Winning at All Costs: Senator Ted Cruz and His Unscrupulous Quest for Power
By Josiah James Ingalls
In December 2020, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas hatched a plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election by stopping the counting of certified electoral votes in the Senate, taking advantage of vague language in the U.S. Constitution, and counting on legislators in six swing states to appoint new electors. Also, Cruz proposed to lead a special congressional commission to substantiate the many unproven allegations of massive nationwide voter fraud, and ultimately declare Donald Trump the winner over Joe Biden.
Cruz’s plan damned near worked. It unraveled because key Republican leaders, such as Vice President Donald Pence, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (Treisman), and Rusty Bowers (Bustillo), Speaker of Arizona’s House of Representatives, refused to commit what they considered federal crimes.
“It was a very dangerous proposal, and, you know, could very easily have put us into territory where we got to the inauguration and there was not a president,” said former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in a podcast. “Honestly. And I think that Senator Cruz knew exactly what he was doing. I think that Senator Cruz is somebody who knows what the Constitution calls for, knows what his duties and obligations are, and was willing, frankly, to set that aside” (Benen).
In late April 2023, Cruz was on the defensive again when tape recordings were released of Cruz talking with Fox News about his plan to delay Biden’s certification as President. Special Counsel Jack Smith has asked for the tapes as part of his ongoing investigation of the events that led up to the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2020 (Deryesh). Cruz said the tapes contain no news, but political observers are keen to hear them anyway.
Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz was born Dec. 22, 1970, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but mainly grew up in Houston, Texas. His Cuban-born father, Rafael, emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1950s, while his mother, Eleanor, was born in the U.S. and met his father when she was a student at Rice University.
Early on, Cruz demonstrated a gift for public speaking, joining an after-school program run by the Free Enterprise Institute and giving speeches on the U.S. Constitution and free market economics in locations around Texas. He served as valedictorian of his high school graduating class and went on to Princeton University, where he won awards in debate competitions. Afterward, he was admitted to Harvard Law School and later served as a law clerk for several judges, including Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.
Cruz entered politics as a legal adviser to George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. He subsequently worked in the Department of Justice, Federal Trade commission, Texas state government and private practice. In 2012, he ran for U.S. Senate against the popular Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, whom he defeated in a run-off election with the support of Tea Party leaders such as Sarah Palin (former Alaska governor) and Rand Paul, current Kentucky senator. (“Ted Cruz.” Biography…)
As a senator, Cruz has made himself controversial with an anti-establishment attitude, personal attacks on rival political leaders, and ultraconservative positions and actions that have upset both Republicans and Democrats. However, he maintains enthusiastic support among evangelicals and working-class voters who revel in his ability to challenge government traditions and speak aggressively to power.
Karen Ruskin, a psychotherapist who studies the relationship between everyday people and celebrities/politicians, says of Cruz: "Those who view him through a negative lens see that he's a non-negotiator, he's uncompromising, and they hate him for it. But those who view him through a positive lens see the same behavior, same personality style as strength and character (Levy).
In the remainder of this essay I will more fully describe Cruz’s actions and the public’s reactions to them, assess the similarities and differences between his supporters and detractors, and present a research-based proposal to moderate the controversy that has surrounded this unusual senator.
A Winter’s Tale
In mid-February 2021, an unprecedently long and subfreezing winter storm blanketed all of Texas and knocked out electrical power, water and natural gas to as many as four million people (McEvoy).. As first responders scrambled and government entities huddled in round‑the‑clock emergency meetings, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz decided to wait out the unpleasant weather with his family in the luxury resort city of Cancun, Mexico (Bogel-Burroughs).
Meanwhile, up to 1,000 Texans would die in their homes, waiting for life-saving heat that never came. Cruz faced a new blizzard of nationwide criticism and ridicule upon returning to Texas, and he admitted his decision was “obviously a mistake” while claiming he was just “trying to be a dad” to his two daughters (Ingalls). He explained in a statement: “With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon.”
Ted Cruz explains himself at Cancun Airport.
However, many people did not accept that explanation. Texas state Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat representing southwest Houston, tweeted a photo of Cruz aboard a flight, saying Cruz was flying south “while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water (Murphy).” And James Moore, a veteran political analyst and marketing consultant, declared in an editorial: “We Texans ought to be embarrassed... The winter that was too much for Cruz offers a clear example of the tragedies that can accompany policies that are too conservative to make sense, but calculated enough to make some people money” (Moore).
