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Why Ted Cruz Thinks the Media Gets Conservatism Wrong

August 8, 2013

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In seven short months, Ted Cruz has become the most controversial member of the Senate. Perhaps the most combative member of a chamber known for comity, Cruz’s withering criticisms of Washington have made him a champion for the conservative base and a potential pot stirrer in the 2016 GOP nominating contest. Cruz, whom I profile in the new issue of the magazine, sat down with TIME on Aug. 2 at a hotel in New Orleans, where he delivered a speech to the RedState Gathering of conservative activists. Below are excerpts of his comments, which are condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz

What do people misinterpret about you?
I don’t know what others misinterpret. I think most Americans don’t really care about politicians bickering in Washington. There have been some political actors and some elite [media] that have tried to paint a caricature and thrown some rather heated insults. I have not reciprocated, and I don’t intend to reciprocate. Indeed, in my time in office, I have endeavored not to speak an ill word about any colleague.

There’s an old joke that politics is Hollywood for ugly people. An awful lot of the press coverage about Washington reads like coverage of Hollywood. Madonna is having some spat with Sean Penn. Who cares? And who cares which politician is mad at that politician? My single greatest frustration in Washington is in the seven months, the U.S. Senate has spent virtually zero time even talking about jobs and the economy. We spent a month battling about taking away people’s Second Amendment gun rights.

I do think in the media there is a tendency to describe conservatives as one of two things: stupid or evil. And those are the two categories that every conservative gets put in by Democrats and the media. A conservative is either stupid — too dumb to know the right answer — and even worse, if they actually know the right answer, then they’re evil. They want people to suffer. I suppose I feel mildly complimented in that they have recently invented a third category, which is crazy. It’s the alternative to stupid or evil. And now crazy is the third one, because it seems inconceivable that there could be Americans who believe in free-market principles and believe in the Constitution and are working to defend them.

Even if you have not engaged in ad hominem attacks, your criticism of fellow Republicans as a group has been quite strong.

That’s an important distinction. From the day I began campaigning, we focused on the undeniable fact that career politicians in both parties have gotten us in the mess we’re in. There’s a significant difference, however, between speaking about problems generically that are occurring in the Washington establishment and entrenched politicians, and insulting a particular officeholder.

The way you talk about empowering the grassroots reminds me a lot of Barack Obama. Disagreements in policy aside, did you watch Obama in 2008 and build certain elements of your approach off his? 

I think Barack Obama is an extraordinary politician. And I respect Barack Obama a great deal. I think he is committed to his principles, which is rare in politics. Now I also think, and please don’t leave this part out, that the principles he believes in are profoundly dangerous. I respect that he believes, I think genuinely, with all of his heart, that government control of economy and redistribution of wealth betters the world. I think moving in that direction has wreaked havoc to the American economy. The people who suffer in the Obama economy have been young people, African Americans, Hispanics, single moms.

There were two campaigns on which we modeled our campaign for Senate, and they were Obama’s campaign for President in 2008 and Marco Rubio’s campaign for Senate in 2010. If you look at that 2008 Democratic primary, there was no more formidable, unstoppable candidate — other than an incumbent President — in modern times than Hillary Clinton. And Barack Obama ran a guerrilla campaign that empowered the people. So for Christmas I gave a number of campaign staffers David Plouffe’s book, The Audacity to Win. Read more at Time.

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