The Many, Many Reasons Republican Senators Can't Stand Ted Cruz

Forced Friendship: Donald Trump and the GOP Establishment
  • Texas firebrand called senators in both parties corrupt
  • Shutdown fights, political slights leave Cruz with few allies

Ted Cruz might be the only thing standing between Donald Trump and the Republican presidential nomination, but he only has a single endorsement from a fellow senator -- and few colleagues who will even say a nice thing about him in the hallway.

Bob Corker of Tennessee, for example, when asked this week if he considered Cruz a friend, paused for several seconds before eventually replying that Cruz was “an acquaintance.”

Ted Cruz poses with a cardboard cutout of himself at a rally in Columbus on March 13.
Ted Cruz poses with a cardboard cutout of himself at a rally in Columbus on March 13.
Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

A number of Republican senators had thrown their support behind another Senate colleague, Florida’s Marco Rubio. But with Rubio’s prospects fading, Cruz holds second place in the delegate count, making him the Republican’s best, and perhaps last, hope to take down Trump.

But that argument wasn’t coming from Republican senators.

After all, this is a guy who called his own Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, a liar on the Senate floor, a shocking breach of the chamber’s cherished decorum. He helped goad House conservatives into shutting down the government in 2013, over the objections of Republican leaders in both chambers. And he also showed no hesitation to inconvenience his colleagues by forcing late-night or weekend votes that Cruz was destined to lose.

Cruz’s office declined to comment, but the senator is unabashed about his reputation. 

"Listen, if you’re looking for a candidate who the career politicians in Washington will embrace, I’m not your guy," he said in an interview on NBC’s "Meet the Press" in October.

Senators’ dislike of Cruz started almost as soon as he entered the chamber in January 2013.

Here are some of the biggest moments when Cruz angered the Republican establishment:

  • Within weeks of being sworn in, Cruz questioned whether Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam-era war hero and former Republican senator from Nebraska up for confirmation as defense secretary, might have been paid off by the North Korean or Saudi governments. Democrats pounced, with some labeling Cruz’s line of questioning a McCarthyite smear. Many Republicans cringed. Cruz would later write in his book that naming North Korea was a tactical error.

  • In 2013, Cruz took a position as a vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the political arm of Senate Republicans aimed at protecting incumbents and expanding the GOP ranks. But Cruz wasn’t particularly active with the NRSC, and stopped participating after the NRSC aggressively protected incumbents in primaries -- including Thad Cochran in Mississippi and McConnell in Kentucky. If there’s one thing senators notice, it’s when their fellow senators don’t have their backs. 

    But Cruz really angered his fellow Republicans by appearing in ads for the Senate Conservatives Fund, an anti-establishment group that backed McConnell’s and Cochran’s primary opponents. Cruz distanced himself from that group for a time, but his colleagues aren’t likely to forget. 

  • Cruz also refused to endorse fellow Texan John Cornyn for re-election in 2014. Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate, won easily, but not before facing down a primary challenge. Cornyn returned the slight and has declined to endorse Cruz for president -- even after Cruz won Texas -- and often has chafed at Cruz’s tactics.

  • Nothing was as consequential to Cruz’s reputation as his goading of Republican leaders to shut down the government in 2013 in an effort to defund Obamacare. Leaders and many members in the party thought it was a dumb idea -- and Cruz could never convince them that he had an endgame that would result in President Barack Obama capitulating on his signature legislative achievement. After the shutdown ended with Republicans empty-handed and dinged in the polls, Cruz blamed his fellow Republicans for caving, angering them even more. Bottom line: Republicans felt Cruz was putting his own personal ambitions and grandstanding -- including a lengthy, all-nighter speech that wasn’t technically a filibuster but did include a reading of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” -- above the party.

  • Senators almost never call each other liars. And they certainly don’t do it on the Senate floor. But in July 2015, Cruz went to the floor to accuse McConnell of a “lie,” saying the leader had promised him there was no deal on the Export-Import Bank in return for the votes for fast-track trade authority Cruz initially supported.

    "We keep getting leaders who don’t do anything they promised," Cruz said. He accused senators in both parties of only doing the bidding of the "Washington cartel" and "looting the taxpayer" to benefit corporations like Boeing. "It is wrong and it is corrupt," he said. "We have government of the lobbyists, by the lobbyists and for the lobbyists."

    Many of Cruz’s Republican colleagues were appalled at the breach of norms in a chamber where even the bitterest rivals tend to call each other “friends.”

  • In 2014, Republican leaders had a plan: allow majority Democrats to own a debt-limit hike lock, stock and barrel by declining to require a 60-vote threshold typical in the Senate. But Cruz called them out for wanting the debt limit to go up while pretending they wanted it to fail. His filibuster forced Republican leaders including McConnell and Cornyn to walk the plank and vote to advance the debt-limit hike, in a dramatic, lengthy roll-call vote with the outcome in doubt. They then turned around and voted against it in an about-face slammed by Cruz. When Cruz wrote about the incident in his book, "A Time for Truth," he titled the debt-ceiling chapter, "Mendacity."

  • While there was only one government shutdown, Cruz pushed for various sequels. In 2015, Cruz pushed GOP leaders to defund Obama’s temporary executive amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, and slammed them when they deferred instead to a court lawsuit, which put some of Obama’s actions on hold. Cruz also proposed the newly empowered Republican Senate block all nominees except those for national security posts. McConnell, eager to show a Senate back at work in GOP hands, demurred. Cruz also wanted Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood -- something that would have provoked another government shutdown. Indeed, in October, Cruz went to the floor to slam McConnell for the latest bipartisan budget accord in a lengthy broadside, calling him a "Democratic leader."

    Cruz argued that nothing has changed despite Republicans taking control of the Senate.

  • In December 2014, in the waning days of a lame-duck session, with Democrats still in control, Cruz and Mike Lee of Utah forced the Senate to stay in session on a weekend to tee up a vote on a spending bill to keep the government open. The only practical effect from the maneuver was to make it easier for Democrats to confirm a host of Obama’s nominees -- including judges with lifetime appointments -- before gaveling out for the year and turning over control of the chamber to the Republicans.

  • Cruz’s best friend in the Senate is Lee, but that didn’t stop Cruz from undercutting his friend last year with a broadside on Lee’s signature effort to overhaul prison sentencing guidelines. Cruz’s surprise attack on provisions in Lee’s bill helped stall the effort. Even so, Lee became the first -- and only -- senator to endorse Cruz.

    That could change soon, however. 

    Lindsey Graham, who has likened Cruz to poison and joked that someone could kill Cruz and not get convicted if the Senate served as the jury, has suggested Republicans might have to get behind him in a last-ditch effort to stop Donald Trump. Still, Graham stopped well short of endorsing him.
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