Ted Cruz Rahm Emanuel

Photographs: U.S. Congress

Ted Cruz, the tea-party-backed rookie Senator from Texas who holds the seat once occupied by establishment Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, seems to relish aiming missiles at our mayor.

Cruz, the top success* of a dismal 2012 for Republicans, called Rahm a “bully” and a “godfather” after the mayor wrote late last January to the CEOs of the Bank of America and TD Bank Group urging them not to lend money to gun makers Sturm, Ruger & Co. and Smith & Wesson.

Four days later he sent a letter to the bank CEOs, the targeted gun CEOs, and also to Rahm himself. Texans “do not accept the notion that government officials should behave like bullies,” Cruz wrote, “trying to harass or pressure private companies into enlisting in a political lobbying campaign…. Your continued anti-gun crusade may well cause some to wonder if the interests of the citizens of Chicago are being sacrificed in pursuit of a partisan agenda.”  For good measure, Cruz warned Emanuel to keep your “efforts to diminish the Bill of Rights north of the Red River.”  

Cruz then invited the banks to come to Texas: "In light of the reception you have received in the Windy City, please know that Texas would certainly welcome more of your business and the jobs you create."

Similarly, after Emanuel blasted Chick-fil-A for its owner’s opposition to gay marriage and seemed to threaten that he would make it difficult for the company to open outlets here—“Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values… if you are going to be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect the Chicago values”—Cruz served the company’s signature sandwiches at his election night victory party, and has gone out of his way to taunt Rahm and tout Chick-fil-A. (The company still has only one location in Chicago, at Loyola University’s Water Tower campus.)

Neither Rahm nor Ted will ever be named Mr. Congeniality—they share an alarming intensity and arrogance—but Ted Cruz is so brash he makes Rahm seem almost bashful by comparison. The 42-year-old Republican is busy breaking every rule of senatorial etiquette: "We need to kick in the doors of the club, rip down the shades and auction off the silverware."

Ted Cruz is an uncompromising ideologue while Rahm is a compromising pragmatist. When Rahm ran the DCCC in 2006 he recruited candidates who he calculated could win, even if they were pro-gun and/or anti-choice. As Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm eschewed Cruz-type crusades and looked to promote issues that could pass the Senate and the Republican-controlled House. He dubbed immigration reform “the third rail of American politics” and warned the President and his men, “Don’t touch it!”  And they didn’t. Just after Obama’s 2008 victory, Emanuel advised him not to put universal health care first on his agenda, that it would poison everything that followed. That time, the president didn't listen.

Emanuel’s top priority is winning, even if he has to compromise to get there—his battle with the Chicago Teachers Union a case in point. 

Cruz did score a sort-of win today: a week after he lectured fellow senator Dianne Feinstein on Second Amendment rights, and she ordered him to stop treating her like a sixth grader, today Feinstein’s bill to ban assault weapons seemed to die before it could even be brought to a vote. But Cruz is fine with losing, so long as he can club the public over the head with his point, with his superior principles. 

And Cruz loses often. It is easier to lose as a legislator than it is as a chief executive, but Cruz’s losses are extraordinary. He was 0 for 12 in early February. He voted to repeal “Obamacare” (“every last word” of it), against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, against raising the debt ceiling, against legislation sending relief money to those devastated by Hurricane Sandy. He voted against both Chuck Hagel and John Kerry who went on to win Senate confirmation, and, as noted above, seems to be against any form of gun control. He noisily favors such Quixotic issues as eliminating the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, TSA, IRS, and auditing the Federal Reserve.

In private, Emanuel might rip his adversaries in tirades laced with his trademark profanities, but in public, since becoming mayor, he’s usually, boringly, the soul of discretion. Cruz never holds back. He suggested that Chuck Hagel didn’t want to make certain documents public because they might show that he took speaking fees from American enemies, North Korea in particular. He offered zero evidence of  any such transaction, but he did publicly question why Iran supported Hagel

Democratic senators Claire McCaskill and Barbara Boxer compared Cruz to the late Sen. Joe McCarthy, a comparison underlined when, in a two-year-old speech recently made public, Cruz accused 12 unnamed Harvard Law professors—teaching at Harvard Law when Cruz was a student there—of being “Communists.” They “would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

Cruz, 42, who not only has Harvard Law on his resume, but also Princeton and a clerkship with the late chief justice William Rehnquist, served as Texas’s solicitor general and presents as whip-smart and shrewd. In that, at least, he resembles a certain rookie mayor from Chicago.

The two have other similarities. Emanuel’s family history, his father’s Israeli roots and his family’s sacrifices and heroics in the fight for the Jewish homeland, are his oft-told life story. Cruz’s story is equally dramatic; his father, whom Cruz recounts was “tortured and imprisoned in Cuba,”  left there 1957 with $100 sewn in his underwear.

In 2016, perhaps 2020, the two men—Texas’ first Hispanic U.S. Senator and Chicago’s first Jewish mayor—could be running against each other for President.  Stranger things have happened in American politics. (Cruz was born in Calgary, while his parents were working in a Canadian oil patch, but his mother is an American citizen.) Just imagine them in a debate: Cruz is hulking and tall; they’d be as visually striking as the Chris Christie/Obama pairing.  Although Rahm, 53, is 11 years older than Cruz, Rahm seems younger and more boyish. "Boyish" is not a word anyone would use to describe the tough-guy Texan whose mouth seems fixed in a permanent sneer.

In the meantime, bookers for the Sunday morning news shows should reserve Cruz and Emanuel for the lead-off debate segment. Breaking the Sunday morning talk shows tradition of polite exchange between politicians of opposing parties, Cruz dispensed with any niceties in an inauguration weekend juxtaposition with New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer on Meet the Press. “Comity does not mean avoiding the truth,” Cruz told a reporter for the New York Times. Ted Cruz encountering Rahm Emanuel would be worth anyone’s Sunday-morning time.


*The other success was Deb Fischer, now Republican Senator from Nebraska,  who won with the help of an endorsement from Sarah Palin and cash from Joe Ricketts, patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs.