Senator Ted Cruz ’92, a national debate champion as a Princeton undergraduate, recently put his award-winning speaking skills into practice on the Senate floor, delivering the fourth-longest speech in Senate history.
Cruz vowed to speak "until he was no longer able to stand" to oppose a spending bill proposed by the House of Representatives oneweek prior to the government shutdown.He railed against the Affordable Care Act for 21 hours and 19 minutes with a speech that spanned two days. The bill and subsequent incarnations failed to pass both houses of Congress in time to avert the government shutdown that began on Oct. 1, forcing the federal government to halt non-essential services and to furlough nearly 2 million employees for 16 days.
With the deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling looming, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate traded proposals and counterproposals until an eleventh-hour deal was reached Oct. 18. The plan, which Cruz voted against, was approved 81-18 in the Senate and won swift passage in the House. It was signed by president Barack Obama soon afterward.
Cruz’s recent tactics, however, have elicited mixed reviews among the more politically-inclined at Princeton, including some members of the College Republicans. More broadly, those interviewed by The Daily Princetonian said they feel that, at the very least, Cruz could use his undeniable intelligence to make a name for himself in a less abrasive way.
Cruz did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Republican opinion at Cruz’s alma mater
Cruz’s filibuster and role as a senator so far has managed to divide the leaders of College Republicans.
“I believe he cares more, in this shutdown, about building up his fundraising base than building up this country,” President of the College Republicans David Will ’14 said. “And to those who think that is harsh, I would say this: In the past year since he has been in office, can you name a single originally conservative policy that he put forward and fought for to better the country?”
Will is also an opinion columnist for The Daily Princetonian.
He explained that Cruz has not demonstrated a true desire to better the lives of Americans and has yet to prove himself as a man of original ideas. All in all, Will added, Cruz’s actions demonstrated a lack of constructive plans for improving the country.
“I grew up in Washington, D.C. I’ve encountered a lot of politicians in my day,” he added. “I have never met one so thoroughly in love with himself. He is without question one of the most narcissistic politicians I have ever seen, and that is saying something.”
But Zach Horton ’15 who interned in Cruz’s office this summer, said that while the government shutdown may be unpopular, the politics behind it revealed people’s true stripes in a way that would vindicate Cruz and his supporters once the effects of the president’s health care law are more broadly understood. Horton is a member of the James Madison Program, which is headed by well-known conservative professor Robert George.
"It will cause moderate's colors to show, and they will shy away, and those who are principled, and I do believe many people in this country do have strong principles and do realize where this country is headed with Obamacare is not where we want to get, and they will fall on the side of Cruz," Horton said. "So, it will draw lines. People may call it polarization, but really, it's just separating the black from the white from the gray. It's showing people's true stripes."
Horton is a member of The Daily Princetonian Editorial Board.
Ryan Spaude ’16, also an officer in the College Republicans and a member of the James Madison Program, said he saw Cruz’s speech as a way for the Republican Party to send a clear message of opposition to the health care law.
“In the end, though Senator Cruz didn't get his way, we made it very clear where we stand on it,” Spaude said. “And come next November, you would rather be a member of the party that said Obamacare needs to be fixed and government spending needs to be decreased than a member of the party that said Obamacare is good and we need to keep spending.”
Cruz is said to be very loyal to his alma mater. A recent profile of Cruz in GQreported that Cruz’s class ring was “always on his right hand” and painted a picture in which Cruz valued his time at Princeton, where he studied under George and wrote his thesis on the ninth and tenth amendments.
George did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
But as one of the University’s most polarizing alumni, Cruz’s affiliation has elicited mixed reactions from other members of the student body.
“I feel bad that Cruz is a United States Senator, having gone to Princeton or not,” Will Mantell ’14, the president of College Democrats, said. “I would prefer to associate myself at the University with some of the other people in public service and in Congress.”
Others remain positive regarding Cruz’s affiliation with the University.
