According To Slate, “Ted Cruz May Be The Most Gifted Liar Ever To Run For President”

William Saletan of Slate writes that “Ted Cruz is the only true conservative running for president. That’s the message of his campaign: He’s the only senator who stood and fought against amnesty, Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood. His finest hour was the defeat of immigration reform three years ago. Democrats wanted to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Cruz said no. He took on the establishment and won.

It’s a good story, and the immigration fight tells us a lot about Cruz. But the fight didn’t happen the way he says it did. Cruz didn’t marshal the opposition or even take a firm stand. He’s a lawyer, not a leader. He chose his words exquisitely so that down the road—say, in a future campaign for president—he could position himself on either side of the immigration debate. And he delivered, with angelic piety, speeches that he now claims were lies.

Cruz told his version of the story last month at a campaign debate in Las Vegas. The “battle over amnesty,” he said, was “a time for choosing.” In that battle, Cruz stood with Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to secure the border. Sen. Marco Rubio, Cruz’s Republican presidential rival, stood on the other side, colluding with Democrats to push “a massive amnesty plan.” “I have never supported legalization,” Cruz told the debate audience. In fact, he asserted, “I led the fight against [Rubio’s] legalization and amnesty.”

I’ve studied nearly every word Cruz uttered during the immigration showdown. I’ve put it together in a timeline that runs from January 2013, when Cruz was sworn in, to the end of June 2013, when the Senate passed the bill. The timeline, which you can read here, shreds Cruz’s mythical account. But it also paints an unsparing portrait of how Cruz—who has now clawed his way to the front of the Republican presidential pack—thinks and operates. Here’s what really happened and who Cruz really is.
In January 2013, when Cruz entered the Senate, he held the same view he espouses today. The proper way to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country, he said, was to “enforce the laws.” That meant barring them from employment and deporting them. Democrats wanted to offer these people a legal route to stay and earn U.S. citizenship. Cruz opposed that idea. Such a concession, he argued, would reward lawbreakers and punish honest people who were waiting to immigrate legally.

In late January, a bipartisan group of eight senators—four Democrats and four Republicans, including Rubio—issued an immigration reform proposal that included a path to citizenship. Cruz could have ruled that provision out, but he didn’t. For months, he expressed “deep concerns” about it but made no commitment. He cautioned that a path to citizenship would alienate many Republicans. But when reporters asked Cruz the yes-or-no question—“Would you vote against anything that has a path to citizenship?”—he refused to answer.

One plausible reason for Cruz’s reticence was that he wanted changes in immigration policy. He favored tighter borders, better enforcement, and an easier process for law-abiding applicants. He might be able to get those things in a deal. Furthermore, a path to citizenship was popular. In polls, more than 60 percent of Americans endorsed the idea, depending on how the question was phrased. Even self-identified Republicans supported it. So politics and policy told Cruz to keep his options open. But principle—fairness to legal immigrants and respect for the rule of law—stood in the way.

Cruz was in a tough spot. But there was a way out: Undocumented immigrants could be offered something less than citizenship. They could be given a path to “lawful permanent resident” status—a green card—that would let them live and work in the United States. They would be allowed to stay but not to vote.

Many Republicans liked this idea. It also scored well in polls. When Americans were asked to choose between creating a path to citizenship and creating a path to permanent residency, many preferred the latter. By offering green cards instead of deportation, conservatives could mobilize a national majority against citizenship.

Still, Cruz had a problem with the green-card idea. Under the proposed immigration framework, green cards would lead to citizenship. And that, Cruz explained, “worries me,” because “if we pass something that allows those here illegally to achieve citizenship, it means you’re a chump for having stayed in your own country and followed the rules.”

By late April, Cruz had worked out a solution. By permanently barring undocumented immigrants from citizenship, Congress could punish them and respect the priority of legal immigrants. In that context, as an inferior status, green cards were acceptable. At a Judiciary Committee hearing on April 22, 2013, Cruz urged his colleagues to pass legislation that foreclosed citizenship but would “ensure that we have workers who are here, out of the shadows, able to work legally.” Two days later, in an interview aired on CBS, he said, “There probably could be a compromise” on undocumented immigrants “if a path to citizenship was taken off the table.””