Evan Smith is CEO and editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune, the Fix's favorite journalistic enterprise in the Lone Star State. He recently interviewed Texas Sen Ted Cruz during his organization's TribuneFest. In hopes of getting more insight into what really drives Cruz -- and what the Texas Senator wants in the long run -- we reached out to Evan. Our conversation via email is below, edited only for grammar. Make sure to check out Evan's full interview with Ted Cruz and donate to the Tribune's effort to live-stream the entire 2014 governor's race.
FIX: Ok, let's start with the question EVERYONE in Washington wants to know: What does Ted Cruz want?
Evan Smith: He wants what he says he wants: No more Obamacare, a smaller federal budget, greater personal liberty, power returned to the states — and the obliteration of the establishment-centric D.C. culture. He's been fairly clear on all of the above, and the fact that he's unpopular not just among Democrats but his fellow Republicans should tell you something. He's not in this to win a beauty contest. He's not being politic. He believes, and he's willing to pay whatever price or bear whatever consequence results. Really, though, he's not risking anything by stiffening his resolve. He represents a state — the People's Republic of Anti-Obama — in which plenty of folks view the world precisely as he does. When the Washington Post or the New York Times or John McCain or Pete King take out after him, he gets stronger, not weaker. His base embraces him even more.
FIX: Who, aside from his dad, does he listen to or take political advice from?
Evan: Part of me thinks he only listens to himself — to his instincts. Who objectively would have advised him to pull the pin on this phase of his career so quickly? (Or to run against a rich incumbent statewide official with high name ID for the Senate in the first place?) But I know he's surrounded by a core group of young, strategically savvy, true-believer Texas turks: Chip Roy, his chief of staff; and operatives Jason Johnson, John Drogin, Jonathan McClellan, and Jordan Berry, among others. Assuming they're whispering in his ear, it's working. A level down, a couple dozen Tea Party legislators back home are more cheer squad that kitchen cabinet, but I suspect his conversations with them aren't entirely one way.
FIX: Is there a Texas Ted Cruz and a Washington Ted Cruz? If so, what's the difference between the two?
Evan: No. Same guy. The Texas Ted Cruz doesn't fit in in Washington, but he'd rather fight than switch. It's like the old joke about the band camp parent — the one whose kid is playing off-key but remains insistent that it's the other kids who are playing off-key. The sound he hears in his head is the take-no-prisoners, no-going-along-to-get-along brand of conservatism that got him elected; everything else is noise.
FIX: Does the Texas business community like or, more importantly, donate to Cruz?
The business community, broadly speaking, was most definitely not with him during the [Senate] race against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. They're with him now because they're pragmatic; there's always plenty of room on the late train. And the tactics of the last few weeks haven't lost him any backers. This is a one-party state, and the few remaining moderate Republicans who could challenge him in a 2018 primary wouldn't get traction. You may hear a little grumbling or witness a little eye-rolling from Austin's "Republicans," but elsewhere his ideological brethren are lapping this stuff up. Short of talking long enough to cancel the college football season, Senator Cruz will be hard-pressed to find himself in political trouble any time soon.
FIX: Compare/contrast these two Texas politicians: Ted Cruz and Rick Perry.
Evan: Governor Perry is a more talented retail politician and fundraiser, and as much as he wants to be seen as an outsider, he's been in elective office for nearly 30 years; he personifies the inside game. Senator Cruz is, for a Princeton and Harvard man, a more plausible outsider. He's far and away the bigger thinker of the two and the more natural speaker. He certainly remembered more than three things in those 21 hours.
FIX: Finish this sentence: In 2016, Ted Cruz will be _________.
The Tea Party's one true standard-bearer in the Republican presidential primary. Which is not to say he'll win the nomination, but a week into the government shutdown, who can deny his gravitational pull? Anyway, after McCain and Mitt Romney, and given the provenance of heat and energy in the party at the moment, I wouldn't rule it out.