One year ago today, Ted Cruz pulled off a stunning 14-point victory in the Texas Republican primary for the U.S. Senate against the state’s better-known and better-funded lieutenant governor. He then went on to win the general election in November by 16 points. The Washington Post called his election, “the biggest upset of 2012… a true grassroots victory against very long odds.” The senator’s background includes experience as the first Hispanic clerk to the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, domestic policy advisor to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, and, by his early 30s, solicitor general of Texas. He authored more than 80 U.S. Supreme Court briefs and made nine oral arguments before the high court. Since arriving in the U.S. Capitol, Sen. Cruz has been front-and-center in every major policy debate, often partnering with his Tea Party allies Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Sen. Cruz was central to defeating the gun bill this spring, held up former-Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense, and may have fatally wounded the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration bill with his targeted criticism of the legislation’s flaws. Now, he is working to defund Obamacare, the president’s signature achievement. Find out more about his policy positions at cruz.senate.gov
Decker: You’ve been on a rocket ride since winning your primary one year ago. What has it been like?
Cruz: It has been a whirlwind. When the campaign started in January 2011, I was at 2% in the polls… and the margin of error was 3%. Nobody gave us a prayer. But, over the next year, thousands upon thousands of men and women across Texas came together and worked tirelessly, knocking on doors, making phone calls, sending e-mails, speaking out on Facebook and Twitter. And, thanks to their incredible hard work, thanks to their passion for change, we went from 2% in the polls to not just winning, but winning the primary by 14 points and winning the general by 16 points. It was an incredible testament to the grassroots, and to what Texans can do working together.
Texans got engaged in the Senate race, I believe, because they understood that the country is at a crossroads. That we cannot keep going down the road we are going, [with] of out-of-control spending, debt, taxes, and regulation. That we can’t keep bankrupting the next generations. And that it has been career politicians in both parties who got us in this mess.
It is a remarkable privilege to serve at a time such as this, at time when the stakes are so high. I’m honored to work for 26 million Texans, and every day I try to do my very best to fight for them, to defend free-market principles and champion our constitutional liberties, so that we can pull our country back from the brink. And I’m deeply optimistic that, together, we can prevail – we can return to our founding principles that have made America the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.
Decker: The 2012 election was terrible for the GOP, which now has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential contests. Is this losing streak a problem of style, substance, or both? What do conservatives need to do to start winning national elections again?
Cruz: In my view, Republicans lost in 2012 and 2008 because they tried not to lose and painted not with bold colors but pale pastels. I think we do best when we present a clear contrast with the Democrats: “First you win the argument, then you win the vote,” as Margaret Thatcher used to say.
I think the biggest reason Republicans lost last November was two words: “Forty-seven percent.” I don’t mean that to criticize Mitt Romney, who is a good man who waged an honorable campaign. But that idea – that Republicans represent the views and interests of those who have already made it, rather than the interests of those at the bottom, striving to make it – is profoundly inconsistent with what we, as conservatives, believe. And that message was deadly for a political party in a nation struggling with slow economic growth, high unemployment, and a lot of recently lost household wealth. That’s why, for a long time, I’ve advocated what I call “opportunity conservatism.” Every domestic policy that we think about or talk about should focus like a laser on opportunity – on easing the means of ascent up the economic ladder. We should look with a Rawlsian lens at how every policy impacts the most vulnerable among us, on how it impacts those struggling to achieve the American Dream.
The sad truth of the Obama economy is that those who have been hurt the most are the most vulnerable: young people, Hispanics, African-Americans, single moms. Under President Obama, Hispanic unemployment climbed to nearly 10%; African-American unemployment to nearly 14%; and youth (age 16-19) unemployment to over 25%. Notably, the rich do just fine with big government. Indeed, income inequality has increased under President Obama. From June 2009 through 2011, the average income of the top 1% grew in real terms by 11.2%; the bottom 99% saw their incomes shrink by 0.4%. When you hammer small businesses with more and more taxes and regulations, the people who are hurt – those who are laid off, or whose hours are forcibly reduced to 29 hours a week – are those just beginning to climb the economic ladder.
The American free-market system has been the greatest engine for prosperity and opportunity that the world has ever seen. And I believe Republicans should have two words tattooed on our hands: growth and opportunity. Every policy we advocate should focus directly on improving those two priorities. For economic growth, we know what works: low taxes, less regulation, sound money and free trade. Those are the four pillars of sustainable, strong economic growth. We’ve seen this formula work – in the Roaring ‘20s, the Go-Go ‘60s, the 1980s and ‘90s. Every major recession relates to getting policy wrong on one or more of these pillars.
