Lately, I had been thinking about writing a piece asking the question of whether Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is more like the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) or if he is more like President Ronald Reagan. For those of you who don’t remember — or who weren’t born yet — the irascible Helms served in the Senate from 1973-2003. He was well known for his independent streak, and he was certainly not shy about ignoring the will of Senate leaders when he did not see things their way. Some of his stubborn pursuits and lonely battles in the Senate are legendary.
Anyway, as I was thinking about this comparison, I thought it would be a good idea to pose the question to a few former and current senators, staffers and others who worked with or knew all three men. Let’s just say people tend to see Sen. Cruz as something of an original. The reaction I got surprised me. To the person, the very idea that I would compare Sen. Cruz to either Sen. Helms or President Reagan drew an angry blast. The depth of the hostility toward Cruz surprised me. Every Republican I spoke with reminded me that Sen .Helms — while at times obstinate — was always gracious and above board. They talked about how Helms was a great gentlemen, colleague and a candid advocate who would never blindside his colleagues or let disagreements become personal. All this was said about Sen. Helms in a way that suggested these qualities were in contrast to their views of Sen. Cruz.
And when it came to the question of whether or not Cruz had Reaganesque qualities, the very idea that I would broach that comparison was greeted with a sneer and a suggestion that I had lost my mind.
So, to sum up the reaction I got when asking if Sen. Cruz was more like Sen. Helms or President Reagan, the answer from those who knew both was “neither” and the answer was often punctuated with a dropped jaw, rolled eyes and a generally aggravated demeanor. Suffice it to say, the response was vicious.
Another interesting observation that resulted from my probing was that when you ask people about Sen. Cruz, they often volunteer something about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The two are often thought of and talked about in tandem. But the comments about Sen. Paul were frequently made in a much different tone, suggesting that people are intrigued by him and what he has done in the Senate so far. It is my guess that he is beating expectations and has impressed some of the old Reagan guard.
In Washington, you don’t need friends, but you do need allies. There is no doubt that Sen. Cruz is burning bridges in Washington. It will be interesting to see if he can take those ashes from inside the beltway and build something useful in the early primary states for a 2016 presidential run.
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