Ted Cruz: American Hero, or Greatest American Hero?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 29 2013 10:48 AM

Ted Cruz: American Hero, or Greatest American Hero?

James Carter clips video of Sen. Ted Cruz taking no small amount of credit for the failure of gun control in the Senate. It's a fascinating one-act lesson in how to rewrite recent history to put yourself in the white hat, riding the handsomest steed.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


So: Cruz's capsule history of the gun control debate is that the train was rolling, but he and conservative senators held fast and formed a coalition against it. He refers to the letter that he, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee wrote promising to filibuster any gun bill.

"Once that letter is out there, senators would go up to their home states, they'd go to a town hall, and citizens would stand up and say, 'Why haven't you signed that letter?'" says Cruz. He credits the latecomer Republicans who co-signed the letter, then recalls the failed filibuster against the motion to proceed to debate. "At that point, all of the reporters said, 'OK, you guys have lost,'" says Cruz. "The Wall Street Journal wrote two op-eds bashing Rand and Mike and me for being imbeciles for fighting on this. Didn't we understand!"

But that's not quite how it went. Cruz et al sent the letter when the gun control fight was already looking won; too many red-state Democrats opposed it. The fight reignited on the week of April 8, when those Democrats and several Republicans sounded open to the Manchin-Toomey compromise. On April 9, the WSJ called the Cruz et al letter a "misfire" because it was taking heat off the Democrats and putting it on that familiar villain, the Republican Filibuster-er.

In an instant, these GOP wizards have taken the onus off Senate Democrats and made Republicans the media's gun-control focus. Mr. Reid is now bellowing about Republicans blocking a vote, and Democrats such as Mark Pryor (Arkansas), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) and Mark Begich (Alaska) don't have to declare themselves on provisions that might be unpopular at home.

Hard to argue with that—had the gun debate ended with that filibuster threat, Landrieu never would have cast her "aye" and Begich/Pryor wouldn't have angered liberals with their "no" votes. Two days after the WSJ op-ed, the Senate voted to move ahead to debate on the amendments, putting senators on the record on guns for the first time in 14 years.

But Cruz blurs the timeline. In his version of events, Democrats were convinced up to the last minute that they could break 60 votes on Manchin-Toomey ("the look of shock from the senior Democrats!") and Republicans shamed Cruz for his ... well, for his ballsiness, in this telling. Fellow Republicans, says Cruz, were "yelling at us at the top of their lungs! Look, why did you do this! As a result of what you did, I gotta go home and my constituents are yelling at me that I've got to stand on principle!"

Back on Earth, Democrats basically knew that they wouldn't break 60 on the night before the series of gun votes; Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted his disappointment. Cruz was in those rooms with GOP senators, and I wasn't, but if they were angry at him on the week of April 8, it wasn't because they disagreed with his gun stance, or lacked principle. It was because they considered it astrategic.

Reporters who live in D.C. and spend too many daylight hours talking to politicians, we get that. This was a pretty simple story of ideological preferences and interest group pressure. But Cruz wants a voter back home, a Republican activist, to learn something else—a Jimmy Stewart tale, in which the rest of the GOP was ready to sell you out until one man stood up and thundered "nay."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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