In May 2008, National Review profiled a rising star in Texas politics, Ted Cruz. The article declared, “At only 38, Cruz has accrued a list of legal honors and accomplishments that would be impressive for a man twice his age. He recently spent five and a half years as solicitor general of Texas; both the youngest and longest-serving solicitor general in state history, he won the Best Brief Award from the National Association of Attorneys General for five consecutive years.” That year, Cruz briefly pursued the position of state attorney general but ended his bid when the incumbent decided to seek reelection. But Cruz’s ambitions for elected office did not lay dormant for long. Earlier this year, he announced a bid for another statewide office: Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat, from which she is retiring in 2012.
Cruz recently spoke with NRO’s Jim Geraghty about his career plans and the country’s future.
NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: The first, most basic question: Why are you running for Senate?
CRUZ: I’m running for Senate because in my judgment, Barack Obama is the most radical president this nation has ever seen and America is at a crossroads. We are facing what I consider to be the epic battle of our generation — a battle of whether this nation remains a free-market nation. The size, power, and spending of the federal government has increased faster in the past two years than ever before. And we desperately need leadership to stand up and defend liberty, free-market principles, and the U.S. Constitution.
NRO: You’ll be facing a crowded primary: a lieutenant governor, one current and one former railroad commissioner, a former secretary of state of Texas, and others. How do you stand out in a crowded primary, where it’s likely all of the candidates will be claiming to be “the conservative choice”?
CRUZ: There are lots of good people in this race. They’re all friends of mine, whom I like and respect.
There are two themes for our campaign. First, new leadership. I think voters in Texas and across the country are tired of the same establishment incumbents. And 2010 showed they were looking for new leaders who have the courage of their convictions and are strong, principled conservatives who are willing to fight to defend limited government.
Second, we’re running based on a proven conservative record. For the past decade, over and over again, I have been standing up for conservative principles and winning victories on the national level. Whether it was defending the Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments, or the Second Amendment before the U.S. Supreme Court — all of which were major victories — Texas won while I was solicitor general.
NRO: Some of your rivals will likely self-finance. How concerned is your campaign about the money race?
CRUZ: It is certainly true that there are candidates in this race who will have the resources to write a big check. But if 2010 showed anything, it showed that money and the establishment aren’t enough to win in a Republican primary. Right now, Republican primary voters and Tea Party activists throughout the country are looking for principled conservatives who have real records. I would suggest that if you compare my record with the other candidates in this race, my proven record is much, much stronger than theirs.
NRO: The attention on Marco Rubio in his Senate bid last year in Florida suggests that a Hispanic Republican running for the U.S. Senate is going to get a lot of attention and scrutiny at the national level. Are you prepared for that?
CRUZ: It has been interesting in just these first few weeks of the campaign that quite a few commentators have drawn the analogy to the Florida Senate race between Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio. What is so tremendously encouraging about that analogy is that Rubio demonstrated that while Crist was the incumbent governor with all of the establishment behind him, that wasn’t enough. Rubio campaigned on a strong, principled conservative platform, and he campaigned relentlessly in defense of American exceptionalism. At the end of the day, Florida primary voters were hungry for real leadership in defense of liberty.
There is no doubt that my family background and personal story influence my beliefs and values. My dad fled oppression in Cuba, coming to the United States in 1957 not speaking a word of English. He was a teenager with $100 sewn into his underwear. One of the great blessings I have enjoyed is being the child of an immigrant who fled oppression, because it makes you realize just how precious and how fragile liberty is. When I was a child, my father used to say to me, over and over again, “When I faced oppression in Cuba, I had a place to flee to. If we lose our freedom here, where do we go?” Nothing better captures why I’m running for U.S. Senate than that question.
NRO: I constantly hear that this is the year that Texas Democrats come back. What has hurt Texas Democrats in past cycles? Are there any signs they’re learning from their mistakes? And are Texas Republicans learning the right lessons from recent electoral success?
CRUZ: 2012 is not the year Democrats are going to win in Texas. The reason is simple: The voters of Texas are too conservative and too grounded in individual liberty and personal responsibility to find the radical Obama agenda appealing.
The biggest challenge every Texas Democrat has is President Obama at the top of the ticket. His economic agenda is so out of step with Texans that I do not believe that any Democrat will win statewide in Texas in 2012; indeed, no Democrat has won statewide in, I believe, more than a decade.
That being said, in my judgment, this race still matters a great deal. Because even though it is very likely that whoever the Republican nominee is, he or she will win the general, it’s not enough to get just another Republican senator in Washington. We had a lot of Republican senators and members of Congress in Washington before 2006 and 2008, and one of the big reasons Obama got elected is that Republicans failed to lead. A lot of Republicans went along with the never-ending growth in big government and lost sight of principles of limited government and individual liberty and personal responsibility.
To my mind, what this primary is about in Texas is helping to provide real leadership to stand up and stop the Obama agenda. One thing that I have told Tea Party activists around the state is that if I simply go to Washington and serve in the U.S. Senate and vote correctly, 100 percent all the time, I will consider myself an abject failure. I’ve asked them to hold me accountable — if that’s all I do, hold me accountable for not doing my job. The reason I’m running is not merely to vote right. What we have a desperate need for is real leadership to stand up and defend free-market principles. And if I am not helping lead the fight, standing there with arrows in my torso, I will not be doing my job.
