Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) walked into a meeting with Wall Street Journal editorial writers last year and laid his cards on the table. “I don’t really care what other people write about me, but I really do care about what the Wall Street Journal writes,” Cruz said, according to a source in the room at the time.
The blandishment failed to move his audience. Cruz occupies a place of singular ignominy on the opinion pages of the paper, which treats him as an opportunistic charlatan — even by Washington, D.C., standards. And yet, the strained relationship between Cruz and what is perhaps the Right’s most widely read editorial page underscores the strengths and weaknesses of his political brand as well as the obstacles he will face if he joins the 2016 primary field.
Cruz maintains that the tension is one-sided. “I’m a big fan of the Wall Street Journal,” he tells National Review Online in a statement. “The Journal’s editorial page has long been the most important space in journalism, a thriving intellectual platform that provides space for ideas to compete.”
The feeling is not mutual. Journal editorials routinely attempt to diminish his potential as a presidential candidate, with critical asides woven into pieces on issues to which Cruz is only tangential.
When the paper’s editors applauded Republicans for scuttling a Senate bill that purported to reform the National Security Agency, they chastised Cruz while noting the slim GOP support for the bill. “Four Republicans voted in favor: Dean Heller (Nevada), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mike Lee (Utah), and Ted Cruz (Iowa caucuses by way of Texas),” the editorial board quipped before the Thanksgiving break.
That simmering contempt flared up most dramatically during the last year’s fight over the government shutdown. In one editorial, the Journal suggested that tea-party freshmen Cruz and Lee were motivated by a desire for “fund-raising lists or getting face time on cable TV.” In another, they argued that Cruz was giving Democrats a chance to avert disaster in the 2014 midterms.
“I think there was a sense that Cruz was sort of leading the Tea Party on Pickett’s charge — that it was just going to be a slaughter and there was no hope for victory and there was going to be a setback for what they were trying to achieve,” one person familiar with the thinking of the Journal’s editors says.
Their critique of Cruz at the end of the government shutdown was particularly blistering. “For weeks Mr. Cruz scolded his fellow Republicans as the ‘surrender caucus’ and closet supporters of Obamacare because they wouldn’t support his strategy to tie a vote to fund the government to defunding Obamacare,” the editors wrote. “Yet now even Mr. Cruz is admitting that there are limits to what Republicans can achieve when they control only one house of Congress. Maybe he’s learning, or maybe his earlier accusations were, well, less than sincere.”
The tension between Cruz and the Journal goes back years now, to his meeting with the editorial board when he was a Senate candidate in 2012. One person present at the meeting says Cruz “came across as a bit of a know-it-all,” and that the editors thought he wore his Ivy League pedigree too proudly.
They aren’t the only ones. “There were 44 other Republican senators when Cruz first came to Washington,” one reporter who covers Capitol Hill tells NRO. “I think it’s fair to say over 40 of them do not hold him in high esteem personally. I would say with Paul, that number is probably 15. There’s your personality gap.”
Cruz’s poor relationship with other Senate Republicans has amplified his media problems, typified by his dealings with the Wall Street Journal. He wasn’t the first tea-party senator to strike his colleagues as arrogant. Mike Lee had the same problem when he first arrived in Congress, but he shook the reputation by making a habit of reaching out to senators individually. Even when they opposed Lee’s ideas, no one was caught off guard.
“Ted Cruz has never really been able to do that or — at least as far as I know — hasn’t tried or hasn’t been able to work to do it,” one Senate aide said.
That contributes to a number of senators making comments, however privately, that tend to confirm the Journal’s critical view of Cruz. And that, in turn, has a cost, because many of these Senate offices have long-standing relationships with reporters at the Journal and elsewhere.
“The Cruz sources are brand-new,” the reporter says, explaining why Cruz’s opponents usually have more credibility in the press. “I haven’t worked with them much. And ten months into his first term, we have a government shutdown.”
A Senate aide concurs, saying that “the impression that [many Senate sources] give to the Wall Street Journal is that Ted Cruz is just running for president.”
That’s reflected in the Journal’s editorials. Take their recent commentary on the Senate’s failed NSA bill. In it, the Journal noted that Rand Paul voted against the proposal that Cruz backed, but only because he thought it didn’t do enough to reform the agency. They predicted that Paul would use the issue as a issue in the presidential election, but they conceded that he is “sincere in his libertarian anxieties.”
Cruz, the politician from the Iowa caucuses, received no such nod to his principles. How much that will hurt him when the actual Iowa caucuses come around — well, that remains to be seen.
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review Online.