Mixed Reviews For Sen. Ted Cruz's D.C. Debut
February 19, 2013

David Martin Davies
Ted Cruz at a campaign rally in San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has been on the job seven weeks, and in that short time he’s made a big splash in Washington D.C. Speculation about the dynamic freshman legislator is blistering the blogosphere. Many are wondering what the future holds for Cruz.

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearings for Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel were already tough, but then it was Ted Cruz’s turn to grill and he turned up the heat.

"It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea," Cruz said.

Cruz’s questions didn’t sit well with his fellow Senators like John McCain, and they let him know it in a rare public chiding.

“I just want to make it clear – Senator Hagel is an honorable man. He has served his country and no one on this committee at any time should impune his character or his integrity," McCain said.

But if you had been on Cruz’s campaign trail last year then you wouldn’t be surprised by his extreme rhetoric now that he’s a sitting senator.

Last July, Cruz was at a San Antonio sports bar pushing his conservative credentials as the state’s former Solicitor General to the Tea Party as he worked to win the Texas GOP Senate nomination.

"And we stood up to the World Court and the United Nations and defended U.S. sovereignty and won," Cruz said to the crowd then.

Cal Jillson is a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. He says Cruz has never been part of a legislative body before and he’s learning the hard way how to get along.

“What he has failed to do, I think, is to make a transition from the campaign trail to being United States Senator," Jillson said. “A lot of the lines about whether the U.S. should be in the World Court or even the United Nations, a lot of things that really whip them up in a rural Rotary Club, are not the main points in the Senate.”

Cruz might be getting the skunk eye in D.C. but back in Texas his tough talk is a wildly popular with many. Steve Munisteri is the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and he says Cruz has been dynamite.

“I think that it’s very rare that a freshman senator receives that much national attention as he has," Munisteri said. He thinks Cruz is showing he has presidential potential.

“The beauty of having a six-year term is that when it doesn’t overlap with the Presidential election it basically gives you a free shot and test the waters for 2016 without having to give up your senate seat," Munisteri said.

Gilberto Hinojosa, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Texas, believes, “There’s no way in Hell that Ted Cruz could every get elected President.”

Look at the list of conservative candidates in last year’s presidential election, Hinojosa says, they surely couldn’t connect with voters. And he thinks Cruz is not going to be a solution for the GOP problem with Hispanic Voters.

“The word 'Hispanic' doesn’t translate into the word 'stupid.' Hispanics get it. They understand that Ted Cruz is not for them," Hinojosa said.

He points to Cruz’s vote against the Violence Against Women Act, and his opposition to comprehensive immigration reform and to a minimum wage increase.

Jillson said Cruz’s positions are not anti-Hispanic, as Hinojosa claims, but they reflect how he sees himself and the world.

“Ted Cruz doesn’t see himself as a Hispanic candidate or senator. He sees himself, first of all, as a conservative senator, secondly as a Republican senator and somewhere down the line a Hispanic senator," Jillson said.

And that works well winning votes in a Texas GOP primary, but Cruz may have to shake up that priority list if he’s going to play any role in helping to save the Republican Party from shifting demographics and the Latino vote.

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