Ted Cruz: A polarizing figure inside and outside the GOP

Campaign 2016
by Kent Covington
Posted 9/17/14, 04:30 pm

This article is the ninth in a series called White House Wednesday, by the staff of The World and Everything in It, looking at potential 2016 candidates for president. Earlier installments profiled Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Vice President Joe Biden, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Congressman Paul Ryan, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Rand Paul,  former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Not many names in Washington are more certain to elicit a strong response than that of Ted Cruz, Republican senator from Texas. To admirers, he’s courageous, bold, and virtuous. To detractors, he’s foolhardy, arrogant, and abrasive. And that’s just when you listen to Republicans.

Cruz is the son of a working-class mother and an immigrant father who fled to America to escape communist persecution in Cuba. From his election to the Senate in 2012, it was clear to many observers that Cruz, with his unmistakable fighting spirit, was going to be a force within the GOP. Cruz’s penchant for poking at what he sees as a class of stale, spineless, old-guard Republicans has earned the senator a devout following among tea partiers who describe the GOP establishment exactly the same way. But the establishment hasn’t been silent.

The friction between Cruz and many other GOP lawmakers reached a boiling point in September 2013 when Cruz delivered a 21-hour, filibuster-like marathon speech on the Senate floor in opposition to Obamacare.

At one point, Cruz compared Republicans who opposed the effort to defund Obamacare to Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people to accept the Nazis. That didn’t sit well with many Republicans who agreed with Cruz in principle, but not on tactics or strategy. 

Beginning with Cruz’s effort to defund the president’s healthcare law, many Republicans and Democrats alike believe he was the catalyst for last year’s partial government shutdown, which proved to be politically damaging to Republicans. Cruz later said the GOP lost the fight because Senate Republicans didn’t stand with House Republicans.

Cruz was saying the GOP shouldn’t have folded, but rather pushed all of its chips to the center of the table and called the administration’s bluff. But the Democrats legitimately had the better political hand all along. The electorate is predisposed to blame gridlock more on the opposition party than on the party that holds the White House. Beyond that, media reporting on the shutdown was overwhelmingly negative toward Republicans. 

The shutdown damaged Cruz’s chances at a presidential nomination since he it made him a polarizing figure, even within his own party. But if he does run, he has a passionate following. He’s charismatic, a fantastic communicator, and no one will question his conservative credentials.

Last week, Cruz was delivering the keynote address at a conference for Middle-Eastern Christians in Washington. Things started to go south when he said, “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.” He started hearing boos from the crowd at that point and responded by saying some in the crowd were consumed with hate. He walked off the stages after saying, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”

Plenty of people said, good for him. He stood by his convictions and stood up for Israel. But others said Cruz’s actions were petulant, especially since Middle-Eastern Christians are the most persecuted religious group on the planet. But that’s Ted Cruz. There’s never any question where he stands on an issue. It’s why some people find him off-putting, and it’s the same reason why others love him.

Listen to more analysis of Ted Cruz’s White House chances on The World and Everything in It: