The Most Hated Man in the Senate

What's Ted Cruz's problem?

In the first few months of his first term in the United States Senate, Ted Cruz has been, for all practical purposes, the human equivalent of one of those flower-squirters that clowns wear on their lapels. His initiatives can often seem like non-sequiturs -- he has proposed defunding the United Nations over forced abortions in China. And his statements can seem almost self defeating, such as when he described decorated war veterans Chuck Hagel and John Kerry as "less than ardent fans of the U.S. military."

Not surprisingly, the freshman from Texas has irritated Democrats. Sen. Dianne Feinstein described him as "arrogant" and "patronizing" after the new arrival offered the 20-year Senate veteran a lesson on the constitution during a debate over assault weapons. He's also been a headache for GOP leaders, expressing reluctance to back fellow Texas Republican John Cornyn for minority whip on the grounds that he had to make sure the candidate he supported would "stand and fight for conservative principles." (National Journal ranked Cornyn as the second-most conservative member in the pre-Cruz Senate last year.)

Cruz's ecumenical approach to criticism has, however, contributed to some confusion about what he actually believes. The question of whether Cruz is an isolationist or an interventionist, for example, has elicited some debate among conservatives; he's pro-Israel, hawkish on Iran, yet apparently skeptical of interventionism and nation-building. He wants more border security, and less illegal immigration -- but he has also asserted that the United States is and should remain a country that "celebrates" legal immigrants. Also, he keeps talking about the great twentieth-century political philosopher John Rawls, who has more often been associated with the left than the right -- to the great frustration of Democrats, who feel like Cruz is, disingenuously co-opting their concerns.

Cruz is often lumped in with fellow GOP rising stars like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, but of all of them, he is perhaps the toughest to pin down ideologically. So what exactly does Cruz believe?

First, it's important to understand that foreign policy isn't his primary focus: He's economically liberal, in the classical sense, and economic issues make up the bulk of his political message. His stump speech, the one that references Rawls, is a call for the GOP to recast its small-government stance to emphasize what he's calling "opportunity conservatism" -- the belief that conservatives "should conceptualize and should articulate every domestic policy with a laser focus on easing the means of ascent," as he put it in a January speech in Austin.

Beyond economics, his approach is a bit more idiosyncratic. He's ideological, even compulsive, with regard to the Constitution. This is a longstanding preoccupation -- as an undergraduate at Princeton, he wrote his thesis on the 9th and 10th amendments -- and apparently a sincere one. It helps explain why he gave his colleague Rand Paul a much-needed break during his March 6 anti-drone filibuster. He's firmly against gun control, but that stance is rooted in his reading of the Constitution rather than any affinity for gun culture. (Cruz, more nerd than sportsman, would look no more plausible skeet shooting than Barack Obama.)

It also helps explain Cruz's stance on immigration. Many observers were surprised when Cruz conspicuously declined to make common cause earlier this year with Sen. Marco Rubio on immigration reform. Cruz, like Rubio, is the son of an immigrant from Cuba, and Texas Republicans have, as a group, been more moderate on the issue than the national GOP. But unauthorized immigration is, of course, both an economic issue and a legal one. Someone like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who signed Texas's 2001 law that made certain undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition at the state's public colleges and universities, is looking at it through the former lens. Cruz sees it as a rule-of-law issue, arguing that establishing a path to citizenship would be "profoundly unfair" to legal immigrants.

Cruz's preoccupation with principles began early. He was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban immigrant father, who had met in Texas and would soon return there; Cruz often tells crowds about how his father had only a few dollars to his name when he came to the United States and worked his way through college, at the University of Texas, by washing dishes.

By high school, the young Ted Cruz had become a competitive debater, and memorized stretches of the Constitution; he kept up both pursuits at Princeton, where he won several national debate awards. By the time he went on to Harvard Law School, a political career must have seemed likely, although he logged a few years on Wall Street before moving into the public sector.

But the defining moment of Cruz's time as Texas's solicitor general may be the best indicator of how he views America's place in the world: the case of Medellín v. Texas.

In 1993, José Medellín was one of several men who, as part of a gang initiation in Houston, raped and murdered two teenage girls. In 1997, he was convicted and sentenced to death. In 2003, the appeals began. Although Medellín's guilt was clear enough -- he had signed a confession a few days after the murder -- he was technically a Mexican national, having moved to the United States as a toddler, and Texas authorities hadn't notified him of his right, under the Vienna Convention, to contact the consulate.

