Politics & Policy

A Friend in the Arena, Part II

Cruz on Capitol Hill, May 2015. (Alex Wong/Getty)
Watching Ted Cruz, up close

Editor’s Note: In the new issue of National Review, we have a piece by Jay Nordlinger, on what it’s like to have a friend running for president. The friend in question is Ted Cruz. Mr. Nordlinger is expanding that piece this week in Impromptus. For Part I of the series, go here.

Where was I? I think Ted and Heidi were just married.

Anyway, Ted worked at the Justice Department and at the Federal Trade Commission. Then he was solicitor general of Texas (under the attorney general, Greg Abbott, who would become governor). Frankly, I didn’t know that states had solicitors general until Ted became one.

Over the years, he had highs and lows; I had highs and lows. He was at least as good a friend in foul weather as in fair. We talked and talked, usually late at night (though not at Earl Campbell’s, our BBQ joint in Austin).

We dreamed and schemed. Most of the scheming revolved around him. He would run for office, no doubt. It was a question of when and what (what office).

I wanted to run for office, but how could I? I had nowhere to run, in this sense: In my life, I had lived in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cambridge, Mass.; Georgetown, D.C.; and the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

I’m surprised I never had addresses in Madison and Berkeley.

The Republic is safe from me, I like to say. But Ted: He could run, for sure. And I would have the satisfaction of watching him do it. He would be in the arena, and I would be on the sidelines, surely, scribbling.

(What do you think I’m doing now?)

‐In 2009, he prepared to run for attorney general. I wrote about him for the first time — in a piece I have linked to already: here. “A Great Reaganite Hope,” I called it.

I spent a couple of paragraphs commenting on the similarities, and dissimilarities, between Ted and the new president. Here is how I concluded those paragraphs: “Obama certainly rose quickly in American politics, very quickly (alas). Can Ted Cruz do the same? I don’t know, but it would be good for the country.”

‐As it happened, the attorney-general race did not come off — because the attorney-general position did not come open. Why? Well, in a nutshell, Kay Bailey Hutchison was supposed to resign from the Senate. Her doing so would have reshuffled the political deck in Texas. But she didn’t. So …

‐Ted went into private practice. I hope he made a lot of money. Because his desire was to go back on a government payroll.

‐In January 2011, he announced for the U.S. Senate. Whuh? The U.S. Senate? But he had never been elected to any political office. The U.S. Senate from Texas, the second-most-populous state in the country? Are you kidding?


By coincidence, we were in the same town that night — Palo Alto, Calif. We talked late, late into the night.

Earlier in the day, I had written a post, “My Candidate in Texas.” I said, “I’ve been waiting for Ted to run for office for a long time. Conservatives all across America will come to embrace him, I think — embrace him as a champion. Why not start early? There will be plenty of bandwagoneers later.”

I further said, “I hope he goes to the Senate, and I hope he goes further than that.”

Now, Marco Rubio had just been sworn in as a senator. Some people were saying that the race Ted was about to run would be like the one that Marco had just run in Florida.

And I wrote, “A nightmare scenario for people like us — I’m talking about Reaganites … — is that Senator Cruz and Senator Rubio compete in a presidential primary. But then, you could call that an embarrassment of riches.”

You know, I was thinking 2020, 2024 …

‐Important people told Ted not to bother to run for Senate. He had no money, no name recognition, no network. There were people in line ahead of him — senior politicians — and he should wait his turn. He’d make a fool of himself if he didn’t.

I saw him campaign a bit in New York — meaning, at fundraisers. He was good at it. He “connected.” I beat the drums for him a little. I’d never done that kind of work. I enjoyed it. I wanted to see Ted get elected.

He was confident he would win. I mean, unwaveringly confident. Over and over, he told me he’d win.

And damned if he didn’t.

‐On Election Night, I began a post by quoting a Gershwin song: “They all laughed at Christopher Columbus, when he said the world was round. They all laughed when Edison recorded sound.” The song ends, “Who’s got the last laugh now?”

A left-wing journalist wrote me a nasty e-mail, saying, “Columbus didn’t say that! Your friend is an idiot!” He thought I was quoting the candidate, Ted. I was insulted on Ira Gershwin’s behalf. And wistful about a lost popular culture.

‐Before he was sworn in, he told me, “Think of ways we can advance freedom. Think of ways we can defend and advance freedom — score points for freedom, fight for it.”

Typical Ted.

‐When he got to the Senate, he made a big splash. Some people didn’t like getting wet.

I liked most of what Ted was doing — relished it. Some of it, I did not like. As I’ve said before, we are friends, not clones.

A few weeks ago, I took one of my nieces to The King and I. Its greatest song goes, “He will not always say what you would have him say.” Well, sure.

Ted has a wider libertarian streak than I do. (Bill Buckley: “Within every conservative is a streak of libertarianism.”) Also, he has less patience for the “establishment” than I do. But, you know? He was the one who got elected, and you know what else? He kept his promises to the voters.

Some may not have liked those promises. But, by golly, he kept them. Which is refreshing in a politician.

And he did not sit around. Oh, no. He did not mark time. A senator observed, “Ted has done more in a couple of years here than some of our colleagues have done in decades.”

I could talk on and on — about drones, Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, and other things. But I’ll knock off for today, because tomorrow, we’re running for president.

Well, Ted is — you and I are along for the ride …


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