Troll-In-Chief: A Brief History of Ted Cruz Roiling His Fellow Republicans

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Sen. Ted Cruz may be trailing Donald Trump in the 2016 polls. But at least on Capitol Hill the firebrand from Texas is top contender for Republican troll-in-chief. Cruz’s scorching floor speech Friday calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) a liar and the Sunday Senate shenanigans that followed are the only latest chapter in a series of public beefs with Republican leadership the Texas senator has had since taking office in 2013. Here’s a look back at the previous times the conservative troublemaker has ruffled the feathers of his fellow GOPers:

Enter the ‘Wacko Bird’

Cruz earned his most memorable nickname from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who criticized Cruz along with other supporters of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’s filibuster of President Obama’s nomination of CIA chief John Brennan.

“[I]t’s always the wacko birds on right and left that get the media megaphone,” McCain said after the filibuster, later confirming he was referring to “Rand Paul, Cruz, Amash, whoever.”

McCain would later walk back the “Wacko Bird” comment, but he also criticized Cruz for unsubstantiated allegations he made during Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing as secretary of defense that Hagel had received money from foreign adversaries of the United States.

“Look, you can’t, without any basis in fact — you just don’t go around saying that kind of stuff,” McCain said.

Cruz’s Anti-Obamacare Faux-ibuster

Months after Paul’s filibuster, which earned the Kentucky 2016er praise across the political spectrum, Cruz embarked on his own filibuster-like effort. In the fall of 2013, Cruz trumpeted from the Senate floor for hours, decrying what he believed to be Republicans’ unwillingness to shut down the government over Obamacare.

“My observations right now that there are some Republicans that would like a symbolic vote and would like to lose so that they don’t have any risk of it actually being defunded. I promise you, those comments are not getting me invited to any cocktail parties in Washington anytime soon,” Cruz said. “And that’s perfectly fine. I don’t particularly enjoy cocktail parties anyway.”

Twenty-one hours and a “Green Eggs and Ham” reading later, Cruz had failed to rile the same level of excitement and some Republicans, no fans of Obamacare themselves, criticized the move. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and (surprise!) McCain, were among those publicly bashing Cruz for tying Obmacare to a government shutdown.

“Tactics and strategies ought to be based on what the real world is, and we do not have the political power to do this,” Coburn said.

Behind closed doors, Republicans were even more critical of Cruz, who was blamed for causing the government shutdown that did eventually occur.

Ted Cruz: House Speaker?

When Cruz isn’t undermining GOP leadership directly from the Senate floor, he has interfered in the affairs of the other chamber. Around the time Cruz had launched his anti-Obamacare shutdown campaign, he was meeting in secret with conservative representatives at Tortilla Coast to whip up their support.

Months later, over a Chick-Fil-A breakfast, Cruz pressured House conservatives to buck any compromise with Democrats in dealing with last summer’s migrant crisis.

Trapping GOPers On The Debt Ceiling

Cruz refused to step in line when Republicans decided to let Democrats raise the debt ceiling in February 2014. His procedural antics forced a handful of Republicans, including McConnell, to vote in favor of advancing a debt ceiling bill. Cruz even slammed them for the vote his maneuvering had forced them to take.

Given that some of the Republicans were already facing tough primaries, the establishment was not too happy Cruz’s move to force the vote.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said, “There was no end game there,” while McCain argued that there “was no plan.”

Attacking Obama’s Immigration Executive Order At Any Cost

Last December, Cruz ruined Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)’s plans to see the “Nutcracker” with her daughter by insisting Republican spend their weekend attempting to block President Obama’s immigration executive actions.

Ayotte called the move “ridiculous,” and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) labeled it “counterproductive,” while Sen. Susan Collins (R-MN) accused Cruz of making “everybody miserable.”

Cruz’s strategy also created an opening for Democrats to push through a number of nominations Republicans had been stalling.

“I think most Republicans think that Christmas came early for Democrats,” Sen. Graham said, when discussing the effect of Cruz’s actions. “I haven’t seen Harry smile this much in years, and I didn’t particularly like it.”

Cruz, however, did not lay off of his anti-immigration crusade. He publicly bashed GOP leadership’s plan in February to pass a Department of Homeland Security funding bill without taking on the executive order. He also knocked Republican leaders for allowing Attorney General Loretta Lynch to be confirmed, in light of her support of Obama’s measure.

Cruz’s Export-Import Bank Tantrum

It was the possible renewal of the Export-Import Bank — which conservatives oppose — that prompted Cruz to take his biggest swing at the establishment GOP yet. From the Senate floor Friday, Cruz called McConnell a liar for allowing an Ex-Im measure to advance, and said the majority leader was no better than his predecessor Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV).

Few were willing to stand by Cruz’s efforts Sunday to further scuttle McConnell’s plans and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) used his floor time to scold Cruz without calling him out by name.

“Squabbling and sanctimony may be tolerated in other venues and perhaps on the campaign trail, but they have no place among colleagues in the United States Senate,” Hatch said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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