Ted Cruz is running for the important position of attorney general of Texas, but his significance nationally may be even greater. Here are excerpts from our interview:
Q: How would you define yourself theologically and politically? I was raised a Christian and came to Christ at Clay Road Baptist Church in Houston. In terms of political views, I'm a plain and simple conservative: I'm a fiscal conservative, I'm a social conservative. I think there are absolute truths about what is right and about what works.
Q: You went to Princeton and won national and North American debate championships. I spent a lot of time, pretty much every weekend all four years of college, debating, and it was a wonderful experience. We did parliamentary-style debate: It was extemporaneous-you got your topic 10 minutes before the debate-so you had to learn to debate any proposition effectively and persuasively. That discipline was incredibly helpful in understanding the views of the other side.
Q: Then on to Harvard Law School: What was that like? Understanding Harvard Law School is very important to understanding our president, Barack Obama. He is very much a creature of Harvard Law. To understand what that means you have to understand that there were more self-declared communists on the Harvard faculty than there were Republicans. Every single idea this president has proposed in the nine months he's been in office has been orthodox wisdom in the Harvard faculty lounge.
Q: Why are they so far to the left? The communists on the Harvard faculty are generally not malevolent; they generally were raised in privilege, have never worked very hard in their lives, don't understand where jobs and opportunity come from. If you asked the Harvard faculty to vote on whether this nation should become a socialist nation, 80 percent of the faculty would vote yes and 10 percent would think that was too conservative.
Q: You were founding editor of the Latino Law Review at Harvard. Will you benefit from ethnic politics? Republicans have to do better in the Hispanic community if the party is to succeed nationally. You don't have to be a statistician to look at the demographic trends and realize that if the Hispanic community votes the way the African-American community is voting, which is 90 percent-plus Democratic consistently, Republicans will never win another election. The Hispanic community is fundamentally conservative and yet Republican politicians are terrible at reaching out to the Hispanic community.
Q: You became the youngest solicitor general in the United States, writing over 70 briefs to the Supreme Court and arguing before the Supreme Court eight times. What's that experience like? The Supreme Court courtroom is a small room. You can almost reach out and shake hands with the justices. They are nine of the smartest, most aggressive judges in the universe. You have 30 minutes. You maybe get one or two sentences in; immediately someone jumps in and interrupts you, and then someone else does. It's like being thrown to sharks: They come at you from every direction. It is absolutely invigorating.
Q: Now you're the favorite to get the GOP nomination for attorney general in March. What's your assessment of the Republican Party? You have two large groups: the movement conservatives who are typically more socially conservative, typically from the middle classes economically, and sometimes economically more liberal. Then you have the business Republicans, sometimes called the country club Republicans, who tend to be socially more liberal and economically more conservative, and tend to be far wealthier. The dirty little secret of Republican politics is those two parts of the party don't understand each other and don't really like each other.
Q: But they have to work together to win elections. The problem is a simple problem of math: neither one gets to 50 percent without the other. Periodically you get people in the Republican Party who say, "Wouldn't it be great if we took this part of the party and threw them out into the wilderness? because then we'd just be surrounded by people who agree with us." Being surrounded by people who agree with you is fun, but you don't win an election that way. Part of effective leadership in the Republican Party, something that Reagan did very well, is to speak to the values of all the parts of the party, the values of mainstream Americans. There are very few leaders in public life who are doing that.
Q: Are we getting good political discussions today? One of the best ways to learn what you believe is to learn what others believe, especially those who passionately disagree with you. You've got to understand how someone can be of good conscience and intelligent, look at the exact same issue as you, and come to a position 180 degrees opposite. One enormous problem we have in civil discourse today is that it's so polarized: People tend to think that anyone who disagrees with them is either stupid or evil. They're either too dumb to know the right answer, or if they're smart enough to know the right answer they're malevolent and want the wrong answer to prevail. To convince someone, you have to answer this question: If your mom came to these views, how would you try to convince her?
Q: What's GOP outreach to Hispanics like? They tend to do one of two things: They hang up a piñata and throw a Cinco de Mayo party. That is patronizing and condescending and turns people off. Or, they propose "Democrat Lite," a partial welfare state, and think that's outreach. The truth is: The Hispanic community is a deeply conservative community. It believes passionately in faith, family, patriotism-the military enrollment rates in the Hispanic community are the highest among any demographic group in this country-and it's also a group that believes passionately in the American Dream, in the incredible promise that freedom and opportunity present.
Q: Republicans need to do better regarding immigration. This country is unique in the world because for hundreds of years the United States was formed from people from all over the world. It wasn't the smartest or the richest or strongest who came here, it was people crazy enough to leave everything behind in pursuit of freedom. That basic ethos of what it means to be an American shows what is wrong with what President Obama is proposing doing. The government taking over the economy destroys freedom and opportunity. That's a message that resonates in the Hispanic community, because they believe passionately in working hard for the American Dream and a better future for their kids.
Q: What makes a successful president? Three things. One, firm principles-you have to know what you believe, you have to have a solid foundation, and you have to have studied. Two, it takes backbone and the competence to act on those principles. That's an area in particular that Republicans have been lousy in lately. All of us learned in high school biology the basic principle that invertebrates can't walk upright, and yet politicians disprove that every day. But you don't just need principle and background: You need the ability to communicate. You have to be able to motivate, inspire, and connect with people. And maddeningly, in the Republican Party we manage to elect people over and over who don't have firm principles; if they have firm principles they don't have a backbone; and if they have firm principles and a backbone they can't communicate to save their lives. That's consistently a recipe for failure.