In his first year on the job — he was sworn in on Jan. 3, 2013 — Cruz has established himself as a leader — perhaps the leader — of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Along the way, he has managed to upset a great deal of the more traditional GOP establishment, of whom he’s been as unsparing in his criticism as he has of Democrats. He also made it clear — very soon after being sworn in — that the traditional role of subservient junior senator, deferring to both his fellow Texan, Republican Sen. John Cornyn, and to the august body of the Senate itself, was not for him.
Cruz’s fame — he is, by now, arguably one of the best-known senators in the country — took a sharp turn upward as two Oct. 1, 2013, deadlines approached: the 2014 fiscal budget and the implementation of many of the final components of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
In August 2013, with the Senate in recess, Cruz traveled around Texas as well as other states, speaking out against Obamacare and telegraphing his intent to derail it by stripping it of funding in the new fiscal year.
On Sept. 24-25, Cruz held forth on criticism of the health care act, along with readings from Dr. Seuss and Twitter feeds and a Darth Vader imitation. Not quite a filibuster — there was no parliamentary endgame that could derail a Senate vote on the budget — Cruz’s lengthy and often eloquent turn on the floor still managed to inspire his supporters and galvanize enough members in the House to send a budget bill back to the Senate defunding the Affordable Care Act. The Senate, with a Democratic majority, wouldn’t accept a provision to pass a budget that defunded President Barack Obama’s signature resolution, so it was sent back to the House, funding to the health care law restored.
What followed was something of a legislative ping pong match — the House inserting a one-year delay in implementation, an end to the tax on medical devices and another attempt at defunding, the Senate each time removing House attachments and sending it back. All the while, the Oct. 1 deadline approached. And when midnight came on Sept. 30, the impasse continued, and the federal government shut down.
Much of the credit — or blame, depending on perspective — for the government shutdown fell to Cruz. On Oct. 16, after more than two weeks, the House passed a temporary budget sent by the Senate, ending the shutdown and averting a looming credit default from the United States, a potentially calamitous event with global implications.
Cruz and his Tea Party supporters have said that their efforts were necessary because Obamacare is “train wreck” that is sure to do great and permanent harm to the nation. Cruz, the Tea Party’s clear standard-bearer, may have angered many in the Republican Party, but his actions before, during and after the shutdown has made it clear he’s more than ready to stir things up in Washington — and he’s got plenty of people, back home in Texas and all over the country, supporting his cause.
Cruz’s headline-filled first year as U.S. senator has sparked speculation that he may, like Obama, have ambitions to convert a brief time in the Senate into a high-profile run at the White House in 2016. Despite his demurrals, frequent engagements around the country — notably repeated excursions to Iowa — have done nothing to silence the presidential talk.
Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Dec. 22, 1970, to a Cuban immigrant father and an Irish-American mother. His father fled Cuba in 1957 after fighting on the same side as Fidel Castro against U.S.-friendly dictator Fulgencio Batista, eventually coming to Austin to attend the University of Texas. His mother, a graduate of Rice University, was the second-youngest of 17 children and the first in her family to go to college.
Cruz was raised in Houston — his parents left for a period of time to work in Canada during the 1960s oil boom. He attended various Houston schools, along the way joining a speech team steeped in conservative principles. Cruz graduated from Houston’s Second Baptist High. His wife, Heidi Nelson Cruz, heads the regional wealth management office for Goldman Sachs in Houston. They have 2 young daughters.
As an undergraduate at Princeton University, where he graduated cum laude, Cruz excelled as a debater, winning several national awards. At Harvard Law School, he was editor of the Law Review and Journal of Law & Public Policy and a founding editor of the Latino Law Review. He graduated magna cum laude in 1995 and began his clerkship, first under Judge J. Michael Luttig of the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals, and then, in 1996, under Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
After a few years in private practice with Cooper, Carvin & Rosenthal, a high-stakes litigation boutique law firm,Cruz, who had a “a strong desire to work in federal government,” joined the Bush-Cheney campaign in 1999 as a domestic policy adviser. He also worked with the campaign and the GOP on the infamous Florida recount. After George W. Bush was elected president, Cruz was appointed as an associate deputy attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice. From 2001 to 2003, Cruz served as director of the Office of Policy Planning for the Federal Trade Commission before moving back to Texas to take up the reins as state solicitor general under Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, where he served until 2008. He was the third person to hold that job, and the first Hispanic.
The solicitor general’s office serves an appellate function, arguing cases before both the U.S. and state supreme courts, as well as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and intermediate appellate courts. Appealing cases before the highest courts in the land on behalf of a large state generally distrustful of federal overreach naturally put Cruz at the front of some controversial issues. His part in the successful defense of keeping the “Ten Commandments Monument” on state Capitol grounds is among the most famous of these cases. Cruz led the team that wrote the brief, but he wasn’t part of oral arguments. Cruz personally argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and filed more than 80 briefs as solicitor general.
Between 2004 and 2009, Cruz was also an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, teaching Supreme Court litigation. In 2008, Cruz returned to the private sector, working as a top litigator for the international law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
In 2009, Cruz announced he’d amassed a million-dollar war chest and intended to run for Abbott’s office if his mentor stepped down to run for another office, but Abbott stayed in the attorney general’s office. On Jan. 19, 2011, Cruz announced he was running for Hutchison’s Senate seat. In February, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert threw his hat in the ring, and months later, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also announced his candidacy. Former football star and TV sports analyst Craig James also joined the race. But most observers saw the race as a two-man battle between Dewhurst and Cruz, with the wealthy and long-serving lieutenant governor as the clear favorite. Both men seemed to verify that impression, trading increasingly hostile barbs and paying little attention to the other candidates. Redistricting delays, which pushed the primary almost two months back, offered Dewhurst’s opponents more time to both raise more money and continue making their cases, reducing the lieutenant governor’s chances for a clean knockout. Just before the May 29 primary, Cruz put $1 million of his own money into his campaign, giving it a needed boost in TV exposure, and it paid off — Dewhurst was the top vote-getter, winning 45 percent compared with Cruz’s 34 percent, but he couldn’t break the threshold to avoid a July 31 runoff.
Cruz, anointed a rising star by leading conservative magazine The National Review, received considerable support in both endorsements and dollars from national groups like the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. With a combination of their support and a strong grassroots network of Tea Party supporters, Cruz remained competitive with Dewhurst, whose personal fortune has been estimated at close to $200 million.
Meanwhile, the campaign grew increasingly rancorous, with Dewhurst attempting to cast Cruz as an opportunistic lawyer with Beltway ties, while Cruz painted Dewhurst as a go-along, get-along moderate unlikely to bring the fight to Washington to stop federal spending and overreach.
Prominent politicians worked on behalf of both politicians — Gov. Rick Perry, former Arkansas Gov. and onetime presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and nearly every Republican state senator showed their support for Dewhurst, while national Tea Party leaders — Rand Paul, Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin — stumped for Cruz.
Cruz trounced Dewhurst by almost 14 percentage points, or 151,151 votes. More than one million Texas voters cast ballots in the primary runoff.
His victory over Dewhurst (the Republican primary served as the real contest; beating Sadler was never seriously doubted) appears in retrospect to be a turning point in Texas, and perhaps national, politics — so much so that his name has slipped into the Texas political lexicon as a verb, meaning to out-maneuver and out-work one’s opponent.