Medellin's case got a boost in 2005, when President George W. Bush wrote a memo confirming that state courts should, in view of the country's international commitments, review Medellin's case and a number of others. The memo seemed like an olive branch on Bush's part -- the issue had become a point of tension between the Mexico and the United States.

The reaction in Texas among those following the case was not particularly sympathetic to the president's diplomatic outreach. And Medellin v Texas wasn't the kind of case that would help an isolationist warm to the cause. The plaintiff was effectively arguing that despite being a confessed and convicted rapist and murderer, he should be protected by two sets of loopholes -- regardless of what you think of Texas, or the death penalty, it was pretty audacious. When the case made it to the Supreme Court, Texas won on a 6-3 vote, and a couple of years later, when Perry wrote about the saga in his campaign book, he was clearly incredulous that three Supreme Court justices hadn't agreed.

Cruz took that view of it too. "Were Medellín's view correct, the implications would be staggering," he wrote in an article adapted from a speech he gave at Yale Law School in 2010 "The President could overturn any law at any time in the name of enforcing any vague, aspirational, international agreement the United States might have ratified." The court's ruling was cause for celebration, he said, because the values at stake -- American sovereignty and the separation of powers -- had both been upheld. On the other hand, Cruz continued, "the case invites great trepidation, because it represents an assault on those principles that will continue unabated for many years to come."

Those principles, Cruz implied, were important enough that he was willing to put aside his personal feelings in the situation. In fact, "on a personal level," he found it noteworthy that he had, "ironically enough" ended up arguing with Bush and taking up arguments that had previously been made by the Clinton administration. As that aside suggests, Cruz has, never been particularly concerned with ingratiating himself. Perhaps the best example of that, beyond the recent scuffles in Washington, is the fact that he is in the capital in the first place after a meteoric rise through Texas politics. One thing to know about the Lone Star State's government is that there's a traffic jam at the top: Perry is the longest-serving governor in state history, having got the job in 2000 after Bush stepped down to prepare for his presidential inauguration. Most of the state's top politicians have been in statewide politics, if not the same exact role, for more than a decade.

Cruz, by contrast, had never even run for office before 2012. On the face of it, he was an unlikely candidate. He was well known in political circles from having served as solicitor general, but was still largely unknown among the general public. His years in the attorney general's office were his only public-sector experience in Texas, although he had worked in Washington, at the Federal Trade Commission, during Bush's first term.

In other words, when Cruz took on Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in the Republican Senate primary last year, he was jumping the line by about 50 spots. Even political scion George P. Bush is running for land commissioner in 2014, although he could surely raise enough money to take a swing at the governor's office, and apparently considered it. That Cruz would blithely run for the Senate seat -- let alone win it -- surely irks Texan politicians of both parties.

That’s not Cruz’s problem, though -- and as he climbs the political ladder, he seems destined to annoy some more people along the way. He might even take a shot at the presidency some day. If he does, he might come across as too wonkish and too aggressive to connect with voters. “Belligerent egghead” has rarely been a winning brand in presidential politics. (Just ask Newt Gingrich.) In terms of foreign policy, though, polling shows that Republicans around the country share some of Cruz’s concerns; they are, for example, somewhat skeptical of international cooperation. And to date, at least, it doesn’t seem that Cruz’s controversies have caused him any personal trouble; in January, Public Policy Polling found that he had a higher net approval rating than either Perry or Cornyn. If he wants to have a greater role in national politics, which seems likely, there's clearly an audience.



Who's the Most Powerful Woman in the World?

Hint: It's not Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg. She lives in Berlin and is key to solving the euro crisis.

She's not a billionaire, social media celebrity, or bestselling author. In an era of über-bling, she's distinctly unter-bling. By her own admission, she was a bit of a klutz as a young woman.  But Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor for the last 8 years, has quietly become the most powerful woman in the world.

I spent a day with Frau Merkel in spring 2005, sitting at a picnic table under a tree in a quiet, rural setting an hour and a half outside Berlin. At the time, Merkel was chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and campaigning against Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. She had phoned me weeks earlier -- I was then the head of the Aspen Institute Berlin -- to invite me to join several other foreign-policy experts for a discussion about Germany, Europe, and the world.

I got first-hand exposure not just to Merkel the politician, but also to Merkel the scientist -- a chance to see how her mind works. I think her background tells us a good deal about her approach to problem solving. And perhaps, ultimately, how I hope she will tackle the euro crisis.

