Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Bill Clinton did it again. On Tuesday, he interjected himself into the ongoing political tussle over the implementation of Obamacare by declaring that President Barack Obama "should honor" his "commitment" to allow people to hang on to their preexisiting health insurance plans. With this comment, the Secretary of Explaining Stuff gave ammo to the foes of Obamacare, and he, unintentionally or not, undermined a core element of the health care law. And, no surprise, he kicked off a spasm of speculation among the politerati: What are the Clintons up to? Will Hillary, if she runs for president, distance herself from the White House? Will she somehow suggest she's more competent than Obama? All this commentary was to be expected. There's something about the Clintons that encourages folks to sniff out clever schemes, intricate plots, and self-serving conniving.
But there's a basic fact that cannot be escaped: The Clintons need Obamacare to succeed. Just look at the chart in the video below:
After Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, he placed his wife in charge of health care reform. (It was part of the two-for-one deal.) And she subsequently unveiled a complicated reform plan that was quickly dubbed Hillarycare by Republicans and conservatives. The Clintons did seem to have a decent amount of political momentum on their side, and their GOP foes, fretting about being rolled, initially entertained the crazy idea of working with the White House to hammer out compromises and shape the legislation a bit more to their liking. Then came Sen. Arlen Specter, a cantankerous Pennsylvania Republican (who years later would switch parties). He hit the Senate floor with charts—complicated wire diagrams that appeared nearly impossible to sort out—that purportedly showed that Hillarycare would create a bureaucratic nightmare. It looked incomprehensibly complicated.
Meanwhile, Rep. Dick Armey, a leading House Republican, created his own chart:
Armey's office captioned the chart, "Simplicity Defined." Dole showcased it in his 1994 response to Clinton's State of the Union address.
After first toying with a get-along strategy for dealing with Hillarycare, the Republicans mounted a fierce opposition against it, and these charts fueled that effort (along with the Harry and Louise ad campaign orchestrated by the health insurance industry). Waving these charts, the GOPers succeeded in killing Hillarycare—and, decrying the Clintons' health care proposal, they went on to seize control of the House in the 1994 midterm elections.
Hillarycare ended up a political failure and set back the cause of health care reform for nearly two decades. It's not an episode that Hillary Clinton would want discussed during a 2016 presidential campaign. If Obamacare thrives, there will be no reason to look back to Hillarycare and drag these charts out of the dustbin of history. But should the Affordable Care Act falter or collapse, a question will loom: What would Hillary do about health care? Her past record would be raked over and that would likely not boost her presidential prospects. Having screwed up in the early 1990s, could she argue that she would do a better job in reforming the health care system than Obama?
It would be best for a Clinton 2016 campaign for health care to be off the table—with no need to revisit all this inconvenient ancient history. That means she and Bill should be hoping that the implementation of Obamacare proceeds well—and they should do all they can to encourage that. So Bill Clinton ought to coordinate (closely) with the White House on what stuff he should be explaining. It's not only the president's political fortunes that are tied to Obamacare.
Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Martin Bashir and Joy Reid this week about why New Jersey governor Chris Christie is under fire from his own party despite his conservative credentials. Watch here:
With Gov. Chris Christie's massive reelection victory in the blue territory of New Jersey and Ken Cuccinelli's embarrassing defeat to Terry McAuliffe in the governor's race in often-red (in the off-years) Virginia, reasonable Republicans scored points against the party's renegades in the GOP's ongoing civil war. This internal battle has intensified since the government shutdown, as die-hards led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have insisted the Republican Party's fortunes are tied to no-compromise conservatism and ideological confrontation, and establishment Rs have decried their party's Kamikaze Club and contended the GOP must maintain a lifeline to the center and political reality.
Yet in the two big statewide races of Election Day 2013, the results favored those who don't fancy hostage-taking. (In Alabama, a tea party birther was defeated by a Chamber of Commerce-backed candidate in a Republican primary for a vacant House seat.) Christie, who drew the ire of hardcore conservatives by refusing to treat President Barack Obama as the devil incarnate, coasted to an easy triumph and earned the right to declare this message: Republican success in the real world comes when GOP candidates emphasize pragmatic governing, not ideological crusades. And Cuccinelli, a fierce social conservative with plenty of name recognition as the current state attorney general, was the poster boy for those right-wingers who assert that their party must stick to the far-right lane to win elections and transform the nation. His defeat at the hands of a Democrat tainted by assorted money-and-politics scandals—in an election shaped by the government shutdown and Cuccinelli's hard-right views on abortion, birth control, and divorce—will be joyously cited by those who cry bunk in the face of Cruzism. But the non-Cruzers ought to resist the urge to celebrate too much, for the Republican Party may have just experienced its own version of the Battle of Chancellorsville.
This weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) responded to the story Mother Jonespublished last week that revealed inflammatory remarks made by his father, Rafael Cruz, a Cuban-born, septuagenarian businessman-turned-pastor. Speaking to the North Texas Tea Party last year on behalf of his son, the elder Cruz called President Barack Obama an "outright Marxist" who "seeks to destroy all concept of God." At that event, Rafael Cruz also urged the crowd to send Obama "back to Kenya." Or ship him "back to Indonesia," he said. Asked to comment on his father's remarks, Sen. Cruz's office told us, "These selective quotes, taken out of context, mischaracterize the substance of Pastor Cruz's message." It added, "Pastor Cruz does not speak for the senator." Yet after the story was posted, when a Texas television station questioned the senator directly about his father's statements, Ted Cruz dismissed them as a "joke." He went on to claim the article was the result of "the politics of personal destruction" and an effort by people "trying to smear [Rafael Cruz] and use that to attack me."
There's a lot to unpack here. Does Ted Cruz believe it's a joke to accuse the president of trying to destroy God? Or that his father was kidding when he suggested Obama is "wicked," asserted that the president is attempting to "destroy American exceptionalism," said Obama wants government to be God, and insisted that "social justice is a cancer"? As for attacking the son with the father's statements, the senator did not explain why it's unfair to hold him accountable for remarks made by a person Cruz's campaign routinely deployed as an official surrogate. According to campaign disclosure records, Cruz's Senate campaign paid Rafael Cruz about $10,000 in traveling expenses in 2012 and 2013. And in August the conservative National Review noted that the father-son duo had forged a "political partnership," reporting: "Cruz has kept his father, a 74-year-old pastor, involved with his political shop, using him not merely as a confidant and stand-in, but as a special envoy. He is Cruz’s preferred introductory speaker, his best messenger with evangelicals, and his favorite on-air sidekick." Put it this way: Rafael Cruz is far closer to Ted Cruz and his political endeavors than Jeremiah Wright was to Obama and his campaigns.
I've asked Ted Cruz's office to explain whether the senator considered all of Rafael Cruz's harsh utterances about Obama to be jokes and whether he'd like to comment on Rafael Cruz's role as an official campaign surrogate. So far, there's been no reply.
There might be a much bigger issue regarding Ted Cruz's response to the article about his father. In July, the senator, with his father by his side, accepted the blessings of fundamentalist pastors in Iowa (see above) who are adherents of Christian Reconstructionism, a view that holds that God anoints individuals to be "kings" who strive to influence or control key institutions of society (say, the government) as a prelude to the second coming of Christ. The blessing of Ted Cruz contained this line: "Father, we believe that no weapon formed against [Cruz] will prosper and every tongue that rises up against him in judgment will be condemned."
This blessing seems to suggest that the pastors believe that those who criticize Ted Cruz will be condemned by God. This certainly seems in sync with Rafael Cruz's remarks and his preaching at religious gatherings of fellow evangelicals. But a serious question is raised: does Ted Cruz himself see his detractors as being on the wrong side of God? Can those who raise inconvenient questions about him or his father expect to receive a mighty smiting from above?
This is no joke. Such a mindset—my detractors are destined for hell—could certainly affect how Cruz would govern, should he reach the pinnacle of power. Given that he willingly accepted this blessing, it would hardly be inappropriate to ask Cruz what he thought of it. Actually, I did. Along with those queries noted above, I asked his office whether Senator Cruz believes that his critics will be condemned by God? No answer yet on that, either. I suppose those who report unflattering facts about the senator may have to wait until Judgment Day to see if those Cruz-courted pastors have it right.
UPDATE: After this story was posted, Sean Rushton, a spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz sent the following response: "Sen. Cruz loves and supports his father, even though their views and perspectives are not always the same. The Constitution protects Mr. Corn's right to embrace whatever faith he chooses—or no faith whatsoever—but, it is unfortunate that his agenda would call for the public condemnation of Christian pastors who pray verbatim from the Bible (namely, Isaiah 54:17)."
