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Man who pushed US to the brink of debt default

Ted Cruz, a first-time Senator from Texas, became the face of Republican intransigence that shut the government, and pushed the country to the brink of a debt default. Yashwant Raj reports.

world Updated: Oct 20, 2013 09:44 IST
Yashwant Raj

“He is the guy that caused this, he is the guy who is a fraud because he never had a strategy to begin with. And if we let him do it again, it’s our fault.”

That’s Ted Cruz, a first-time Senator from Texas who became the face of Republican intransigence that shut the government, and pushed the country to the brink of a debt default. And that quote about him is from a fellow Republican, Peter King, a member of the House of Representatives, who has struggled to conceal his irritation.

Cruz has been called worse — a “wacko bird”, by yet another Republican, and “Joe McCarthy”, after the senator who hunted real and imagined communists in the 50s. If he is bothered, he doesn’t show it.

In fact, there is every indication that he is enjoying all the attention he has been getting, much in excess for a first-time senator. As if he was a president in waiting, or a nominee.

When he popped up at the World War II memorial in solidarity with veterans denied access because of the shutdown forced by him, cameras were there to record his outrage.

News networks dumped Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell as he announced the deal to end the shutdown on Wednesday and cut to Cruz for his reaction.

He was ready with an explanation: party establishment failed to stay the course. But many in the party believed he had led them into a badly strategised fight doomed to failure from the start.

If Cruz is to be believed, he could defund or delay President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, the party indulged him only so he could learn firsthand how wrong he was.

Cruz, 42, is a deeply divisive figure, who is intensely disliked by moderate Republicans and loudly celebrated by ultra-conservatives, specially Tea Party members.

Tea partying

A Pew poll from earlier this month, conducted during the shutdown, showed his popularity shoot 24 points from 47% in July to 74% among Tea Party Republicans.

Over the same period, his unfavourable rating climbed 15 points from 16% to 31% among non-Tea Party Republicans. His popularity among them remained the same though.

Cruz is not winning friends among non-believers. But he is a favourite of the Tea Party, which forced House of Republicans to stand firm against the president’s healthcare law.

Starting in early 2009 in opposition to the economic stimulus package — and conservative dismay over President Obama’s election — the Tea Party movement has become a force.

It’s called so after the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when colonists dumped tea into Boston Harbour in protest against a tax they didn’t like, an epochal moment in American history.

The Tea Party doesn’t like taxes too. And it doesn’t like President Obama’s signature healthcare law, which has survived a Supreme Court challenge and several electoral tests including his 2012 re-election.

Comprised mostly of White, middle class Americans, the Tea Party is a major factor today in the Republican Party, forcing it further to the right on social and fiscal issues.

Its favourites may some time turn out as poor caricatures of themselves and the values dear to the movement -- Michele Bachmann, a 2012 presidential hopeful, for one.

But don’t let them define the movement.

Cruz, for one, shines in comparison.

Shining resume, so far

Born to a Cuban father, but born in Canada, he would need his mother’s ancestry, American by birth, to run for the White House as a natural-born citizen, if and when he wants to.

But he has a typical American dream story to sell, which is always a vote-catcher. His father came to the US penniless, and struggled through college washing dishes at 50 cents an hour.

Cruz himself fared much better, as most second generation immigrant. He first went to Princeton and then Harvard, where he studied law — both Ivy league institutions.He is acutely aware of their equity, and for a long while now. While at Harvard, he is understood to have refused to be part of study groups that included those from the “minor ivies”.

He clerked for Supreme Court chief justice William Rehnquist, a prized assignment for any law student, and went on to become Texas’s first Hispanic solicitor general.

He may have been in line for a higher office if he wanted a career in law— possibly on the Supreme Court. But that was not something Cruz wanted, apparently.

He ran for the senate from Texas, and won.

But that wasn’t all that he wanted. It was clear from the start, Cruz would not be another junior senator who would wait for his turn to be counted among the lions of the august chamber.