For too long, there have been a few lonely leaders in Washington, such as Jim DeMint in the Senate and Paul Ryan in the House. 2010 provided them with much-needed reinforcement — some very strong leaders such as Mike Lee and Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. But what this election is all about is helping provide leadership to defend free-market principles and stop the Obama agenda.
NRO: You’ve argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. What are your thoughts on the suit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare? How likely is it to succeed?
CRUZ: I think the lawsuits against Obamacare are terrific. It speaks volumes that 26 states, a majority of the states in the union, have filed suit against Obamacare and that two different federal courts have ruled Obamacare unconstitutional. Those cases are being appealed. They will, in all likelihood, end up before the Supreme Court within the next couple of years.
In my judgment, it is more likely than not that a majority of the Supreme Court will conclude that the individual mandate of Obamacare is unconstitutional — that it exceeds the authority of the federal government under the Commerce Clause.
That being said, I think it is important to realize that the ultimate solution to Obamacare is not going to be legal [challenges]; the ultimate solution to Obamacare has to be political. In my opinion, we should repeal every syllable of every word of Obamacare and that has to be a democratic and political outcome. It is a mistake to count on the courts to solve the problem entirely.
NRO: Obama submitted his budget, negotiations continue, and most conservatives think Democrats are simply in denial about the kinds of cuts that are needed. How should Republicans respond?
CRUZ: I think we’re at a moment in history that presents a unique opportunity. The American people, in my opinion, are ready for serious leadership on economic and fiscal issues. They are ready for serious leadership to cut the size of the federal government in significant scope. They are willing to shrink the power of the federal government, which is every bit as dangerous as the size. And to bring a seriousness of purpose to reining in the out-of-control deficits and debt that threaten to cripple our children and grandchildren.
Historically, politicians have been terrified to cut spending, because the way they win reelection is by bringing home the goodies — bringing home the bacon to their home districts and home states. In my opinion, Obama has been so radical that it has sparked what I call the second great conservative awakening. The first was the Reagan Revolution in 1980. The second is going on right now. Millions of Americans are realizing that if we don’t seriously constrain the size and spending of the federal government, we will be on a road that will unalterably lead us to European-style socialism. And that is fundamentally inconsistent with American values of liberty and opportunity.
Any serious leadership on fiscal issues has to address entitlements. They’re a substantial majority of the federal budget, and I think there is an opportunity now for serious leadership that hasn’t been present for many, many years.
NRO: How would you address entitlements?
CRUZ: The next two years are going to be challenging with the Senate still in the hands of the Democrats, with Harry Reid as the majority leader. As you noted in your previous question, a great many Democrats have not brought any seriousness to limiting the size of the federal government.
In the past two years, federal spending has increased from just over 20 percent of GDP to 25 percent. That is a staggering, historic increase and one that needs immediate correction. I think there are leaders in the House that are going to be bold about entitlement reform. It is going to be very challenging to get anything through the Democratic Senate, and even more challenging to avoid a veto from this president.
For that reason, I think of the 2010 elections as part of a two-step process. It was the first part, but the second part has to happen in 2012. With control of the House, Republicans can at least stop the active mischief that the Obama administration was pushing through legislatively. But it is going to take, number one, retaking the Senate with a significant majority; number two, serious leadership from Republicans in the House and Senate on economic and fiscal issues; and number three, a Republican president.
NRO: Do any particular entitlement-reform proposals strike you as worthy, such as the Ryan roadmap?
CRUZ: I think all of them have to be seriously examined and the programs must be brought under control. With respect to Social Security, I think any serious proposal will protect existing benefits for retirees on Social Security. For those people who are in younger generations, any serious reform should look at, one, gradually raising the retirement age, and two, limiting the rate of growth so that it mirrors inflation instead of exceeding inflation.
The third thing that serious reform of Social Security would entail is incorporating personal accounts. Personal accounts are transformative public policy. They allow workers, even workers with very limited incomes, to acquire assets — very substantial assets — that when they die, they can pass on to their kids. As former Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, “Personal accounts provide an estate not just for every millionaire, but for every bellhop at the doors.” It is a policy proposal that expands opportunity for those working to climb the economic ladder. Personal accounts provide an avenue to build assets that can be transformative and provide the means for their children and grandchildren to buy a home, start a business, get an education, climb the economic ladder, and achieve the American dream.
NRO: More than a few folks have noticed that Gov. Rick Perry’s speeches are dealing with national themes. You’ve worked under him. Is there something going on there? Do you see anything to indicate national ambitions on his part, or is the press just seeing what they want to see?
CRUZ: I honestly don’t know. I think Governor Perry is a strong conservative, and I am a big admirer of his. He is a relentless fighter. Under his leadership, Texas has remained a state of low taxes, low regulation, and an environment that encourages entrepreneurship to flourish. We’ve seen an explosion of jobs in the state of Texas, which in many ways stands in stark contrast to the policies employed in other states. High taxes, high regulations, and hostility to business have caused jobs to flee those states.
In many respects, what President Obama has been doing is bringing the failed policies of states such as California to the national stage. Right now, business owners in California or Illinois or New York can and are fleeing those states and are going to low-tax, business-friendly states like Texas and Florida. If the government imposes those policies on everyone, it makes it impossible for people to flee within this country. It’s one of the most dangerous aspects of forcing those one-size-fits-all policies on the American people from Washington, D.C.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.