In April, Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), spoke to the tea party of Hood County, which is southwest of Fort Worth, and made a bold declaration: The United States is a "Christian nation." The septuagenarian businessman turned evangelical pastor did not choose to use the more inclusive formulation "Judeo-Christian nation." Insisting that the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution "were signed on the knees of the framers" and were a "divine revelation from God," he went on to say, "yet our president has the gall to tell us that this is not a Christian nation…The United States of America was formed to honor the word of God." Seven months earlier, Rafael Cruz, speaking to the North Texas Tea Party on behalf of his son, who was then running for Senate, called President Barack Obama an "outright Marxist" who "seeks to destroy all concept of God," and he urged the crowd to send Obama "back to Kenya." [UPDATE: The video originally embedded here was made private after this story was published. However, MSNBC's Hardball played the key excerpts Thursday night; watch that segment below.]
Comments uttered by a politician's parent may have little relevance in assessing an elected official. But it's appropriate to take Rafael Cruz into account when evaluating his son the senator. Ted Cruz, the tea party champion who almost single-handedly spurred the recent government shutdown, has often deployed his father as a political asset. He routinely cites his Cuban-born father, who emigrated from the island nation in 1957, when he discusses immigration and justifies his opposition to the bipartisan reform bill that passed in the Senate. (Ted Cruz hails his father as a symbol of the "American dream" who came to the United States legally—though Rafael Cruz began his career in the oil industry in Canada, where Ted was born.) Moreover, Ted Cruz campaigns with his father; he had him in tow on a recent trip to Iowa (where the evangelical vote is crucial in GOP presidential primaries). Rafael Cruz regularly speaks to tea party and Republican groups in Texas as a surrogate for his son; during Ted Cruz's 2012 Senate campaign, his father was dispatched to events and rallies across the state to whip up support. And thanks to Ted Cruz's political rise, Rafael has become a conservative star in his own right. He has been prominently featured—and praised—at events held by prominent right-wing outfits, such as FreedomWorks and Heritage Action. What Rafael Cruz says—especially when he is speaking for his son—matters.
The elder Cruz is a North Texas-based pastor who directs a small outfit called Purifying Fire Ministries.* Rafael Cruz's inflammatory remarks and fundamentalist views have recently started to attract increased media attention. A few weeks ago, he sparked headlines when he told a gathering of Republicans in Colorado that Obama has vowed to "side with the Muslims," that Obamacare mandates "suicide counseling" for the elderly, and that gay marriage is a plot to make "government your god."
A sermon Rafael Cruz delivered in August 2012 at an Irving, Texas, mega-church has also come under scrutiny. At that event, he asserted that Christian true believers are "anointed" by God to "take dominion" of the world in "every area: society, education, government, and economics." He was preaching a particular form of evangelical Christianity known as Dominionism (a.k.a. Christian Reconstructionism) that holds that these "anointed" Christians are destined to take over the government and create in practice, if not in official terms, a theocracy. Rafael Cruz also endorsed the evangelical belief known as the "end-time transfer of wealth"—that is, as a prelude to the second coming of Christ, God will seize the wealth of the wicked and redistribute it to believers. But, Cruz told the flock, don't expect to benefit from this unless you tithe mightily. Introducing Cruz at this service, Christian Zionist pastor Larry Huch offered this bottom line: In the coming year, he predicted, "God will begin to rule and reign. Not Wall Street, not Washington, God's people and his kingdom will begin to rule and reign. I know that's why God got Rafael's son elected, Ted Cruz, the next senator." (In July, several prominent Dominionist pastors at a ceremony in Iowa blessed and anointed Ted Cruz, rendering him, in their view, a "king" who would help usher in the kingdom of Christ.)
During his sermon at this church, Rafael Cruz preached that men, not women, are the spiritual leaders of their families: "As God commands us men to teach your wife, to teach your children—to be the spiritual leader of your family—you're acting as a priest. Now, unfortunately, unfortunately, in too many Christian homes, the role of the priest is assumed by the wife. Why? Because the man had abdicated his responsibility as priest to his family…So the wife has taken up that banner, but that's not her responsibility. And if I'm stepping on toes, just say, 'Ouch.'"
As Rafael Cruz recounted at the Hood County tea party event, he had a powerful role in shaping his son, introducing Ted, when he was in middle school, to the Free Enterprise Education Center, where the young Cruz was flooded with Austrian School libertarian economics and archly conservative interpretations of US history. Cruz excelled in this setting and went on to become part of a traveling road show of teens called the Constitutional Corroborators. They appeared at Rotary Club luncheons across the state to extol the wonders of the free market and the US Constitution. While the Rotarians ate lunch, the whiz kids transcribed from memory the articles of the Constitution on easels placed at the front of the room.