Nevertheless, Cruz had his defenders. NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving opined that a U.S senator’s ability to tackle a weather disaster is “pretty limited,” then added: “A senator can ask the White House for disaster declaration. That happened. A senator can go back to Washington and vote for emergency relief funds. And certainly Senator Cruz can do that in this case…But the brunt of the burden is on state and local officials and the national bureaucrats, such as the ones at the Federal Emergency Management Agency” (Elving).
Similarly, author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza declared in a tweet: “What could Ted Cruz do if he were here in Texas? I’m hard-pressed to say. If he’s in Cancun, that means he’s not using up valuable resources of energy, food and water than can now be used by someone else. This is probably the best thing he could do for the state right now.”
As the Texas sun returned and residents gradually got their water and electricity back, the storm over Cruz abated. He was able to recover and move on, but this wintertime tale exemplifies his ability to minimize an embarrassment that would sink lesser politicians.
Cruz on the National Stage: Green Eggs and Ham
Cruz had been in office for less than a year when he launched what became his first big controversy, a filibuster to prevent funding for the recently approved Affordable Care Act (Statler). He stood at the podium for more than 21 hours straight, sharing his political opinions and reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham (Ted Cruz Filibuster)[i] after running out of words for the former topic.
His efforts failed, with the senator blaming members of his own party: We saw real division among Senate Republicans,” Cruz told reporters. “That was unfortunate. I would point out that had Senate Republicans united and supported House Republicans, the outcome of this I believe would’ve been very, very different.”
The Senate’s top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, shrugged off Cruz’ effort. “For lack of a better way of describing this, it has been a big waste of time,” he said. And Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah expressed regret for the affair: “I just don’t believe anybody benefits from shutting the government down, and certainly Republicans don’t. We learned that in 1995.”
Still, Cruz was defended by the late commentator Rush Limbaugh, who said: “The man is not a coward. Ted Cruz isn't afraid of anybody. The real question is, what is the Republican establishment afraid of? What are some of these conservative media types at Fox News afraid of? What is the Washington establishment on the Republican side afraid of?”
Opponents Within and Without
Cruz’s tendency to drive for total victory without politeness or compromise has created bipartisan opposition toward him in the Senate and other political circles. Some illuminating statements include:
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican: “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” (Revesz ).
Former House Speaker John Boehner: "I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.” The Ohio Republican also called Cruz “Lucifer in the Flesh.[ii]
Julián Castro, Democrat and former mayor of San Antonio: “Ted Cruz is like Trump: he would watch democracy burn if he got to rule the ashes. He has embarrassed Texas and the entire nation.”
Al Franken, former Democratic senator from Minnesota: “I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz" (Bondarenko).
The Cheering Section
Of course, Cruz has many fans who have propelled him to victory in two consecutive senatorial elections. Supporters see his stubbornness, adherence to principle and risk-taking behavior as marks of strong leadership. Comments along these lines include:
Thomas Whalen, Boston University political historian: "Ted Cruz reminds me a lot of Richard Nixon. He [Nixon] was … always thinking the next step ahead. Cruz is like that. I've been impressed with how he's positioned himself within the Republican base."
Unidentified woman interviewed by video journalist Jimmy Dore at a 2016 Cruz rally in Jefferson, Iowa: “I have to say one thing. It’s nice to know that we’re gonna have a president that understands where the common folks come from, like myself. And it’s nice to know that he’s gonna do away with everything that Barack Obama [has] done.”
Craig Russell, CNN viewer, responding to a 2020 televised debate between CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Ted Cruz: “I'm a liberal, so I'd probably side more often with Cuomo on the issues, but Jesus, I'd 1000x rather have a conversation (or a beer) with Cruz. At least he can stay on a topic and provide an intelligent and nuanced conservative argument. All Cuomo knows how to do is interrupt with a recital of his top ten zingers” (Cruz Vs. CNN).
