GOP at the crossroads
Texas is huge, both literally and in the impact it will have on national politics if the GOP maintains its strongly negative attitude toward undocumented immigrants. Read this very interesting article by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker on the implications and what’s happening.
When historians look back on Mitt Romney’s bid for the Presidency, one trend will be clear: no Republican candidate ever ran a similar campaign again. For four decades, from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan through the two Bush Presidencies, the Republican Party won the White House by amassing large margins among white voters. Nixon summoned the silent majority. Reagan cemented this bloc of voters, many of whom were former Democrats. Both Bushes won the Presidency by relying on broad support from Reagan Democrats. In that time, Republicans transformed the South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican, and they held the White House for twenty-eight out of forty years. Last Tuesday, Romney won three-fifths of the white vote, matching or exceeding what several winning Presidential candidates, including Reagan in 1980 and Bush in 1988, achieved, but it wasn’t enough. The white share of the electorate, which was eighty-seven per cent in 1992, has steadily declined by about three points in every Presidential election since then. At the present rate, by 2016, whites will make up less than seventy per cent of voters. Romney’s loss to Barack Obama brought an end not just to his eight-year quest for the Presidency but to the Republican Party’s assumptions about the American electorate.
Some interpretations of the election results by conservatives were particularly dark. Mary Matalin, the Republican commentator, wrote that Obama was a “political narcissistic sociopath” who “leveraged fear and ignorance” to win. On Tuesday evening, before the race was called, Bill O’Reilly, after acknowledging that “the demographics are changing,” offered the following explanation for an Obama victory: “It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are fifty per cent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. Whereby twenty years ago President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The white establishment is now the minority.” He added, “You’re going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama.”
But far from Fox News Channel’s newsroom in Manhattan and the insular world of the Beltway’s conservative commentariat, one significant element of the Republican Party has for the past two years been grappling with and adapting to the demographic future that was so starkly revealed by last Tuesday’s outcome. On Halloween, less than a week before Election Day, I rode with Ted Cruz, now the senator-elect from Texas, who was folded into the back seat of a Toyota Corolla as an aide drove him from San Antonio to Austin. Cruz, who has a thick head of pomaded, neatly combed hair, is a former college debate champion and Supreme Court litigator, and is a commanding public speaker. That morning, he had addressed a small crowd of employees eating Kit Kats and candy corn at Valero, a major oil refiner whose headquarters are in San Antonio. As he told the story of his father’s journey from Cuba to Texas, the room fell silent. Cruz, who is forty-one, eschews teleprompters, instead roaming across the stage and speaking slowly and dramatically, with well-rehearsed sweeps of his hands. He is one of several political newcomers who offer hope to Republicans after a disappointing election.
In the car, sipping a Diet Dr Pepper while he talked about his background and discussed the future of the Party, Cruz was more down to earth than his Hermès tie and Patek Philippe watch suggested. He said that he had relaxed the previous evening at his hotel by watching “Cowboys and Aliens.” “It is every bit as stupid as it sounds,” he said. “But it actually has a really good cast.”
Cruz, a lawyer who was solicitor general of Texas from 2003 to 2008, combines a compelling personal biography with philosophically pure conservatism. He won his Senate primary in an upset, earlier this year, partly by adhering to the secure-the-borders mentality popular with most Texas Republicans. He promised to triple the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and to build a larger border wall than his opponent proposed. In January, when he is sworn in, he will become one of the most right-wing members of the U.S. Senate. A Tea Party favorite who also happens to be Hispanic, Cruz is viewed by many as a key figure in helping to transform the Party. According to exit polls, Hispanics, one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population, made up ten per cent of the electorate, their highest share in American history, and Romney lost the Hispanic vote to Obama by a margin of seventy-one per cent to twenty-seven per cent, the lowest level of support for a Republican since 1996.
