges who would substitute their policy preferences for those of democratically elected legislatures.
We need to inspire young people and old people and all people that America has always been and must continue to be shining city on a hill, a land of hope and opportunity built upon rule of law.”
Isn't that the type of "change" we need? Aren't we tired of the inbreeding that has happened in our party? Look, as I mentioned above, I don't know Ted Cruz and perhaps someone better will come along and be the next big conservative star from Texas. But for now, it is simply refreshing to see someone new in the game, someone offering a bright future and vision rather than moaning and groaning about what the other side is doing.
And I maintain that is still the type of change we need. You’ll have to decide on a candidate in this race that suits you. I think that learning where, when, and how to make a deal when you do not control the situation is a skill learned through experience and is valuable in our political system and shouldn’t be dismissed offhand. I happen to disagree with Ted and do think that both David Dewhurst and Tom Leppert are conservative Republicans. But I now understand better where he is coming from when he says that they are not.
Many, many thanks to Ted for giving this voter from Shoreacres by way of Pasadena time out of his busy schedule so that I might better understand him and his campaign.