Highlights of Cruz’s Legislative Record – and the Arts
At present Ted Cruz has the worst voting record in the current U.S. Senate. From Jan 2013 to Mar 2023, Cruz missed 345 roll call votes out of 3,503. Which is 9.8%. (This is four times worse than the median of 2.3% among the lifetime records of senators currently serving.) Out of the 3,503 Senate bills Cruz was called to vote on, he has only supported 253 bills – and in his entire time as senator, he has only sponsored 15 bills that have been enacted into law (Ted Cruz…govtrack).
In 2020, Cruz blocked a Senate resolution honoring the recently deceased Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He also voted against the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, which grew out of the potable water disaster in Flint, Michigan.
In his Washington office, Cruz proudly displays a painting that shows him arguing before the Supreme Court, defending Texas’ right to cancel health care insurance for Texas children.
Cruz once asked actor-turned-painter Jim Carey for a copy of Carey’s satirical painting showing Cruz roasting in a blood-red hell. No public response from Carey has been recorded.
Ted Cruz in His Own Words
Getting at the core of who Ted Cruz really is poses a challenge. His public statements are carefully worded, as if he wants to leave no chinks in the armor of his image. He unapologetically swings back and forth on key issues, always with a pithy justification of why something he once called black is now white.
Many leaders have defined themselves with a single quote, as did Richard Nixon: “Defeat doesn't finish a man, quitting does. A man is not finished when he's defeated. He's finished when he quits.” Former New Deal enthusiast Ronald Reagan said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.” But nothing so self-revealing appears to have been uttered by Ted Cruz. Instead, we are left with a collection of quotes that can be used to form a rough image of the man, like one of those plaster casts made from a cavity left in the hardened volcanic ash of Pompeii.
Food: “I despise avocado. It’s the only food I dislike, and I dislike it passionately. My whole family eats avocados like crazy, but I can’t stand them.”
Religion: “I’m Cuban, Irish and Italian, and yet somehow I ended up Southern Baptist… When people ask if faith is real, I don’t have to speculate; I’ve seen the fruits of a walk with Christ in my own life and in my family. Were it not for my father’s becoming a Christian, I would have been raised by a single mother.”
Childhood struggles: “I refused to play sports as a child. That of course, made [my reputation] even worse. That mix −excelling in the classroom, being too competitive and cocky about academics and being lousy at sports − was, needless to say, not a recipe for popularity.” Cruz eventually decided to play sports, outgrew his braces and saw his acne clear up. He also asked people to start calling him Ted instead of Felito (Happy).
Says Cruz the prophet: “I want you to take a good, hard look at me, America, because this is exactly what you’ve got coming.”
On his colleagues: “Liberty is never safer than when politicians are terrified.”
Church and State: “Start being biblically correct, instead of politically correct.”
Charity toward all: “I’m a maniac, and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly. And Ben [Carson], you’re a terrible surgeon.”
Fun with Trump: “I treat him [Trump] as an entertainer. I laugh it off. It’s like going to the circus and seeing the acrobats and the dancing bears. He’s willing to say things that are patently false.”
Gays aren’t gay: “It's just like calling homosexuals ‘gays.’ Gay means happy! You know, it's just to try to dilute it so that it becomes socially acceptable.”
Love thy neighbor: “If we want to defend the country, we have to defend against who's coming in.”
The Gun-toting Chef: Cruz Shows How to Make “Machine Gun Bacon,” depicted in the following screenshots from a YouTube video that Cruz made and posted around 2016. The first caption is a direct quote from the video, the rest are paraphrased (IJR)
Is Ted Cruz Good for America?
Clearly, Ted Cruz is a man of his time. Adept at recognizing, stoking and utilizing the American electorate’s deep dissatisfaction with traditional politics, Cruz has ridden to power on the same wave that swept Donald Trump into the presidency. Some of Cruz’s positions seem contrived only to win votes, while others appear to be sincere and worthy of consideration by reasonable people.
Although Cruz’s outspokenness and maverick leanings may be indelibly imprinted in his personality, I encourage the senator to balance his indignation and ambition with compassion and flexibility. He would do well to absorb the wisdom in such quotes as these:
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey, motivational speaker
"Be nice to those you meet on the way up, because you will meet them on the way down." – Wilson Mizner, playwright
"Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind, it may offer a way to make him your friend." – Robert A. Heinlein, author
Senator Cruz’s continuance as a national political leader will be decided by Texas voters in November 2024. However, his two terms in office suggest a number of reforms that could reshape Congress and help preserve its dignity and credibility. Here is a sample:
No member of Congress, while in office, may profit from the sale or monetization of books, broadcasts, blogs, tweets, online meetings or other electronic, printed or otherwise transmissible media, unless the product in question was produced before the member was elected to office.
