The Simple Truth About Ted Cruz

He lies.

Senator Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during a press conference on immigration on Sept. 9, 2014, in Washington.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Some people say Sen. Ted Cruz is too conservative. Some say he doesn’t get along with others. These charges are unfair. Cruz can turn on the charm when he wants, and in today’s Republican Party, his hardline views aren’t exceptional. What distinguishes Cruz, even in Washington, is his ability to look you in the eye and tell you, with pious conviction, things he doesn’t believe.

Cruz has made a career of denouncing his colleagues for dishonesty and impurity. He presents himself as the one honest man. But is he for real? We’ve all seen politicians deliver canned lines in TV interviews, campaign debates, and congressional speeches. The difference, in Cruz’s case, is that the show never ends. He never breaks character. He always plays the honest man, even when he’s telling you the opposite of what he told you before.

That’s what troubles many people about Cruz’s posturing on immigration. Two years ago, Cruz proposed amendments to a bill sponsored by four Republican senators—Marco Rubio, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake—and four Democrats. The bill would have tightened border security and employee screening. But it also would have allowed undocumented immigrants to apply, eventually, for legal status.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on May 21, 2013, Cruz offered three amendments to the bill. His principal amendment would have barred undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens. Cruz implored the committee:

I don’t want immigration reform to fail. I want immigration reform to pass. And so I would urge people of good faith on both sides of the aisle, if the objective is to pass common-sense immigration reform that secures the borders, that improves legal immigration, and that allows those who are here illegally to come in out of the shadows, then we should look for areas of bipartisan agreement and compromise to come together. And this amendment—I believe if this amendment were to pass, the chances of this bill passing into law would increase dramatically.

Cruz urged his colleagues “to roll up our sleeves and fix the problem in a humane way,” foreclosing citizenship “but allowing, as this legislation does, a legal status for those who are here illegally. That would be reform that a great many people across this country, both Republican and Democrat, would embrace.” You can watch Cruz’s remarks on his Senate website. He looks sincere.

A week later, in a May 28 phone interview, Cruz told Washington Examiner correspondent Byron York:

In introducing amendments, what I endeavored to do was improve that bill so that it actually fixes the problem. I think an overwhelming majority of Americans in both parties wants to see our broken immigration system fixed. … And given that bipartisan agreement outside of Washington, my objective was not to kill immigration reform, but it was to amend the Gang of Eight bill so that it actually solves the problem.

You can listen to Cruz’s answer here. Again, he sounds sincere.

On May 31, in a public discussion with professor Robert George at Princeton University, Cruz repeated his plea. Cruz said Democrats’ insistence on a path to citizenship was a “poison pill” designed to make the immigration bill unacceptable to Republicans. The Democrats’ devious strategy, he alleged, was to make Republicans vote against the bill so that Democrats could use it as a campaign issue. Cruz said his own amendments, by contrast, were offered in good faith: “I want to see common-sense immigration reform pass. But the only way to do so is to find a middle ground.” He told George, “I believe if the amendments I introduced were adopted, that the bill would pass. And my effort in introducing them was to find a solution that reflected common ground and that fixed the problem.”

Cruz continued his performance in a Senate floor speech on June 11. “If my amendment had been adopted,” he told his colleagues, “those who are here illegally would be eligible for what is called RPI status, a legal status, and, indeed, in time would be eligible for legal permanent residency.” Without his amendment, Cruz warned, the bill would fail:

That outcome means those 11 million remain in the shadows, have no legal status. Whereas, if the proponents of this bill actually demonstrate a commitment not to politics, not to campaigning all the time, but to actually fixing this problem, to finding a middle ground, that would fix the problem and also allow for those 11 million people who are here illegally a legal status with citizenship off the table. I believe that is the compromise that can pass.

That was 2013. In the two years since, the Republican Party has become even more conservative. Rubio has renounced the 2013 bill, claiming to have “learned” that “the American people” won’t accept a path to legalization until our borders are secure. Cruz, too, has shifted to the right: He now opposes any legal status for undocumented immigrants. But unlike Rubio, Cruz denies having changed his position. Instead, Cruz claims that his own 2013 amendments were insincere.

Cruz’s shift has been documented by the Texas Tribune, National Review, Yahoo Politics, FactCheck.org, and many others. A month ago, a Cruz adviser claimed that Cruz had used his amendments to sabotage the bill and kill it in the House. In the Republican presidential debate on Tuesday, Cruz said it was “not accurate” to claim “that I supported legalization. Indeed, I led the fight against [Rubio’s] legalization and amnesty. … I have never supported legalization.” After the debate, Cruz’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, repeated that Cruz’s 2013 amendment was a “poison pill” and that Cruz “never supported a path to legal status.” And in a Fox News interview with Bret Baier on Wednesday, Cruz said his 2013 amendment was a hostile ploy:

What it doesn’t mean is that I supported the other aspects of the bill, which was a terrible bill. And Bret, you’ve been around Washington long enough. You know how to defeat bad legislation, which is what that amendment did. … I introduced five amendments, a whole series of amendments. What they did is, they illustrated the hypocrisy of the Democrats. They showed that it was a partisan effort, and they succeeded in defeating the Rubio-Schumer amnesty bill.

Cruz is sticking to his new story. “Let’s have a moment of simple clarity,” he told reporters on Thursday. “I oppose legalization. I always have, and I always will.” He said his 2013 amendment “laid naked the partisanship, the hypocrisy, and the lies” behind the bill. “By exposing the hypocrisy, by exposing their bluff, we won. We defeated amnesty.” Why, then, did Cruz feign sympathy in 2013? Brian Phillips, a Cruz campaign spokesman, has a simple answer: “We were not trying to let on our legislative strategy.”

In other words, Cruz deliberately deceived everyone: his colleagues, his college mentor, the conservative press, and the public. All that stuff about bipartisan compromise, good faith, and trying to “improve” the bill was an act. Cruz says he did it to expose his colleagues’ dishonesty. In a city of lying, partisan hypocrites, he is the one honest man.

Is that what Cruz was really thinking in 2013? I can’t tell, and neither can you. With straight-faced piety, Cruz told us one thing. Now, with equal piety, he tells us the opposite. All we know for sure is that one way or another, he lied to us. And the sincerity in his eyes means nothing.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.