Ted Cruz Has a Weird Obsession With Abolishing the IRS. About That.


Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Ted Cruz announced today he is running for president. It is what it is. The first-term U.S. senator from Texas became famous as a conservative firebrand who made life hell for Congress’ Republican leadership by helping force a government shutdown, ostensibly in a failed attempt to defund Obamacare, or at least make himself a semihousehold name. It’ll be interesting to see if the man has a similar effect in the presidential primary. Will his mere presence force other candidates to veer hard-right in order to avoid looking insufficiently dogmatic, thus lighting aflame their chances in the general election? Or will he simply make Jeb Bush look palatably mild for the rest of the electorate? Time shall tell.

In any event, the conservative id now has an official candidate, which means some of his pet policy ideas will get a little more attention. My personal favorite, which he mentioned during his speech today, is Cruz’s oft-repeated conviction that we should eliminate the Internal Revenue Service—or, as he now likes to half-jokingly put it these days, “abolish the IRS, take all 125,000 IRS agents and put them on our southern border.” Cruz says this would be his second priority, after repealing Obamacare (of course). And it’s kind of fun to contemplate. The U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles long. Assuming we rotated those 125,000 newly reassigned agents on three separate eight-hour shifts (gotta guard the border 24/7, after all), we could install one agent roughly every 250 feet. That’s less than a football field, people. We could basically handle border security like the world’s largest game of Red Rover. Weekends would be a little more porous, but that’s what overtime pay is for.

Still, getting rid of the IRS would leave the small matter of collecting taxes up in the air. Because, no, Cruz does not want to eliminate taxes altogether. Borrowing from Rick Perry and Steve Forbes before him, he wants to create a low, low flat tax that everybody could submit on a form the size of a postcard. Even that light level of taxation would require some enforcement, and his spokeswoman has previously acknowledged that the senator thinks there would need to be “a small department that would enforce the tax code.”

So, why bother with all this talk of abolishing the IRS altogether, if we’d need some government agency to do the exact same thing? It goes back to the conservative trope that President Obama has “weaponized” the IRS—remember the scandal over how it allegedly targeted Tea Party groups for audits?—and the only solution now is to tear out the whole bureaucracy, root and branch. “The last two years have fundamentally changed the dynamics of this debate [on the tax code],” Cruz said at a Heritage Foundation speech in January, “as we have seen the weaponization of the IRS, as we have seen the Obama administration using the IRS in a partisan manner to punish its political enemies.”

But enough tax talk. We look forward to hearing Cruz’s plan for negotiating a Ukrainian peace deal through a game of Duck Duck Goose.*

*Correction, March 23, 2015: This post originally misspelled Ukrainian.