Ambition enough for two

Ambition enough for two

Ambition enough for two

Ted Cruz’s decision to move 1,500 miles from his wife for a political job helped make him a presidential contender. But it tested his marriage.

Published on January 29, 2016

They’d been on the road for four days across five states, and now Ted and Heidi Cruz rolled into the rear parking lot of a civic center in Trussville, Ala., chauffeured in a Mercedes GL450, for one last event to close out the weekend. Ted slipped on a coat and Heidi shook hands with a local congressman, and an officer gestured toward a back entrance, down the hallway from 1,200 people in their seats and 200 more on their feet. Heidi clasped Ted’s forearm and they walked in together.

A “team partnership,” Ted calls their relationship — a driven husband and wife who, like the Clintons a generation ago, have set their eyes on occupying the most important family home in America.

Above: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition last month in Washington. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

“I know why I got on board with Ted 15 years ago,” Heidi said onstage, introducing her husband, “and before he comes up here, I want to share some of that with you.”

They’d met on the 2000 George W. Bush campaign, when they worked three cubicles apart, and in the years since, they’d gone from an apartment in Northern Virginia to a 19th-floor condo in Houston to a series of three-star hotels in early-primary states. Heidi had taken an unpaid leave from her lucrative job at Goldman Sachs to join Ted on the trail.

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But in the earliest days of their marriage, they weren’t always together. At a time when Ted Cruz felt unsatisfied with his track in Washington, he made a decision to take a high-profile job in Austin — as Texas’s solicitor general — that provided a testing ground for his conservative arguments but also forced him to move 1,500 miles from Heidi, who continued working at the Treasury Department in Washington.

The job ultimately helped to launch Ted Cruz’s political career. It also nearly backfired: He and Heidi weathered several years of strained, long-distance commuting. And when Heidi finally moved to Texas, the strain only grew. She fell into a depression, what Cruz calls the couple’s “difficult chapter.”

Cruz, now 45, looks back on that decision 13 years ago to leave Washington as an essential part of his rise as a top-tier Republican presidential candidate. The choice bore the Cruz hallmarks: ambition, a willingness to take major risks and confidence that he could pull it off. In an interview with The Washington Post, Cruz also said that the move also shows how he and Heidi work in tandem. They both held aspirations for their careers, and they were willing to live apart to chase their goals.

“Look. Two professionals, how you coordinate two careers — it’s very complicated,” Cruz said. “And we worked through it as a team.”

“She and I,” Cruz said, “make every major decision together.”

Senate candidate Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, monitor election results in Houston on the night of Texas's Republican primary in May 2012. (Nick de la Torre/Houston Chronicle via AP)

A courtship by phone

In a way, ambition brought Ted and Heidi together.

She joined the Bush campaign because she decided, during a winter break from Harvard Business School, that it would be worthwhile to spend 17-hour days working on policy projects.

Ted Cruz responded with an ambition of his own: When Heidi showed up, many of the single men in the office noticed. Cruz elbowed the others away and took her out to dinner two days after they met.

“Ted is an intense one-on-one guy,” said Marc Lampkin, a lawyer at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck who worked with the Cruzes on the 2000 campaign. “I remember him always very intensely listening, intensely questioning, extracting every bit of her.”

Video: Meet Heidi Cruz

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Heidi Cruz has worked at the White House and Goldman Sachs, but she’s hoping to add one more item to her resume: U.S. first lady. (Sarah Parnass / The Washington Post)

Ted and Heidi had been married for less than two years when Cruz got wind of the job opening in Austin. At 31, he had graduated from Harvard Law School and clerked for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. He talked often about a career in politics.

But in Washington, he was dealing with a degree of career frustration for the first time, friends said. The Bush campaign had left him with one deep relationship and many frayed ones. Some colleagues found him abrasive; during Bush’s run, Cruz was a mid-level policy adviser who wondered aloud why he wasn’t prepping the then-Texas governor for his debates. In an autobiography published last year, Cruz wrote that he was “too cocky” at the time. And his penance, once Bush took office, was an unglamorous posting in the Federal Trade Commission.

“The FTC was like buying a suit off the rack at Joseph A. Bank,” said Jim Bayless, a Cruz friend who served in the Ronald Reagan administration. “It didn’t fit his shoulders.”

For Cruz, the key decision was not whether to take the job in Austin, he said; it was whether to apply. He wasn’t going to waste time pursuing the position, he said, without being certain he was doing the right thing. Determining that meant talking to one person: Heidi.