Members of Congress may not buy or sell public or privately held stocks, bonds, lending instruments, real estate or other securities and investments while in office. Prior to election, a member must place their saleable assets in a blind trust, where they will be held until the member’s term ends.
No member of Congress may be compensated for interviews or public appearances, except for reimbursement of reasonable expenses for hotels, meals and transportation. Also, a member may not accept gifts of significant value in exchange for interviews or public appearances.
No member of Congress may run for President while simultaneously running for a lesser federal office, such as senator or congressperson.
In 1947, shortly after the end of World War II, Winston Churchill told the British House of Commons: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…” (Churchill by Himself).
Like many political sages, Churchill recognized that all forms of government can be dangerous, and so government’s power must be distributed among many hands to keep it under control. Democracy, with its checks and balances, rules, regulations, customs and traditions, can serve a society very well – as long as its leaders put their government ahead of their own ideologies and personal agendas. Some might consider the Pledge of Allegiance as a personal affirmation of this principle.
Young, smart, ambitious, persuasive, persistent leaders like Ted Cruz can be a blessing or a curse to a democratic society. If they realize that they must serve all of their constituents – not just those who admire them – then their contributions can be great and beneficial. But if they seek only to advance their personal or party agendas, letting nothing get in the way, then they can bring destruction and ruin to a nation. We, the people, must remain vigilant and scrupulous in ensuring that our leaders are committed to doing the most good for the most people at all times – so that the American light that has illuminated our world for more than two centuries will not be overwhelmed by darkness.
Although I’ve made a case for understanding, critiquing and possibly reforming Ted Cruz as a person and leader, I ultimately believe that Texas and the United States would be better off without him. For that reason, I was the first to announce my candidacy for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat that Cruz will have to defend in November 2024. Many of my friends and advisers have described my challenge to Cruz as the latest version of David versus Goliath.
According to scripture (and conjecture), David was a shepherd boy around 16 years of age. He had little or no military training, but he knew how to fight, having killed lions that threatened his sheep. His profession would have made him strong and quick, and around his waist he carried one of the ancient world’s most deadly weapons – the sling.
On the enemy side was the hulking Goliath, who had been a soldier since boyhood. He stood more than six feet tall, a giant’s height by the standards of the day, and probably weighed at least 300 pounds (mostly muscle), since he wore nearly 200 pounds of armor. He also carried a huge spear weighing about 30 pounds and a hefty curved sword resembling a scimitar.
As the pair drew toward each other from across a shallow valley, David stopped by a small stream and drew out five smooth stones. Although he may have only wanted to be well equipped, some have speculated that the stones were meant for Goliath and four other Philistine giants whom Goliath was related to, and who might have been planning to avenge him should he lose to the boy.
As I remember this ancient duel, I realize how accurately it reflects my challenge of Ted Cruz: he, the political giant already with a reported $3.3 million campaign fund (Ted Cruz for Senate), and I, a small businessman with a shoestring budget and an optimist’s faith in the power of truth. But I know how to fight, even against overwhelming odds. And I have my sling − my catapult of ideas and hope − and my five stones: Integrity, Honesty, Compassion, Courage and Intelligence. With such resources as these, even the mightiest opponent can be defeated.
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
Benen, Steve. “Ted Cruz picks the wrong time to tout the virtues of democracy.” MSNBC.com, 30 Mar. 2022, www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/maddowblog/ted-cruz-picks-wrong-time-tout-virtues-democracy-rcna22197
Bogel-Burroughs, Nicholas, et al. “Texas Winter Storm: What to Know.” The New York Times, 15 July 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/us/texas-winter-storm-explainer.html.
Bustillo, Ximena. “Arizona Lawmaker Rusty Bowers Details the Pressure Put on Him by Trump and Giuliani.” NPR, 21 June 2022, www.npr.org/2022/06/21/1106413341/arizona-lawmaker-rusty-bowers-pressure-giuliani.
