Ted Cruz: Obstruction as Opportunity

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On a special episode of “To The Point,” KCRW takes an in-depth look at Ted Cruz, U.S. senator from Texas and presidential candidate, from his Princeton days to his work as a lawyer on the Bush v. Gore case. Brilliant at spotting an opening, he rode a wave of Tea Party support to office and made good on his promise to obstruct business on Capitol Hill.

Ted Cruz has filibustered and even helped shut down the government to demonstrate his refusal to compromise what he calls conservative ideals. We hear about his record in Washington and how he got there from journalists in Dallas and D.C., as well as his law school mentor and an evangelical supporter.

Dana Milbank, political columnist for The Washington Post, first met Cruz while covering George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign in Austin, Texas. His first impression was that Cruz was a young man in a hurry, an “extraordinarily ambitious guy” with degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

“There was no sign of this fire-breathing conservative. I’m sure he was a conservative, but nothing like what you see today,” Milbank says. Cruz’s marriage to another Bush campaign staffer has been “a subject of some intrigue,” Milbank said. Ted and Heidi Cruz both got jobs in the Bush administration, she on the National Security Council, but left Washington for Texas when he decided to return to his home state. While Heidi Cruz became an investment manager for Goldman Sachs, Ted Cruz became solicitor general in Texas and “found his voice in this emerging Tea Party,” Milbank said. “He saw that this was a movement that was going to take off. It did start to take off and he hitched his wagon to that.”

The 45-year-old senator has not been popular with colleagues since his 2012 election because of his role orchestrating a governmental shutdown in opposition to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Cruz engaged in a filibuster on the Senate floor in which he memorably filled time by reading from Dr. Suess about green eggs and ham. But Milbank said that only cemented the hatred of other senators that began early in Cruz’s term during the confirmation of Sen. Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary. He said Cruz insinuated without grounds that Hagel was on the take from North Korea. Fellow Republican Sen. John McCain defended Hagel and called Cruz a “wacko.”

Robert George, a professor at Princeton University and mentor to Cruz, says he stood out as a top student at the elite school. Cruz was a very skilled debater who could argue either side of an issue, George says. George was not surprised to see Cruz emerge from law school to become a clerk for William Rehnquist, the chief justice of the United States.

Despite the time he has spent in Washington, Cruz campaigns as an outsider. Milbank says that is credible because Cruz has only been in the Senate a few years and is “among those who would very much like to blow up the system and essentially bring the Senate and the Congress to a halt.” Cruz has pledged that as president he’d repeal Obamacare, abolish the IRS, secure the border, bring back jobs, end “the persecution of religious liberty” and “rip to shreds the catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal.”

Wayne Slater, a longtime Texas political commentator, says Cruz was born in Canada because his parents had business interests there. His father is an immigrant from Cuba who fought with Castro but turned against the communist regime. Cruz went to school in Texas, including a conservative after-school program in which he memorized the Constitution.

Slater says Cruz won the 2012 race for the seat vacated by popular Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison by pulling off an upset in the primary and running as an outsider who was not going to Washington to make friends or make deals.

Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Christian group The Family Leader and a national co-chair of the Cruz campaign, says Cruz has been inspired and motivated by his father’s immigrant story – “how he was able to realize the American dream because he learned the language, he worked hard, and he discovered opportunity.”

While Cruz has strong support among evangelicals, some have instead voted for Donald Trump. “It just really highlights and illustrates the frustration that the American people have with their government overall, Vander Plaats says, “and evangelicals are not immune to that.”

The Cruz supporter says evangelicals don’t agree with Trump’s past or the way he disparages other people, “but we want someone to go to D.C. and not be politics as usual.”

Below is an automatically generated transcript of the conversation. It isn’t 100 percent accurate, but is pretty close. Since it is automatically generated, it may contain errors.