At the Hood County gathering, Rafael Cruz, in full sync with his son's political stance, attacked RINOs—Republicans In Name Only. He noted that the "wicked" were now ruling the United States. He insisted that "those death panels are in Obamacare," and that the US government wants "to take all of your money" and confiscate "our fortunes." He asserted that the Democratic Party promotes "everything that is contrary to the word of God." He also exclaimed, "Social justice is a cancer. Social justice means you are ruled by whatever the mob does. What social justice does is destroy individual responsibility."
Pastor Cruz is a fiery speaker whose rhetorical red meat is well-received by hardcore Republican and tea party audiences. He regularly has compared Obama to Fidel Castro and routinely echoes the no-surrender calls of his son. At a "freedom rally" at the Alamo in 2012, he vowed, "We've had enough compromise…enough of Establishment Republicans that don't stand for anything." Speaking to Houston Republicans in September, he decried John McCain and Mitt Romney, blasting both of the former presidential candidates for having "played dead" when challenging Obama. He blasted McCain for refusing to slam Obama regarding the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He asserted that the elderly would be harmed by Obamacare, claiming that "everywhere in the world when socialized medicine has been instituted it takes 12 to 18 months to get any kind of medical proceeding." (That is not the case with Medicare, a form of socialized health care.) He also declared, "I haven't heard Obama ask us for our consent when he's trying to ram Obamacare down our throats"—without noting that Congress voted for the Affordable Care Act. At the Hood County event, Rafael Cruz, a fervent foe of gay rights, vowed that he would be speaking "across this country to support constitutional conservatives to retake the Senate."
Whether he's at a prayer breakfast or a tea party rally, Rafael Cruz easily and enthusiastically mixes religion and politics. At an event hosted by the National Federation of Republican Assemblies in September, he contended that after the 2012 election, God told him, "If we could blame one group of people for what happened in the last election, it is the pastors." By that he meant that, for decades, too many Christian leaders have remained on the political sidelines, declining to do combat with liberals and Democrats. Consequently, he explained, prayer has been removed from schools, legalized abortion has continued, and gay marriage has come to pass in several states. He insisted that the advancement of Christianity (his fundamentalist version of it) depends on political battle, noting the need not just for a "spiritual savior" but a "political savior." (The idea of states' rights, he said, was based in the bible.) Obama, Cruz proclaimed, believes "government is your god." When Cruz was a keynote speaker at a tax day rally hosted by Texas tea partiers in April, he told the crowd that conservative Christians need to take over "every school board in this nation." At a Texas tea party rally in September 2012, he claimed that Obama has "a clear agenda…to destroy American exceptionalism"—and "to achieve a "worldwide redistribution of wealth" and "make us subject to the United Nations."
The United States as a "Christian nation"; death panels; social justice a cancer; gay rights a conspiracy; the "wicked" in charge in Washington; women inferior to men as spiritual leaders; Obama a Muslim-favoring, God-hating, Marxist Kenyan; End Times; a UN worldwide dictatorship; states' rights; free markets over all—Rafael Cruz blends the far reaches of extreme conservatism and Christian fundamentalism. He embodies the full synthesis of the tea party and the religious right. In fact, he has noted that the rise of the religious right in Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign "was the precursor of the tea party." Rafael Cruz may well be key to understanding the ideas, desires, and long-term aims that drive Ted Cruz—a politician who is exerting an outsized influence on the GOP.
At the least, Cruz ought to have to explain whether he shares the more extreme views of his No. 1 surrogate. Asked to comment on Rafael Cruz's remarks—particularly his statement that the United States is a "Christian nation" and his call for Obama to be shipped back to Kenya—Sen. Cruz's office requested citations for these quotes. After receiving the citations, Sean Rushton, a spokesperson for Cruz, replied, "These selective quotes, taken out of context, mischaracterize the substance of Pastor Cruz's message. Like many Americans, he feels America is on the wrong track." Rushton added, "Pastor Cruz does not speak for the senator."
"People here are trying to figure out Ted Cruz," a Democratic senator recently told me. "And a lot of them are saying, 'He went to Princeton, Harvard Law—he doesn't really believe what he says.' But I think he does. All you have to do is look at his father. So much of our life is mirroring. And Ted Cruz is mirroring his father."