Merkel is a physicist by training, and the first thing you observe about her is that she's not a pontificator. She's a careful and patient collector of data. She loves due diligence and wants a complete picture before she reaches conclusions. It's a rare thing in politics and public policy, where we all have our biases and pre-conceived notions. One thing's for certain: Not too many politicians author doctoral dissertations with titles like, "Examination of the Mechanism of Decomposition Reactions with Simple Bond Breaking and the Calculation of their Rate Constants on the Basis of Quantum-Chemical and Statistical Methods." Merkel's husband, by the way, is a quantum chemist and professor who, like the chancellor herself, grew up in East Germany.

It became clear that day at our little lakeside seminar that Merkel was there to gather information. She's empirical and deliberative. It was as if she wanted to place each piece of analysis and every single policy recommendation under a microscope.

I witnessed this same methodology on other occasions. I once brokered a conversation between Merkel and Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin, at a time when Bibi was between stints as Israel's prime minister. What did Merkel think about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, about the security wall, Gaza, Egypt, or Iran? You would hardly have known during the course of the 90 minute conversation. She just peppered her guest with questions, assembling her dataset.

I think Merkel's scientific approach is an immense advantage. Now comes the rub.

The eurozone is falling apart. The economics are finally catching up to the politics. It is fast becoming a matter of simple arithmetic. Have a look at the CEP Default Index, an interesting tool for tracking creditworthiness produced by the Centre for European Policy in Freiburg. The gap between fiscally disciplined and solvent countries on the one hand, and those mired in debt on the other, is growing ever wider. Unless things change dramatically, you won't be able to keep all of Europe in the same common currency.

CEP chairman Lüder Gerken sums up the problem this way: "We give the Greeks the money they need and tell them to reform. When they don't reform, we give them more money." Meanwhile, Greeks don't tire of German bailouts; they do, however, become dreadfully resentful of being told by Germans what to do. On Merkel's last trip to Athens, hundreds of thousands of protestors carried banners likening the German leader to Hitler and denouncing the new Fourth Reich.

For their own reasons, the French are getting testy, too.

With its economy in freefall, France is fed up with President François Hollande, whose standing continues to plummet -- a mere 30 percent popularity after less than a year in office. That's a record. The French have also had enough of German lectures on the virtues of austerity. Look for Franco-German tensions to grow worse, and for populist sentiment in France, as well as elsewhere across Europe, to increase.

The inescapable facts are these: 1) There is no way the eurozone can hang together if it means endless German bailouts for countries that are unwilling or incapable of getting their public finances in order; and 2) there is no way Europe can have a stable and prosperous future if the French economy remains chronically ill and confidence between Paris and Berlin deteriorates.

The latest bad news from euro-land has been the banking debacle in Cyprus. Another crisis, another "unique" case, another precedent. Spain's time will come: another unique case.

What's needed? It's not the fanciful dreams of Tory backbenchers. European integration of some sort is here to stay because most Europeans want it. What is needed, however, is flexibility, pragmatism, and a clear-eyed, orderly plan for a multi-speed Europe. What this requires is a new vision for Europe that includes allowing Greece and possibly other countries to exit the euro, a process that unavoidably entails serious financial and political costs. Avoiding short-term pain, though, means flirting with long-term meltdown and disaster.

What Europe needs is imagination and leadership from Germany, the country with the biggest and healthiest economy. But there's another aspect to the person of Angela Merkel -- who's almost certain to be chancellor again after September elections -- that makes Europe's rescue difficult.

Like her mentor Helmut Kohl, and like virtually everyone else in the political establishment in Berlin, Merkel has been wedded to the position, up until now, that a single currency leading to a United States of Europe is the only real guarantee of peace and prosperity for Germany and its neighbors. Anything less, most elites in Berlin believe, will lead to a return of nationalism, destructive rivalries, and war. It's stubborn dogma. In truth, the EU's current strategy to bring Europeans closer is having exactly the opposite effect. In Greece, Cyprus, Italy, and Spain, Germany has become everybody's favorite villain; Merkel is demonised as the "financial fascist" by protesters.

Back to my picnic with Merkel. I admire her scientific approach to problems. But Merkel is a political animal too, of course. She has an exceptionally hard business side. She "gets" power. It's a daunting task and delicate balancing act she has ahead of her. Should she fail, Europe's divisions will widen and German citizens will be out in the streets. I don't see this happening: Merkel "gets" history too.

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