Ted Cruz’s campaign Monday announced the hiring of Alice Stewart, who until recently served as Mike Huckabee’s communications director, as Cruz’s spokesperson and senior adviser. The move is notable for several reasons. First, it’s a high-profile changing of teams less than one month before Iowa’s February 1 caucuses. It’s also a real boost to Cruz’s operation in that state and beyond; Stewart knows Iowa well, having worked for the past two caucus winners, Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012.
But most interesting about the hire is Stewart’s history of antagonizing her new boss. She hails from a close-knit Huckabee braintrust that loathes Cruz and has angrily affixed to him the labels of phony, opportunist and hypocrite — an effort that Stewart helped lead until three weeks ago, when she departed Huckabee’s team under cloudy circumstances, ultimately due to concerns with the direction of the campaign.
Since the start of the 2016 cycle, Stewart has earned a reputation among campaign insiders — reporters, party officials, rival strategists — as one of Cruz’s fiercest critics. Perhaps her most public attack came in late 2014, as both Cruz and Huckabee were preparing to launch their campaigns, and I was writing a story with my National Journal colleague Shane Goldmacher about their apparent “collision course” to win evangelical voters. When I called Stewart for the story, she bludgeoned Cruz — on the record — offering these attacks, among others:
“Ted Cruz is a cage rattler who likes to get out there and talk about limited government and defunding Obamacare and so on. But when it comes to connecting with the faith community nobody does it better than Mike Huckabee,” said Alice Stewart, Huckabee’s spokeswoman and senior adviser. “When it comes to rallying social conservatives, Ted Cruz doesn’t hold a candle to Mike Huckabee.”
Stewart continued: “We’ve been to a lot of the events where Ted Cruz and his dad speak. And listen, Rafael Cruz is not running for president. That’s what a lot of people forget—when it comes to a social-conservative crowd, it’s Rafael Cruz, not Ted Cruz, who really connects with them.”
It’s not uncommon for a campaign spokesperson to end up working for a former opponent. But Stewart’s defection is particularly noteworthy (and surprising) to those who know her due to the often-personal nature of her comments about Cruz — and because of the depths of Team Huckabee’s antipathy toward him.
Cruz experienced it, up close and personal, in September 2015 when he attempted to join Huckabee at a rally for Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who had been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court’s decision. Cruz, in a now-infamous moment captured on video, was blocked from joining Huckabee and Davis on stage by a Huckabee staffer who refused to let Cruz pass. That staffer received internet acclaim for shutting down Cruz; but lesser noticed, standing behind the staffer and also blocking Cruz’s path to the stage, was Stewart.
“It was our event,” Stewart told the Texas Tribune afterward. “And Ted Cruz shows up, and you need to be asking him why he showed up at our event.”
The bad blood worsened as 2015 wore on — and as it became clear that an influential bloc of social conservative activists that both candidates had tirelessly courted were favoring Cruz over Huckabee. When the group’s leadership informed the two candidates of their decision to support Cruz after a secretive December 7 meeting, Huckabee was exasperated. “For reasons I don’t fully understand, years and years of actually doing something and getting things done didn’t matter,” Huckabee said following the December 15 debate in Las Vegas.
A day earlier, Huckabee’s campaign had abruptly announced Stewart’s departure in a two-sentence press release. And three weeks later, she went to work for Cruz, the candidate who had stolen Huckabee’s thunder, despite her best efforts.
Stewart did not respond to a request for comment.