Bondarenko, Veronika. “Sen. Al Franken: ‘Here’s The Thing You Have to Understand About Ted Cruz.’” Business Insider, 26 May 2017, www.businessinsider.com/senator-al-franken-heres-the-thing-you-have-to-understand-about-ted-cruz-2017-5
Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations: 9781586486389: Winston Churchill, Richard Langworth: Books. www.amazon.com/dp/1586486381/?tag=richmlang-20
“Cruz Vs. CNN’s Cuomo: Trump Broke You Guys, Your Entire Network Now Is Just How Much You Hate Trump.” Video | RealClearPolitics, 1 Oct. 2020, www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2020/10/01/cruz_vs_cnns_cuomo_trump_broke_you_guys_your_entire_network_now_is_just_how_much_you_hate_trump.html.
Derysh, Igor. “Special Counsel Discovers ‘Suspicious’ Trump Call — and Targets New Lawyer Jennifer Little: Report.” Salon, 17 Mar. 2023, www.salon.com/2023/03/17/special-counsel-discovers-suspicious-call--and-targets-another-one-of-his-lawyers-report.
Elving, Ron. “Week in Politics: Ted Cruz Criticized for Traveling to Cancún Amid Deadly Texas Storm.” NPR, 20 Feb. 2021, www.npr.org/2021/02/20/969703369/week-in-politics-ted-cruz-criticized-for-traveling-to-cancun-amid-deadly-texas storm.
IJR - Independent Journal Review. “Making Machine-Gun Bacon With Ted Cruz.” YouTube, 3 Aug. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaZGaJrd3x8.
Ingalls, Josiah James. “When Texas Froze Over: Ted Cruz and the Deadly Cost of Political Hubris.” Austin Community College assigned paper, March 8, 2023. Copies available upon request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Levy, Gabrielle. “Why Voters Love the Most Hated Man in Washington.” US News & World Report, 30 Dec. 2015, www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/12/30/why-voters-love-ted-cruz-the-most-hated-man-in-washington
McEvoy, Jemima. “Report Finds Hundreds More Died in Texas Winter Storm Than State Says. Forbes, 27 May 2021, www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2021/05/27/report-finds-hundreds-more-died-in-texas-winter-storm-than-state-says/?sh=728596ac52cc
Moore, James C. “Ted Cruz Is an Embarrassment to Texas.” CNN, 19 Feb. 2021, www.cnn.com/2021/02/18/opinions/ted-cruz-weather-cancun-embarrassment-to-texas-moore/index.html.
Murphy, Paul P., et al. “Cruz Calls Cancun, Mexico, Trip ‘A Mistake’ as Texans Remain Without Power Amid Historic Winter Storm.” CNN, 19 Feb. 2021, (Murphy) www.cnn.com/2021/02/18/politics/ted-cruz-cancun-texas-disaster-electricity-power-water/index.html
Poetry Foundation. “The Destruction of Sennacherib” by Lord Byron. Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43827/the-destruction-of-sennacherib.
Revesz, Rachael. “Lindsey Graham Jokes About Killing Ted Cruz: ‘Nobody Would Convict You.’” The Independent, 26 Feb. 2016.
Statler, Ada. “John Boehner Talks Election, Time in Office.” The Stanford Daily, 29 Apr. 2016, https://stanforddaily.com/2016/04/28/john-boehner-talks-election-time-in-office/
Ted Cruz. Biography, 26 Jan. 2023, www.biography.com/political-figures/ted-cruz.
“Ted Cruz For Senate - Committee Overview - FEC.gov.” FEC.gov, www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00492785.
“Ted Cruz, Senator for Texas - GovTrack.us.” GovTrack.us, www.govtrack.us/congress/members/ted_cruz/412573.
“Ted Cruz (Ft. John McCain and Rush Limbaugh) – Obamacare Filibuster Fallout.” Genius, https://genius.com/Ted-cruz-obamacare-filibuster-fallout-annotated
Treisman, Rachel. “Georgia Officials Fact-check an Infamous Trump Phone Call in Real Time.” NPR, 21 June 2022, www.npr.org/2022/06/21/1106472863/georgia-officials-fact-check-infamous-trump-phone-call-in-real-time