“I think it [going to Cruz’s alma mater] is overall a good thing,” Spaude said. “Now when people ask where do you go to school, I can say I go to Princeton. When people hear Princeton they will associate it with another person who, whether you love him or hate him, is a great leader, like Elena Kagan [’81] or Sonia Sotomayor [’76] .”
Feather in Cruz’s cap, or stain on his national reputation?
National opinion polls have shown that Cruz’s popularity among the general American public has declined moderately as a result of his role in congressional debates about the shutdown and debt ceiling.
According to NBC News and Washington Post polls, 28 percent of Americans held unfavorable views of Cruz as a result of his political actions.
“From what I’ve seen in the polls so far, Cruz has increased his popularity so far in Texas,” Will said, “but it’s sunk nationally. Those who are aware of his existence outside of Texas, I think he seems to think that population is much larger than it actually is, but among those people, they have sort of fled his camp.”
He added that as Cruz’s donor base grows, a number of interest groups will also continue to contribute to Cruz’s fundraising.
But U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, who represents Princeton’s district also said most Americans thought that Cruz had gone too far in facilitating a government shutdown.
“It's clear that the idea of shutting down the government and threatening to default on the debt, on America's obligation, wasn't constructive for the economy or the Republican Party,” Holt said. “It's now been in some sense rejected by the general public.”
But others believe that his popularity, at least among select groups in the electorate, has increased. Among them is professor of politics and public affairs Nolan McCarty, who said that while media criticism of Cruz has increased, so have his popularity and national profile.
“His popularity among Tea Party voters is probably higher from the data I’ve seen. His popularity in Texas is probably about the same as it was before,” McCarty said. “His profile has gone up, but his negative writing has gone up as well and his approval rating has gone down. ”
Some think Cruz’s attempts to lead the charge against Obamacare and thrust himself into the public spotlight are a manifestation of greater political, if not presidential, ambitions the Texas senator holds for his future.
“I'm not qualified to speculate, but I will,” Mantell said. “I think it [the government shutdown] endears him very much to the far right wing of the Republican Party. I think it makes him very unpopular with more moderate minds. If he wants to run for President, it's not bad to have a good relationship with the far right.”
Will said that Cruz is probably thinking about early preparation for the 2016 Iowa caucuses.
“He’s planning his third trip to Iowa,” Will said, “just in the past year since becoming a senator. That’s an odd state to vacation to, right? Nothing against Iowa, but I think his interests are little bit different from simply vacationing.”
He added that there was a period in which Minn. Rep. Michele Bachmann was out-fundraising former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney and other candidates before the 2012 presidential race, and said that Cruz could be imitating her strategy by visiting Iowa early.
“He probably saw that and thought that he could do that as well, and do a little better than she did,” Will said.
While Cruz may have ambitions for the presidency, such ambitions are hardly unusual for national politicians, according to Holt.
“Just observing Cruz speaking and hearing my colleagues talk about him, it is undeniable that he is an ambitious person who likes to have his following, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he was looking to be a national leader,” Holt said. “There's an old saying that in the breast of every senator beats the heart of a president.”
“It certainly did raise his profile on these issues and made him a kind of spokesperson for the government shutdown and the threat to not raise the debt limit,” McCarty said, though he emphasized that he could not accurately speculate about Cruz’s motivations.
“His behavior points towards exploring the possibility of running for president in the short-term,” he explained. “In some ways, he sees his term in the Senate as a very short stay, actually similarly to Barack Obama, who was not a particularly engaged senator, in order to raise the profile for running for president. Ted Cruz seems to be trying to follow that same path.”
News Editor Anastasya Lloyd-Damnjanovic contributed reporting.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article omitted a portion of a quotation by Zach Horton about how the politics surrounding the government shutdown would reveal peoples’ true colors. Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article also misstated a portion of the same quotation. Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Horton is an officer in College Republicans. The 'Prince' regrets the errors.