When tea party upstart Ted Cruz began his ascent in 2012, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board saw enough promise to hint at a new era of GOP reform politics.
But it didn’t take long for the influential opinion page to sour on the Texas senator. Within months after Cruz was sworn in to office, the Journal was castigating him for his tone and tactics — along with his naked pursuit of the presidency just months after joining the Senate — as disingenuous and counterproductive.
“Mr. Cruz will have more success in the Senate, and in his mooted Presidential candidacy, if he stops pretending that he’s Nathan Hale and everyone else is Benedict Arnold,” the paper wrote.
Now, after a steady stream of harsh editorials panning the first-term senator, the Journal finds itself at war with Cruz, who accused the ed board of shilling for presidential rival Sen. Marco Rubio during a recent interview on “Morning Joe.”
“For the next three months, the Journal should change their header to the ‘Marco Rubio for President Newspaper,’ because their attacks — and it’s going to keep coming because Marco fights for the principles they care about,” Cruz said. “There is no one, no conservatives in America who think The Wall Street Journal is the voice of conservatism.”
For many conservatives, it would seem unwise to pick a fight with one of the most important editorial pages on the Right. The ed board, which espouses the pro-business, muscular foreign policy approach of traditional Republicanism, continues to have an outsized voice in highbrow conservative circles, and the paper itself delivers news intravenously to Wall Street executives and the megadonors who fuel presidential campaigns.
“In an era where print newspapers have long been on the decline, the one exception is the editorial page and the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, for Republican primary voters especially. They’re the gold standard,” said Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary to President George W. Bush.
Calling the paper a front for Rubio, Fleischer added, is “a wrong read of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. … They’re a consistent voice for conservativism, especially on economics and supply side Reaganomics.”
For Cruz, however, the criticism dovetails with his indictments of the Washington establishment and old-school Republican politics. It could also play well with the tea party and evangelical voters Cruz wants to connect with in Iowa and elsewhere.
“If the Journal’s opposition does anything with those voters, it validates Cruz as an outsider not favored by the political and media elites,” said Matt Strawn, a former chairman of the Iowa GOP. “Does the WSJ editorial board have clout with many in the Republican party? Of course. Does it have clout with the segment of Republican voters that Ted Cruz needs for success in the Iowa Caucuses? Not really.”
Editorial page editor Paul Gigot, who notes the Journal hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate since Herbert Hoover, said the paper’s differences with Cruz are rooted in nothing more than substantive policy differences. The paper has called for comprehensive immigration reform, backed President Barack Obama’s trade agenda in Asia and supported the NSA’s controversial metadata program to screen domestic phone calls for potential terrorism connections — and it has criticized Cruz for being on the opposite side of those issues. All three happen to be issues where Rubio — along with many establishment Republicans — is aligned with the paper.
“Some people take it better than others,” Gigot said, referring to the ed board’s criticism of Cruz. “It’s not a personal thing. It’s a business thing. It’s a professional thing. We call them as we see them. That’s been the case since the beginning.”
At times, the Journal has gone further than highlighting simple disagreements. The paper has disparaged Cruz as an opportunist and blasted his brinkmanship in the Senate, which contributed to a government shutdown in late 2013, and referred to his leadership of Congress’ “kamikaze caucus.” When Cruz launched his presidential candidacy in March, the opinion pages included two items — an unsigned editorial and, a few days later, a column by Peggy Noonan — that drew unflattering comparisons between Cruz and Obama.
“Neither man will like this comparison, and their world views are as divergent as any two men in politics. Yet Messrs. Obama and Cruz are strikingly similar in their pedigrees and political style,” the editorial said.
Journal owner Rupert Murdoch has also been unfriendly to Cruz on Twitter. On Nov. 11, he called Cruz’s comments on banking during a CNBC debate “nonsense” and suggested Cruz’s more recent proposal to “carpet bomb” ISIL would make matters worse. Just before the government shutdown in 2013, Murdoch tweeted, “Cruz’ grandstanding will cost him long-term.”
Over the years, Cruz has sought to fix his relationship with the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Gigot said he’s had two “long personal meetings” with the Texas senator, well before Cruz announced for president. In late 2013, he attempted to woo the page’s editors with an in-person meeting. He told National Review in 2014 that he was a “big fan.”
“The Journal’s editorial page has long been the most important space in journalism, a thriving intellectual platform that provides space for ideas to compete,” Cruz said.
That was then.
The WSJ editorial page’s continued antagonism has left Cruz and his orbit frustrated, and last week the senator seethed over an editorial that panned his positions on the civil war in Syria, leading to his more aggressive stance against it.
In leaked audio from a private fundraiser, posted recently by The New York Times, Cruz lumped the Journal’s recent criticism with knocks from Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and a Times columnist. “My reaction to all of that,” Cruz told the friendly crowd, “was ‘thank you for your endorsement.’”
The Cruz campaign declined to weigh in on the senator’s dispute with the paper, saying only that his recent comments speak for themselves.
Kellyanne Conway, a GOP pollster who runs a pro-Cruz super PAC, said the paper’s editorial page “remains one of the most respected and instructive daily reads in the center-right movement.” But she called its “all-out assault” on Cruz “perplexing.”
“The occasional disagreement on substance, or a distaste for style, does not merit the persistent and sometimes personal attack on Cruz,” she said. “We receive complaints from voters a fair amount. They see the WSJ playing favorites; I remind them it is an opinion page and they are entitled to theirs; they remind me that it is the center-right WSJ and not BuzzFeed, and so it goes.
“After Speaker [Paul] Ryan, Rubio seems the page’s favorite son,” Conway continued. “Protecting and promoting Rubio means knocking and knifing Cruz.”
“I suspect Ted knows that is silly,” Gigot said. “As for who is the voice of conservatism, I’m not sure Ted Cruz gets to define what’s conservative, but our views haven’t changed very much in 125 years.”
Rubio’s campaign declined to comment for this story.
Gigot pointed out that Cruz himself has published op-eds in the Journal, one in October unveiling his tax plan and another in April, co-authored with Ryan, on Congress’ role in the national trade debate. A third ran in early 2014, ripping Obama as an “imperial” president.
“He’s welcome any time up here,” Gigot said. “Send him a message, you can tell him through your piece that he’s welcome any time … I just want to repeat. Ted Cruz, it’s an open invitation.”
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