Former President George W. Bush broke his above-the-fray silence since leaving the White House with a surprise hit on a fellow Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
“I just don’t like that guy,” Bush told donors at a private Denver gathering Sunday, according to Politico. The comment, which came amid Bush’s favorable assessments of the other rivals to his brother Jeb Bush for the GOP presidential nomination, reverberated when it became public.
Told of Bush’s comment, Austin power broker Hector De Leon, a long time George W. Bush supporter, laughed and said, “I appreciate his candor.”
Cruz, said De Leon, has a “certain unvarnished aspect to his ambition. He doesn’t play by the accepted rules.”
Bush, the nation’s 43rd president, was known during his political career for being personable and frequently referred to someone he was talking about as a “good man.” He has also been very low-key since leaving the presidency in 2009.
So his take-down of Cruz was unexpected.
In response, Cruz said in a statement: “I have great respect for George W. Bush, and was proud to work on his 2000 campaign and in his administration. It’s no surprise that President Bush is supporting his brother and attacking the candidates he believes pose a threat to his campaign. I have no intention of reciprocating. I met my wife Heidi working on his campaign, and so I will always be grateful to him."
Asked about Cruz being a “threat” to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, George W. Bush spokesman Freddy Ford said by email to McClatchy, “The first words out of President Bush’s mouth on Sunday night were that Jeb is going to earn the nomination, win the election, and be a great president; he does not view Senator Cruz as a ‘serious rival’ to Governor Bush’s candidacy.”
Cruz, an attorney who worked on the Bush 2000 presidential campaign and in various positions in the early years of the administration and later as Texas Solicitor General, has a pattern of alienating his Senate colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans.
He counters criticism of his tactics by saying that he is sticking to conservative principles and likens himself to President Ronald Reagan. His message to conservative audiences is that he uses the procedures in the Senate to fight such hated targets as the Affordable Care Act and President Barack Obama's executive actions easing immigration deportations.
“I think it's that Cruz has that lean and hungry look,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “His critics believe he's excessively ambitious, although the dynasty Bush can hardly be called unambitious.”
Cruz was elected to the Senate in his first try at elective office in 2012 with strong tea party support. And he pushed his outsider status from the start, helping to force the 2013 partial federal government shut-down for which the public blamed the Republicans.
In December 2014, he made a procedural move after both parties had agreed on a weekend break from voting that forced the cancellation of weekend plans and led to the then-Democratic majority securing approval of a dozen stalled federal judges.
Senators of both parties were livid at the timing. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who missed a performance of “The Nutcracker” with her daughter said the situation was “ ridiculous.”
“Bush’s reaction to Cruz is what a lot of people have – there’s something about him that just sets your teeth on edge,” said Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “His aggressive and unrelenting self-promotion rubs people the wrong way.”
Cruz spokesman Phil Novack countered that “it's no surprise that the Washington cartel is not happy with Sen. Cruz telling the American people the truth about what's happening in Washington. He wasn't elected by senators or the cartel but by the people of the state of Texas who support him and the positions he's taken."
It was Cruz calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a liar on the Senate floor in July that ratcheted up his unpopularity. The issue was over whether McConnell had cut a deal to add the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which hardline conservatives oppose, to a must-pass bill.
On “Meet the Press” this past Sunday, Cruz defended his reaction to McConnell: “This is how broken Washington is. Listen, the fact that he told a falsehood is – is a matter of public record. He stated it publicly; then he behaved exactly the opposite.”
After hearing former President George W. Bush’s remark about Cruz, John Feehery, a Republican public relations strategist who was a top House GOP aide, tweeted that he felt the same.
He told McClatchy that the outspoken Texas senator ,was “basically trying to destroy the Republican Party. I took umbrage when he attacked Mitch McConnell.”
“Many in the GOP establishment resent his grandstanding and tactics which they believe have negatively affected govern-ability in the United States and adversely affected the Republican Party's image among swing voters,” said Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University. “Others consider Cruz abrasive, obnoxious and self-absorbed.”
“My feeling,” said Austin political consultant Bill Miller,” is that certain people think he’s too smart and a little too ambitious by half.”
Cruz seems willing to force another government shut-down later this year, though McConnell and Sen. Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, are working to outmaneuver him.
Texas State Sen. Konni Burton, a Republican tea party member from the Fort Worth area who is on Cruz’s Texas Leadership Team, said there was a “perception versus reality” of the tea party.
“I was very disappointed and saddened to see Bush portray Cruz in that way,” she said. “Cruz is obviously very good at debating. Just because he’s a good orator doesn’t mean he’s not a personable, likeable person.”