Houston — “This is oil country, baby!”
It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon in Beaumont, Texas, an hour and change east of Houston, near the Gulf Coast, and about 40 people are gathered in a square surrounded by the old-timey buildings that make up the Spindletop Gladys City Boomtown Museum. I’m chatting with Kaye Goolsby, the grassroots chair for Senator Ted Cruz’s reelection campaign. The crowd here in oil country — “ohl,” like bowl — is twice what the organizers expected.
The senator is on his way, the topic is compelling, and the setting is almost too perfect: He’ll mount a podium in front of a tall model oil derrick, part of the museum’s exhibits on Texas petroliferous past, to pitch the soon-to-be-filed American Energy Renaissance Act.
At last week’s Heritage Action policy summit, Cruz gave a speech on the bill to a Capitol Hill audience of national journalists and (for lack of a better term) think-tanky types.
The two pitches for his new bill have bookended a messy week. Two days after talking up the legislation at the Heritage Foundation, he attracted a fresh outpouring of vitriol from many Beltway Republicans when he refused to allow a debt-ceiling hike without a politically messy cloture vote.
The night after the vote, he headed back to Texas, where his testy relationship with Senate Republicans has been the object of some humor.
Here’s the story he told the five hundred or so attendees at the Bexar County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner, the night before his Beaumont appearance, hosted in a corporate headquarters over plates of red meat and scalloped potatoes:
“I’m reminded of last fall,” Cruz starts, “when Heidi brought our two girls, Caroline and Catherine, to Washington. Caroline is 5 and Catherine’s 3. Catherine is the sweetest child; she is a ball of love. Caroline is a rascal. It’s how God made her from the moment she was born. I’ll tell you, I was driving the family down to Mount Vernon to see George Washington’s home, had a little bit of down time on Sunday afternoon. And we’re driving along, and Caroline asks her little sister, she says, ‘Catherine, what do you want to be when you grow up?’ Catherine says, ‘I want to work in the U.S. Senate. I want to work with Daddy.’ And Caroline says, ‘Oh, that’s boring! We’re going to be rock stars!’” There’s chuckling in the crowd.
“And then she tossed in the zinger,” Cruz continues. “She said, ‘Besides, Daddy’ll be dead by then!’”
“That’s a real conversation, I am not making this up! I was driving the truck, I turned around, I’m like, ‘Hello, I’m right in front of you!’ But I kind of wondered if maybe Caroline had been speaking with Republican leadership, and maybe she knew something I didn’t know.”
If that’s the case, Caroline would be the only Cruz keeping an open line of communication with leadership. The senator tells me he hasn’t talked with anyone in Senate Republican leadership since the debt-ceiling vote.
An energy-policy proposal gives Cruz a chance to expand his brand and shed some of the ire he’s attracted. Now he’s a guy with a politically marketable, Heritage-approved plan that aims to boost the economy, reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and (and he loves talking about this part) help the environment a bit, to boot.
Oil suits Cruz for at least two other reasons: First, obviously, is the fact that Texas has a lot of the stuff. And second, energy gives the freshman senator a chance to push a positive agenda that offers plenty of chances to take digs at the president.
How’s Cruz pitching his plan? First, he uses Dad jokes. It’s been a really cold winter in D.C. (by D.C. standards, at least), so the senator kicked off the Bexar and Heritage Action talks with these two weather jokes: “Al Gore told us this wouldn’t happen!” and “It was so cold I actually saw a Democrat with his hands in his own pockets!”