Sen. Ted Cruz is a "Tea Party" Republican from Texas who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012 and is widely considered to be a potential Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential election. An aggressive proponent of conservative principles and the son of a Cuban emigrant, Cruz has been likened by at least one Republican admirer to a "Republican Barack Obama." Elected with the support of Tea Party-aligned groups like FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth—as well as major "pro-Israel" donor Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly gave some $250,000 to a group backing Cruz's candidacy—Cruz has been described as the Tea Party's "ambassador" to the GOP Senate leadership, which Cruz joined in 2012 as a vice-chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Iran, Syria, North Korea
Although Cruz is sometimes viewed as a member of the Senate's libertarian wing, he has expressed support for confrontational U.S. foreign policies that could lead the United States into military conflict. On Iran, for instance, Cruz has co-sponsored sanctions that could damage the prospects of a negotiated settlement on that country's nuclear program. In early 2014, Cruz lambasted President Obama shortly after his state of the union address for insisting that he would veto any additional sanctions on Iran while negotiations are ongoing on its fuel enrichment program. Cruz argued that the veto threat "was perhaps the most dangerous line" in the president's address. Playing the fear card, Cruz added: "If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, the risk is unacceptable that that weapon will be detonated over the skies of Tel Aviv or New York or Los Angeles. And the result could be hundreds of thousands of lives lost."
At a September 2014 event, Cruz reiterated his opposition to the Obama administration's diplomacy with Iran and suggested Iran should meet certain preconditions before the United States continue negotiations. "Right now this week, the government of Iran is sitting down with the United States government swilling chardonnay in New York City, to discuss what Prime Minister Netanyahu has rightly described as a 'historic mistake,' a very very bad deal that tragically is setting the stage for Iran to acquire nuclear weapon capability," Cruz said at the Values Voter Summit.
"We so desperately need a president who will stand up and say 'these discussions will not even begin until you release Pastor Saeed and send him home,'" Cruz added, referencing Iranian American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2012.
Previously, in a 2012 campaign statement, Cruz wrote that "Iran and North Korea present perhaps the greatest danger in the modern world, specifically nuclear weapons (and the threat of nuclear weapons) in the hands of two of the world's most murderous regimes. We must pursue all means necessary to contain that threat. International sanctions should continue to pressure the Iranian and North Korean elites to decide it's in their best interests to abandon nuclear weapons—and, ideally, overthrow their current regimes. In the meantime, Iran and North Korea must understand they face a threat of overwhelming force if we see any evidence that they might pass nuclear weapons on to terrorists or threaten us with nuclear blackmail."
Declaring that Cruz was mostly "reading from the interventionist script," Daniel Larison observed: "It isn't clear how Cruz reconciles his goal of U.S.-sponsored regime change in both countries with an effort to persuade these regimes that they should not have a nuclear deterrent. … If Cruz is going to promote the cause of limited government, it appears that this will not extend to the government's activities overseas."
On the other hand, in 2013 when the Obama administration was considering a military intervention in Syria's civil war, Cruz cautioned against using the U.S. military as "a policeman for the world," adding, "the only justifiable reason for U.S. military forces to be engaged is to protect our national security." However, Cruz said he would support a plan to "to go in, locate the [chemical] weapons, secure or destroy them, and get out," but only if the president sought the approval of Congress. Playing down the significance of international treaties banning the use of chemical weapons, Cruz added, "Abstract notions about international norms [against chemical weapons] should never displace U.S. sovereignty to act, or refuse to act, for our national security."
Cruz has also consistently supported a hardline "pro-Israel" foreign policy. Shortly after taking office in January 2013, Cruz visited Afghanistan and Israel as part of a Senate Republican delegation. Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who called Cruz "a friend of Israel"—Cruz declared, "In my view the United States should stand unshakably alongside the Nation of Israel." Since then, Cruz has cosponsored Iran sanctions in the Senate that have been heavily supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,as well as other leading members of the "Israel lobby."
In November 2014, Cruz attended a gathering of prominent Jewish American donors in New York City in an apparent attempt to court their support for a potential presidential run. Hosted by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the event brought together many longstanding "pro-Israel" hawks, including Alan Dershowitz, Christians United for Israel chairman John Hagee, Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN), and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, among others. "This administration has been the most antagonistic toward Israel in memory," Cruz proclaimed to his hosts. "Standing for Israel is a deep passion of mine. But it's also a manifestation of a basic principle that if I say I'm with you I'm really with you."
At the ZOA dinner, Cruz said: "A real president … would stand up and say on the world stage: Under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran will either stop, or we will stop them."
The gathering garnered widespread attention for comments made by Sheldon Adelson after a private two-hour meeting he had with Cruz. According to the New York Observer, Adelson thought Cruz was "too right wing" and "a longshot to win the nomination." According to the Observer, Adelson called the newspaper after publication of the story "to dispute that characterization of his reaction to Mr. Cruz. Mr. Adelson made clear to the Observer that he was the only person in the room with Mr. Cruz and thus the only one in a position to know how he felt about the Senator."
A New McCarthy?