Cruz is a first-generation citizen. His father, Rafael, as a teen-ager in Cuba, fought alongside Castro’s revolutionaries against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. He was jailed and beaten by the regime. “My grandmother said that his suit, which had started out bright white, you couldn’t see a spot of white on it,” Cruz said. “It was just stained with blood and mud, and his teeth were dangling from his mouth.” Rafael left for the United States, and in 1957 started at the University of Texas on a student visa. He continued to support Castro. “He learned English very quickly and began going around to local Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs and speaking about the Revolution and raising money for Castro,” Cruz said. “He was a young revolutionary. He would get Austin businesspeople to write checks.”
When Castro came to power, in 1959, the elder Cruz quickly grew disillusioned. His younger sister fought in the counter-revolution and was tortured by the new regime. Rafael returned to Cuba in 1960 to see his family, and was shaken by what Castro’s Communist dictatorship had wrought. “When my father got back to Austin,” Cruz said, “he sat down and made a list of every place he’d gone to speak, and he made a point of going back to each of them and standing in front of them and saying, ‘I owe you an apology. I misled you. I took your money and I sent it to evil ends.’ And he said, ‘I didn’t do so knowingly, but I did so nonetheless, and for that I’m truly sorry.’ When I was a kid, my dad told me that story over and over again. To me, that always defined character: to have the courage to go back and apologize.”
Rafael made sure that his son entered politics from the opposite side of the political spectrum. In high school, Ted became involved with a group known as the Free Market Education Foundation, which introduced him to the writings of conservative economic philosophers such as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Frédéric Bastiat, and Ludwig von Mises. Cruz travelled to Rotary and Kiwanis groups in Texas as his father had a generation earlier.
But, instead of expounding on Castro, he competed against other teen-agers in speech contests; the contestants delivered twenty minutes of memorized remarks about free-market economics. He soon joined a spinoff group, the Constitutional Corroborators, and learned a mnemonic device for memorizing an abbreviated version of the Constitution, which he and other club members would write out on easels for lunchtime crowds of Rotarians or local political groups around Texas. By the time he graduated from high school, he had given several dozen speeches across the state.
“It was transformational,” Cruz said. “The two strongest influences on my life were that experience and the personal experience of my family’s story and my father’s flight from Cuba.”
Cruz already has had a remarkably successful career in law and politics. He is the first to point out that he has excelled at almost everything he has set out to do: the early speech contests (“I was one of the city winners all four years when I was in high school”); academics (“I was the first person from my high school ever to go to any Ivy League college”); his Princeton debate career (“I was the No. 1 speaker”); his time at Harvard Law School (“I was on three different law journals, was a primary editor of the Harvard Law Review, and an executive editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, and then a founding editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review”); his clerkship, from 1995 to 1996, for Judge Michael Luttig (“widely considered the top conservative federal appellate judge in the country”) and, from 1996 to 1997, for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist (“he and I were very, very close”); his five and a half years as solicitor general (“ended up over the years really winning some of the biggest cases in the country—year after year after year”); and his record of arguing nine cases before the Supreme Court (“it is the most of any practicing lawyer in the state of Texas”).
Cruz’s coming challenge is his biggest yet. As with other Hispanic Republicans elected recently—New Mexico’s governor, Susana Martinez; Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval; Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida—his last name and heritage, along with his conservative leanings, assure that Republicans will look to him to help lead them out of the demographic wilderness. He might even run for President in 2016. Though he was born in Canada, he informed me that he was qualified to serve. “The Constitution requires that one be a natural-born citizen,” he said, “and my mother was a U.S. citizen when I was born.”
As a senator from Texas, the largest and most important state in the Republican firmament, Cruz has a special role in the post-Romney debate. At the Presidential level, Texas has thirty-eight electoral votes, second only to California, which has fifty-five. It anchors the modern Republican Party, in the same way that California and New York anchor the Democratic Party. But, Cruz told me, the once unthinkable idea of Texas becoming a Democratic state is now a real possibility.
“If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community,” he said, “in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state.” He ticked off some statistics: in 2004, George W. Bush won forty-four per cent of the Hispanic vote nationally; in 2008, John McCain won just thirty-one per cent. On Tuesday, Romney fared even worse.
“In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat,” he said. “If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House. New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’ ” . . .