The Ted Cruz Immigration Shuffle

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National Journal’s Beth Reinhard has a great look at Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s transformation from pro-immigration policy advisor for George W. Bush, to right-wing, fire-breathing opponent of reform.

When he was working for Bush, he crafted the campaign’s immigration policy, which included a sped-up application process, a greater number of work visas, and a provision that allowed relatives of permanent residents to visit the United States. Now, Cruz seems categorically opposed to anything that smacks of comprehensive reform. Reinhard notes that this transformation is a little baffling to people who have followed his career over the years:

The route Cruz chose, from working on the reform-minded Bush campaign to voting against the bill Wednesday as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, confounds some of those who crossed paths with him. His role on the Bush campaign is a lesser-known part of the biography of a politician increasingly viewed as a potential presidential contender in 2016.

“I’m disappointed in Ted because he’s a very bright, articulate lawyer with a substantial base of knowledge about immigration,” said Houston lawyer Charles Foster, who advised the Bush campaign on immigration and said he worked closely with Cruz. “But instead of using that knowledge, he’s acting like a typical politician and just talking about the border being out of control.”

Cruz’s office defends the shift as representative of different duties—then, Cruz was responsible for articulating policy for then-Governor Bush, now he’s representing Texas voters—but I don’t think you need to go that far to explain what Cruz is doing, and has done, with his shift on immigration.

Cruz presents himself as a principled operator, but the truth is that like all deft politicians, he’s willing to shift positions when necessary. In 2000, George W. Bush had introduced “compassionate conservatism” into the political lexicon, and a whole host of ambitious conservatives worked to turn that into a workable agenda, including Cruz.

At the moment, Tea Party conservatism is dominant in the Republican Party, and Cruz has adjusted accordingly, riding a wave of anti-government discontent to the Senate, where he’s built a reputation for brash opposition to the business of governing. And again, this is a reflexion of ambition. You just have to listen to Cruz speak to know that he wants to be president of the United States. And he’s betting—not unreasonably—that sticking with the Tea Party is his best path to the prize.