Ted Cruz on Leno

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) appeared on Jay Leno’s show Friday night, sitting down for a set of generally dead-serious questions from the late-night host and winning quite a bit of applause from the crowd… especially when Cruz tackled ObamaCare.  “The Tonight Show” graciously put the entire segment online, broken into two parts as presented below.  They omitted Leno’s introduction, in which he referred to Cruz as “one of the most polarizing figures in Washington” – a description far better suited to Barack Obama, but no one ever introduces him that way.

Cruz scored his first big applause of the night by observing, “The biggest divide we have is not between Republicans and Democrats… it is between entrenched politicians in both parties in Washington, and the American people.”  Leno proceeded to misunderstand what Cruz meant by “entrenched,” or maybe he just wanted to change the subject, but it didn’t ruin the moment.

“What we’re doing right now isn’t working,” said Cruz, referring to the moribund economy and job market.  “You’ve got too many career politicians in Washington that want to just keep going down this road of more and more spending and taxes and regulation.  And you know, Jay, the people who are getting hurt are young people, they’re Hispanics, they’re African-Americans, they’re single moms – they’re people who are struggling.”

After Cruz scored another round of applause by identifying ObamaCare as “the biggest job killer in the nation,” Leno hastily changed the subject again, attempting to put Cruz on the defensive by bringing up social issues and the government shutdown.  (Referring to Newt Gingrich’s description of the shutdown as a game, Leno insisted, “It’s not a game.  A lot of people lose their jobs.”  Who, Jay?  Who lost his job during the shutdown?)

Leno ended up making a point often raised by Republicans who disagreed with the Cruz strategy, saying that if the confrontation leading to the government shutdown had been avoided, ObamaCare would still be failing just as hard as it’s failing now, but Republicans would have higher approval ratings.  “I said throughout that we shouldn’t shut down the government,” Cruz responded.  “And the reason we had a government shutdown is that President Obama and the Democrats said, ‘We will not negotiate, and we will not compromise.'”

I hope Senator Cruz’ colleagues are paying attention, because that’s how you control a narrative, or at least get into the fight for controlling it.  Of course, they could have learned the technique by watching the behavior Democrats over the past few decades.  When was the last time they ever sat back and meekly accepted the Republicans’ preferred narrative of anything?  They’re still making fitful attempts to rewrite the history of the Eighties, or at least trick everyone into forgetting what happened.

And what did Leno come back with?  The cobwebbed “settled law of the land” argument, in which Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts supposed settled all debate over ObamaCare for all of eternity, carving it deeper into harder stone than the Constitution itself!  Curiously, Leno went on to criticize Republicans for “taking glee” in ObamaCare’s failure… even though he just advised them to do that very thing, not five minutes previously.  Instead of following Cruz in an attempt to head off the ObamaCare disaster before it came crashing down on the American people, Leno wanted Republicans to sit back, watch it blow up, and reap the political rewards.  Within minutes, he’s saying it makes him sick to his stomach that Republicans would dare seek political advantage from the ObamaCrash.  Then he calls a commercial break before Cruz gets a chance to respond.

Who’s writing his material, David Axelrod?  I don’t mind Leno throwing “conventional wisdom” and the opposing party’s narrative at a guest like Cruz, but he looked a bit too personally invested in some of this stuff, and he didn’t give Cruz a chance to swing at all of the pitches.

After the commercial break, Cruz got back to his message about how current policies aren’t working to grow the economy, making a strong populist point about how we’ve ended up with a low-growth, high-unemployment environment in which the super-rich are doing very well for themselves.  “The people who get hurt are those who are struggling,” he said.  “I think of it from the perspective of my dad.  Fifty-five years ago, my dad came over from Cuba.  He’d been imprisoned, he’d been tortured… and he was washing dishes.  He made fifty cents an hour.  Those are the people who are getting hurt.  It’s the immigrants, it’s the young people.  Economists are calling this generation of young people a ‘Lost Generation,’ because they’re coming out without jobs, without growth.”

Cruz had some ideas for the reforms he would like to see in a post-ObamaCare world: “I think we ought to reform health care so it’s personal, it’s portable, it’s affordable. We ought to empower patients rather than government bureaucrats getting between you and your doctor.”  It was his best applause line of the night, which should serve as another reminder to Republicans that they need to come together around specific reform proposals, presenting a positive agenda with a unified voice.  ObamaCare’s flagging defenders get a lot of mileage out of falsely claiming that the GOP has no alternatives.  That’s never been true, but they do need to package a solid set of alternative proposals (and, let’s face it, give it a really catchy name) which they can present relentlessly.  Every Republican should insert this unified reform proposal into every single interview he gives, building brand awareness across the electorate.

Note that Cruz also received polite applause for his position on states’ rights and gay marriage.  There’s a growing sense that centralized, one-size-fits-nobody policies emanating from Washington, with their attendant corruption, inefficiency, and complexity, are not working.  This is a moment to press that argument, moving the balance of power back to the states where it has always belonged.  That’s a conservative small-government idea, but it’s also becoming a truly populist idea, something that sounds like good common sense to even non-political people… even, dare we say, a number of people who don’t otherwise agree with the bulk of the Republican platform.  I wonder how much of Jay Leno’s audience came away from the interview wondering what happened to the “divisive” Ted Cruz they’ve heard so much about.