Ted Cruz rode a Tea Party wave to the Senate in 2012 after five years as Texas’ solicitor general. Cruz, who holds two Ivy League degrees and served as a clerk to the Chief Justice of the United States, is casting himself as an outsider against the “Washington cartel” in his bid to win the GOP nomination.
Cruz, a national debate champion at Princeton, made a name for himself at Harvard Law School as the man who organized a “Republicans Take Back the House Party” and tried to learn tennis to improve his chances of getting a clerkship with Chief Justice William Rehnquist. While Cruz landed the coveted job, he never quite mastered the game.
In 1998, Cruz served as the lawyer for Rep. John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who at the time was chairman of the House Republican Conference. Boehner sued Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, alleging that McDermott leaked a recording of a GOP strategy phone call — involving Boehner and Newt Gingrich — which had been captured by a Florida couple using a police scanner. (Boehner won the suit in 2004, long after Cruz departed from the case.)
Cruz joined George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign as a domestic policy aide. When the election became deadlocked, Cruz flew down to Florida to work on Bush’s recount team (he met his wife, Heidi, on the trail). Years later, when Cruz was running for the GOP nomination against Bush’s brother Jeb, George Bush said of Cruz, “I just don’t like the guy.”
After a brief stint as director of policy planning at the Federal Trade Commission, Cruz was appointed solicitor general of Texas in 2003. He turned the office into a high-profile platform for his favorite causes, and weighed in via amicus briefs on issues like the 2008 D.C. gun-rights case that had no direct bearing on the state of Texas. Cruz argued before the Supreme Court against the Bush administration for Texas’s right to execute a Mexican national in Medellin v. Texas (he won) and for a controversial Texas redistricting plan that Democrats claimed was pure partisan gerrymandering, among other cases (he won that one, too, and Texas Republicans got to keep most of the new map).
In 2008, Cruz made the switch to private practice. When a Texas Senate seat opened in 2012, he ran against the GOP establishment’s favored candidate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Riding a Tea Party wave and casting himself as an outsider and a fighter, Cruz managed to draw Dewhurst into a runoff and attract the attention—and money—of the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth, which poured millions into his campaign. A New York Times report later revealed that Cruz got low-interest loans totaling $750,000 from Goldman Sachs (where his wife was an executive) and Citibank to help him spend more than $1 million of his own money on his campaign, loans that he didn’t disclose to the Federal Election Commission. There was nothing improper about the loans themselves and Cruz’s campaign said the omission on the federal finance reports was inadvertent.
Cruz won his Senate seat and wasted no time in alienating his Washington colleagues. He vehemently opposed the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, insinuating that Hagel accepted money that originated in countries including North Korea (even Republicans who opposed Hagel said those attacks went too far). Cruz helped precipitate the 2013 government shutdown with his vehement opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which included a 21-hour filibuster. In a nearly unheard-of breach of decorum, Cruz accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of telling a “flat-out lie” on the Senate floor.
When the House GOP, led by Boehner, planned to approve $659 million to deal with unaccompanied minors at the border in the summer of 2014, Cruz worked the phones and met with House Republicans over pizza to help scuttle the legislation, earning him the nickname “Speaker Cruz.”
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Ted Cruz was the first GOP candidate to announce his long-expected 2016 bid, working his “outsider” appeal and the religious angle. He repeatedly tells the story of his father, Rafael Cruz, on the trail—a Cuban-born immigrant and an alcoholic-turned-pastor who allegedly fought for Castro. However, a New York Times report claimed that those who knew Rafael Cruz at the time say his stories are exaggerated: The elder Cruz painted graffiti on walls and marched through the streets, but wasn’t a rebel leader.
Although the Canadian-born Cruz dropped his dual citizenship in 2014, he’s been plagued by birther questions from Trump supporters. He also struggles with the perception in some quarters that he has run a dirty campaign.