What the Media Got Wrong About Ted Cruz

Marin Cogan

Ted Cruz thinks the press doesn't understand him. Addressing the barrage of criticisms he's faced since he launched the government shutdown earlier this month, the junior senator from Texas told CNN's Dana Bash in an interview on "State of the Union" Sunday: "The strategy in Washington is to launch personal attacks … and to encourage the media to do what a lot of folks in the media like to do, which is cover this like it's a Hollywood gossip column—this politician versus this politician, who's up, who's down, who's mad. Who cares?"

Point taken: this is a criticism the right and left (and, yes, many journalists) would probably admit is true. Cruz might have some standing as a media critic. A great deal has been written about him since he beat the establishment choice, David Dewhurst, in a contentious primary last year—and some of it, even by the authors' admissions, turned out to be wrong. Here's a brief catalogue.

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1) Ted Cruz is the Republican Barack Obama. "A young, Harvard-educated lawyer, an 'intellectual' with a compelling life story, the son of an American mother and an immigrant father, a practiced orator thrust into the national political spotlight, and buoyed by a cult of personality," Republican strategist Mark McKinnon kicked off a column from The Daily Beast last summer. "[I]s Ted Cruz going to be the Republican Barack Obama?"

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No. Nope. Not even a little. Beyond a few basic biographical similarities, there's virtually nothing the two have in common. While it's true that Barack Obama is, a year into his second term as president, intensely disliked by the opposition, Cruz has in very short order made himself extremely unpopular both among the opposition and his own party. That's nothing like Obama, who managed to come through a contentious primary against an establishment favorite with the party united behind him. To put it another way: Can you imagine a Secretary of State Mitch McConnell in the Cruz administration? Didn't think so.

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In August 2012, McKinnon said that Cruz's victory could be good for Texas, the Tea Party, and maybe even the GOP itself. He's since changed his tune. Last month he told the Financial Times that he "hardly recognizes" the person he'd always considered a "thoughtful, really smart guy"; in a CNN segment last week, he said: "I think he basically burned down the reputation of the Republican Party and is standing on the ashes to just stand a little taller for himself personally."

2) Ted Cruz is the next Marco Rubio. "Can Cruz pull off an upset and become this year's Marco Rubio?" asked The Week in 2012. Yes, by that standard—pulling off an upset in a Republican primary—Cruz may have seemed like "the next Marco Rubio." But there really needs to be a moratorium on the journalistic habit of comparing a new lawmaker from a minority background to the most recent example of a lawmaker from a similar minority background. Cory Booker is not the next Barack Obama—he's just another up-and-coming politician who happens to be black. Kirsten Gillibrand is not the next Hillary Clinton, although, yes, they're both blonde New York women, and Gillibrand succeeded Clinton in the Senate. How perceptive! Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are both Cuban, but their modi operandi couldn't be more different. Rubio worked quietly to build up a great reserve of political capital that he used in an effort to pass sweeping, bipartisan reform on one of the most important political issues in the country, immigration reform. Cruz tossed the whole notion of political capital aside and led a quixotic charge on the Senate floor, then stuck to it in the press as his colleagues stuck it to him.

3) Ted Cruz would follow the examples of past Texas dealmakers. To be fair, this was more of the Houston Chronicle's wish than their prediction. They endorsed Cruz over his Democratic opponent, Paul Sadler, after paying Sadler compliments, because they felt he was never going to be able to win the election (which raises interesting questions about what they think an endorsement editorial is supposed to do, but never mind). In endorsing Cruz, the editors said they expected "that Cruz will be schooled by the examples of previous senators from Texas, beginning with [Former Senator Kay Bailey] Hutchison and continuing with Lloyd Bentsen and Lyndon B. Johnson."

By last week, they were lamenting just how fall short of expectations he'd fallen. "One reason we particularly believe that Hutchison would make a difference in these hectic days is that if she had kept her seat, Cruz would not be in the Senate. When we endorsed Ted Cruz in last November's general election, we did so with many reservations and at least one specific recommendation—that he follow Hutchison's example in his conduct as a senator. Obviously, he has not done so. Cruz has been part of the problem in specific situations where Hutchison would have been part of the solution."

4) Ted Cruz would help the GOP win Hispanic voters. It was in virtually every piece about Ted Cruz—the assertion that his Cuban heritage would help lure Hispanic voters to the party. But Cruz's positions are anathema to the positions held by a majority of Hispanic voters. In a Pew poll of Latino voters, 89 percent supported the Obama administration's decision to let the children of undocumented immigrants stay in the country; Cruz said in 2012 that if Romney was elected he should seek to overturn it. Sixty-one percent of them approve of the health care law Cruz crusaded against. While 80 percent said the undocumented should be offered a chance to stay in the country if they haven't broken any laws, Cruz was doing his best to quash the Senate's immigration bill. As The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin has pointed out, Cruz overstated his performance among Hispanic voters in his 2012 Senate race and was bested in the demographic by his underfunded Democratic opponent.

"Cruz and others opposed to citizenship for illegal immigrants are trying to convince fellow Republicans that they will do fine with Hispanics by voting against immigration reform. There is a mound of data from polling, focus groups and election results that says anti-immigration reform rhetoric and votes matter quite a lot, and not only with Hispanics. If Cruz's argument that all this data is wrong rests on an inaccurate assertion about his own experience, then Republicans should be wary," Rubin wrote.

5) Ted Cruz is as good as it gets for the GOP.Here'sWashington Post columnist George F. Will on candidate Cruz in 2011: "For conservatives seeking reinforcements for Washington's too-limited number of limited-government constitutionalists, it can hardly get better than this." Will went on to praise Cruz's Ivy League pedigree, prestigious legal career and Cuban heritage in a column that could unite the establishment in Washington in universal agreement of its wrongness.

But Will has since soured on Cruz. In a column masterfully comparing Cruz to a Red Army general marching his troops through the minefields, Will dismantled the Senator's strategy to force the defunding of the health care law. "Well," he wrote of Cruz, "Those people who are best at deceiving others first deceive themselves. They often do so by allowing their wishes to be the fathers of their thoughts, and begin by wishing that everything has changed." It's a good lesson for the press, too.

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