He had long told her that he would one day take a job in Texas, his home state. “If you want to be in elected office, the last thing you want to do is be in D.C.,” said Noel Francisco, a lawyer and close friend. But Heidi had also figured their move would come toward the end of Bush’s presidency, not at the beginning.

“They were on a 10-year plan, and then this happened after two years,” said Suzanne Nelson, Heidi’s mother. “Heidi likes to have everything planned.”

Heidi Cruz in April at the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit in Nashua. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Heidi loved her job running the Treasury Department’s Latin American desk. She had learned Spanish during late-night cram sessions and wanted a career in international affairs. Cruz encouraged her to stay in Washington instead of following him to Texas.

They had reason, he said, to think they could make a long-distance marriage work. Long distance meant phone calls, and they had fallen in love over long phone calls. Sure, they had met on the campaign, but Heidi had returned to Boston only weeks later at the end of her break. Before leaving, she had told Ted to call her every night.

“But I’m getting home at 2 and 3 in the morning,” he recalled telling her back then.

“I don’t care,” Heidi said. “Call me at 2 or 3.”

So Cruz called every night and woke her up, and they talked sometimes for as long as an hour, and occasionally Cruz would wake up with the phone by his ear and the call still running. They kept that up for months, and within a year they were married.

Talking, Cruz said, “was how the relationship was built.”

When they discussed the solicitor general’s job, Heidi said it fit his strengths. He should go for it. And so he did. He called Bayless, who had a friend in the attorney general’s office, and asked him to put in a good word. Cruz knew he was a long shot, given his dearth of experience arguing cases. And in Texas, the position was particularly high-profile. Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is now Texas’s governor, wanted the state to be assertive about taking conservative issues to the Supreme Court.

Cruz interviewed for the job on a Saturday and came prepared. He laid out a vision for the position that was even more aggressive than what Abbott had envisioned, said Barry McBee, the deputy attorney general at the time. Cruz suggested that Texas partner with other states and form coalitions to go before the Supreme Court, a way of broadening the state’s platform.

“I saw clearly incredible — not raw, but developing — talent,” McBee said.

Abbott offered Cruz the job while he and Heidi were in California, staying with her parents for Christmas in 2002. The call came early, 6 a.m. on the West Coast, when both were still in bed. Cruz accepted on the spot.

“I was blown away,” Cruz said, “and Heidi was, too. We were both like, ‘Wow.’ ”

Only years later, Cruz said, did Heidi admit why she had been so encouraging about applying for the job: She’d doubted Cruz would be chosen.

Ted Cruz, then the Texas solicitor general, argues a case before the state Supreme Court in Austin in 2005. (Harry Cabluck/AP)

A ‘danger to herself’

In Cruz’s last days in Washington, a friend threw a goodbye party. There was a final poker game. Cruz sent an email on Feb. 5, 2003, to his co-workers — subject: “New Contact Info” — and told them the news. “Tomorrow is my last day at the Commission,” he wrote. “I head to Austin Friday morning.”

Ted and Heidi gave up the lease on their apartment in Virginia, and Heidi helped Ted pick out a two-bedroom home in Austin. Meantime, she moved in with some friends in Washington. And both dealt with the separation by keeping busy at work. Heidi took a job with the National Security Council, working for Condoleezza Rice. Ted wrote briefs many nights at the office until 1 a.m.

“Burnout was not in his DNA,” said Daniel Hodge, who worked in the office with Ted Cruz in Texas.

Said Cruz: “If your spouse isn’t at home, there’s no reason to rush home. What are you going to do? Turn on ‘Law & Order’?”

Heidi and Ted tried to get together — in either D.C. or Austin — every weekend. There were no direct routes; Continental flights connected in Houston, and American flights connected in Dallas. Some weekends, they booked flights and missed connections. Other times, they skipped travel because of last-minute work. Cruz racked up so many ticket-change fees that he kept an Excel spreadsheet.

“We spent thousands of dollars on change fees,” he said.

Nearly two years of living apart was “hard on a young marriage,” Cruz wrote in his book, “A Time for Truth,” so the couple decided that Heidi would move to Texas. But she wanted a job in banking, having previously worked at J.P. Morgan. That meant living in Houston, not Austin. Nearly every weekend, one or the other made the three-hour drive.

The move to Houston, friends and family now say, was brutal for Heidi. She valued her reputation and her group of friends, and in Houston she was building both from zero. While at her first banking job in Texas, at Merrill Lynch, she fell into a depression. Cruz said Heidi struggled initially in a “male-driven” industry. Suzanne Nelson said her daughter was grappling with the realization that her life — and the trajectory of her career — wasn’t fully in her hands.