Cruz has been heavily criticized for mischaracterizing of his opponents' views and often making outlandish accusations. In January 2014, for instance, Cruz accused the U.S. government of "targeting" the conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza, who was arrested that month for allegedly laundering money in violation of campaign finance laws. During a segment of an interview with CBS Face the Nation that was cut from the broadcast version of the interview, Cruz wildly claimed that the Obama administration was persecuting filmmakers: "Let me tell you something that is deeply concerning—the abuse of power from this Administration. We've seen multiple filmmakers prosecuted and the government's gone after them. … Just this week it was broken that Dinesh D'Souza, who did a very big movie criticizing the president, is now being prosecuted by this administration."
In February 2013, the New Yorker reported that at an Americans for Prosperity event in 2010, Cruz claimed that the faculty of Harvard Law School, which he attended from 1992 to 1995, contained at least 12 members "who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government." Cruz was apparently referring to a group of Marxist-inspired professors who advocate "Critical Legal Studies," or the notion that "law ends up reflecting the will and the interests of the powerful," according to Think Progress' Zack Beauchamp.
Cruz's assessment was dismissed by Charles Fried, a Republican law professor who taught Cruz at Harvard. Fried complained that Cruz's remark "lacks nuance" and "misunderstands what [the CLS professors] were about." Nonetheless, a spokesperson for Cruz doubled down on his assertion, calling the "substantive point" about Marxists in the faculty "absolutely correct."
Several commentators likened Cruz's charges to McCarthyism, with some suggesting that Cruz's inflammatory rhetoric could hurt the GOP's efforts to rebrand itself after its poor showing in the 2012 elections. "Cruz is now positioned as a major obstacle to the ideological modernization that the Republican Party is desperately in need of," wrote Salon's Steve Kornacki. "If his brand of conservatism is treated as the gold standard of purity by the conservative media and conservative activists, Republican leaders will have a hard time moving the party away from its Obama-era orthodoxy."
Cruz attracted similar attention for his questioning of Chuck Hagel during the future Defense Secretary's confirmation hearings in early 2013. Highlighting a 2009 appearance Hagel had made on an Al Jazeera English call-in show, Cruz attempted to link Hagel to remarks made by one of the show's callers referring to the United States as "the world's bully." Hagel, Cruz alleged, had appeared on "a foreign network broadcasting propaganda to nations that are hostile to us" and "explicitly agree[d] with the characterization of the United States as the world's bully. I would suggest is not the conduct one would expect of a secretary of defense."
Cruz also insinuated that Hagel had publicly accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza and "sickening slaughter" in Lebanon, highlighting clips that observers said were taken out of context. "Judged kindly," wrote blogger Zack Beauchamp, "Cruz's performance in each of these two hearings was aggressively inaccurate. Judged more harshly (and accurately), it was mendacious demagoguery at its finest. … [I]f you want to know why the Republican Party will remain broken for the foreseeable future, go watch the Ted Cruz game tape from this week."
Subsequently, Cruz successfully pressured the Senate Armed Services Committee to delay a vote on advancing Hagel's nomination by circulating a letter, signed by 25 Senate Republicans, demanding further information from Hagel before they would allow a vote. The Daily Beast's Ali Gharib reported that "the Republicans' requests go far beyond the scope of Hagel's personal finances and records, varying between asking him for materials that don't exist or that would violate legal agreements to release." Gharib quoted congressional procedures expert Norm Ornstein, a political scientist based at the American Enterprise Institute, who complained that "this goes even beyond the intrusive questionnaires candidates fill out during the vetting process. … That a Freshman senator would ask for that level of information says more about Ted Cruz than about anything else. I've never heard of anything like that before."
The Senate eventually voted to confirm Hagel, but not before Cruz had also insinuated that the nominee may have taken money from Saudi Arabia or North Korea, a remark for which the senator was widely ridiculed.
Background and Trajectory
Cruz was born in Canada to a Cuban father and an American mother. His father, Rafael Cruz, is an evangelical pastor who has a penchant for making outlandish public statements, once telling an audience that the United States is "a Christian nation" and should "send Barack Obama back to Chicago, back to Kenya."
A 2012 Mother Jones profile of Cruz described the senator's views as "an amalgam of far-right dogmas," including "a Paulian distaste for international law; a Huckabee-esque strain of Christian conservatism; and a [Rick] Perry-like reverence for the 10th Amendment, which he believes grants the states all powers not explicitly outlined in the Constitution while severely curtailing the federal government's authority to infringe on them. Toss in a dose of [fictional Republican sitcom character] Alex P. Keaton and a dash of Cold War nostalgia, and you've got a tea party torch carrier the establishment can embrace."
Before joining the Senate, Cruz served as solicitor general for the state of Texas, during which time he argued several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. "Of Cruz's eight oral arguments before the Supreme Court on behalf of Texas," Mother Jones reported, "five involved the death penalty, with Cruz arguing, at various points, that Texas should be allowed to execute the mentally ill, a Mexican national who hadn't been informed of his Vienna Convention right to speak to his consulate, and a man who raped his stepdaughter." In one case, Medellin vs. Texas, Cruz successfully fought an attempt by the International Court of Justice to reopen the cases of 51 convicts on the U.S. death row, which Cruz touted on his website as a defense of "U.S. sovereignty against the UN and the World Court."
Cruz has also boasted of defending the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance recited by schoolchildren and preserving a Ten Commandments display on public property.
Cruz's resumes includes serving as a clerk for former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist, a domestic policy adviser to the 2000 George W. Bush campaign, an associate deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft, and as a director of policy planning at the Federal Trade Commission.