Our era’s malaise ties into this: tax increases; tremendous new regulations from Obamacare and other agencies; a dollar that soars one year and plummets the next. These are all factors that reduce investment returns, distort decision-making, or otherwise reduce the nation’s capacity for robust growth. Restoring economic growth should be every elected official’s top priority, and it should be a bipartisan objective. Democrats and Republicans should be able to work together on tax reform and regulatory reform to restore growth, to make it easier for small businesses to get started and grow, and to maximize the opportunity everyone has to achieve the American Dream.
Decker: What is your biggest surprise since coming to the Senate?
Cruz: My biggest surprise has been the defeatism among some Republicans here. There was such a strong sense of confusion about November’s loss, and many believed we had to retrench and there was no way to stop the president and Democrats from running the table.
In my view, even in the Senate minority, Republicans can do three things. First, we can stop bad bills. And there is no shortage of those. Much of President Obama’s legislative agenda would hurt economic growth, stifle opportunity and diminish our constitutional liberties. Whether it is Obamacare, cap and trade, his anti-gun agenda to restrict the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, or the Gang of 8 immigration bill that would not fix immigration but only exacerbate the problem – conservatives have played leading roles trying to prevent their passage. And stopping bad laws is meaningful.
Second, we have moments of leverage small and large where we can make good things happen. One example was Rand Paul’s historic filibuster on the Senate floor to force the Obama administration to make a critical concession: that the Constitution prohibits the killing of an American citizen by drone within the United States, unless he presents an imminent threat. While that was a simple issue, I think it was telling that the Obama administration took so long to answer it. I was privileged to give my first speech on the Senate floor in support of Sen. Paul.
Another place where we have leverage is on the Debt Ceiling. Generally, raising the Debt Ceiling requires 60 votes, which means in the 54-46 Senate, Republicans must at least be consulted in order for it to pass. Thus, the Debt Ceiling presents a moment when we can potentially force some positive reforms that otherwise aren’t on the table. Unsurprisingly, the majority party wants to evade compromise by using a process called reconciliation that would enable it to raise the Debt Ceiling with just 51 votes. I have been proud to block this maneuver, along with Sens. Lee, Rubio and Paul, to ensure we keep leverage and achieve some positive change.
And third, we can work to win the argument – to make the case to the American people that we must return to free-market principles and the Constitution, and that doing so will restore growth and expand opportunity for every American.
Decker: Speaking of that, some critics – including many on the right – say Republicans can’t win the Obamacare defunding fight and it could cost the party seats in the next election. What’s your view?
Cruz: There is no greater threat to the economy, to jobs, and to our prosperity than Obamacare. The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, the most important check we have on an overreaching executive. President Obama just acknowledged the wheels are coming off Obamacare by delaying implementation of the employer mandate, granting a waiver for large corporations. My view is Republicans should stand up for the people and stop the rest of Obamacare before it is too late.
We can get there in September if we have 218 votes in the House or 41 votes in the Senate on the continuing resolution that funds the entire federal government. We should fund the entire government except Obamacare. This will lead to an impasse, with the president insisting that unless Obamacare is allowed to take effect, he will shut down the government. We should welcome this debate. Obamacare is unpopular, and the more people hear, the less they like it. We can win, but it will require a huge communications effort to make the case.
The question I ask my colleagues is, if not now, when? And if not this fight, what?
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, I think Republicans win when we stand for clear principles and draw strong contrasts with the other party. If we make clear that Republicans are fighting for jobs and to protect high-quality health care against Democrats wedded to an ideological dream of government-controlled healthcare, I think we will win. But the only way this happens is if a massive grassroots army makes its voice heard, and demands of our elected officials that they stand up and fight. I think “We the People” should hold every politician – including me – accountable, and that’s how we can win fights that are otherwise impossible. So I am going to spend the August recess and all of September making that case. And, if your readers agree, you should call your senators and representatives today, and sign the national petition at www.dontfundit.com.
Decker: America is at a crossroads in so many ways. What do you worry about when you can’t sleep at night?
Cruz: If we fail, we risk losing the miracle of freedom that has made America the greatest nation on earth. My wife and I have two little girls, and so I worry about what most parents do – what sort of nation are we going to leave to our kids and grandkids? I worry that we are squandering the legacy we inherited from our forefathers. Will we live in a nation that is less free, less prosperous, less creative, less dynamic – or will we once again turn back to the model of government and economics that has created the greatest prosperity the world has ever seen? And, will we uphold the moral capacity for self-governance that makes our constitutional order work?
In 1957, my Dad fled Cuba after being imprisoned and tortured. He came penniless, not speaking a word of English, and washed dishes for 50 cents an hour to pay his way through college. He graduated, got a job, started a small business, and worked towards the American Dream. When I was a kid, over and over, my Dad used to ask me, “When we lost our freedom in Cuba, we had a place to flee. If we lose our freedom here, where do we go?” That cannot happen. And it is why I’m working every day, alongside so many others, to prevent it. We must get back to our founding principles and preserve America as a Shining City on a Hill.