“I don’t think she realized it would be as hard for her to move as it was,” Nelson said. “She realized it wasn’t all about her.”

Ted Cruz and wife Heidi at the election-night celebration in Houston after Cruz's Senate victory in November 2012. (David J. Phillip/AP)

Heidi did not seek professional treatment and was able to function at work, Nelson said. But on one particularly worrisome night, while she was in Austin in August 2005, she wandered toward an expressway on-ramp, where she was found by an officer with her “head in her hands” and no car, according to a police account first reported by BuzzFeed. There was no car visible. The officer determined that Heidi was a “danger to herself.”

The Cruz campaign did not make Heidi available for an interview, but Heidi told The Post in September that the move to Texas “really was for Ted, and I wasn’t comfortable with that.”

According to friends, Ted struggled to figure out the root of her depression. He wrote letters to her, tried to help her widen her social circle and spent hours talking with her. What he didn’t do was move to Houston; nor did Heidi move to Austin.

“We worked through it as a couple,” Ted Cruz said in The Post interview, without specifics, before quickly moving to discuss other periods in their relationship.

Heidi improved when she settled into a different banking job in Houston, at Goldman Sachs’s investment management division. She worked all the time and often slept only four hours per night; Cruz said Heidi was on her BlackBerry while in labor with the first of their daughters, in 2008. Though she officially changed her primary residence to Austin that same year, she was still heading to Houston weekly for work — a pattern that continued until 2010, when the whole family moved to Houston. It was the first time in seven years that the Cruzes were living together full time. They had another daughter in 2011, and Heidi was promoted by Goldman to managing director one year later.

For Ted Cruz, meanwhile, the solicitor general’s job was a springboard into politics. Only months after he accepted the position, one friend said, Cruz was already speculating about what he would do next. He thought briefly about an attorney general run. Instead, he vaulted even higher, launching a long-shot Senate bid that he won. He was sworn in, family by his side, just days after turning 42 in 2013. The long-distance routine started anew, Ted in Washington during the week and Heidi and the girls in Houston.

In a campaign video, Heidi said that, once, when Ted returned to Texas after a week in Washington, his older daughter ran to the door. “There’s a guest in the house!” she shrieked.

Cruz announced a run for president before finishing his first Senate term. He talked about it for months with Heidi, said one close friend, and Heidi had few reservations. She liked that Cruz was aiming impossibly high — and she could, too.

The Cruzes on the road this month with their children, Caroline, left, and Catherine, after a campaign stop in Waukon, Iowa. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

A joint campaign

Now, on the campaign trail in late December, Cruz was closing in on Donald Trump in some national polls and pitching voters on his fervent conservatism. Cruz talked often about his tenure as solicitor general, offering it as hard proof of his conservative core. The meatiest section in the official bio on his website describes his nine Supreme Court arguments on behalf of Texas and victories he won defending the right to bear arms and the constitutionality of a Ten Commandments monument.

But in the suburbs of Birmingham, Ala., the pitch for Cruz was also about his — and his family’s — values. In the relationship Heidi described onstage, the Cruzes were the slightly overscheduled couple just trying to get by. Ted was the more playful parent, scheduling movie nights and reading to the kids before bedtime.

Heidi took pains to portray herself as a mom and spouse, and she didn’t mention that at Goldman she had managed the wealth for individuals worth tens of millions. Or that she had become the campaign’s key fundraiser, soliciting donations from a similarly wealthy group of power brokers.

“We always have date night on Sunday nights,” even during the campaign, Heidi said. She paused to set up the punch line. “It usually starts around 10:30 p.m.”

She spent seven minutes on the stage, her style much like Ted’s. She ticked off her points bullet by bullet — she listed the four ways in which he is “absolutely outstanding” — and mimicked one of Ted’s favorite rhetorical moves, describing his softer side as something “the news media will never cover.”

“So I am very proud to introduce to you not only the most brilliant and principled man on the stage, but also a man with a big heart, with a lot of love, who cares deeply about this country,” Heidi said.

After a video played, Ted Cruz bounded up the steps. The audience stood. He kissed Heidi on the left cheek. “Yeah!” he roared.

Heidi left the stage and settled into her seat in the front row, along with the Cruzes’ daughters and a family nanny.

“Let me say something,” Cruz said. “Isn’t Heidi going to make an extraordinary first lady of the United States?”

Sen. Ted Cruz and wife Heidi, right, at a Jan. 9 campaign stop in Waukon, Iowa. (Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

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