David Brooks’ (Slightly) Unfair Attack on Ted Cruz
Policy + Politics

David Brooks’ (Slightly) Unfair Attack on Ted Cruz

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In Tuesday morning’s New York Times, conservative columnist David Brooks published a punishing attack on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Under the headline “The Brutalism of Ted Cruz,” Brooks went after the GOP presidential candidate for his “fear-driven, apocalypse-based” campaign style.

Cruz has made strong inroads with evangelical Christian voters, Brooks notes, “But in his career and public presentation, Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace.”

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In Cruz’s campaign speeches as in his approach to politics in general, says Brooks, “He sows bitterness, influences his followers to lose all sense of proportion and teaches them to answer hate with hate.”

Whew. One imagines Brooks, red-faced and breathing heavily, having to straighten his repp tie when he finished with that one.

Yet it’s hard to argue with many of his conclusions. Anyone who has seen or heard Cruz speak in public will recognize that angry, apocalyptic tone. However, Brooks appears to have hung the entire article on a misunderstanding of Cruz’s role in a court case that he argued as Solicitor General of Texas.

The defendant in the case, Michael Wayne Haley, was charged with shoplifting a calculator from Walmart, but instead of being given a punishment proportionate to this relatively minor crime, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison due to a misapplication of the state’s habitual offender laws.

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When the mistake was brought to the attention of the Texas legal system, rather than admit error and release Haley, Texas argued that Haley should be required to serve out the full term.

“Ted Cruz was solicitor general of Texas at the time,” Brooks writes. “Instead of just letting Haley go for time served, Cruz took the case to the Supreme Court to keep Haley in prison for the full 16 years.”

The thing is, the decision wasn’t really Cruz’s to make. The decision to keep appealing the Haley case all the way to the Supreme Court belonged to then-Attorney General, and now Governor, Greg Abbott.

Consider it this way: When the Obama administration refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, was the uproar directed at Solicitor General Donald Verrilli? Or at his boss, Attorney General Eric Holder?

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The Office of Solicitor General of the state of Texas, according to the office itself, was “expressly modeled after the Office of the Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice” It handles appeals on behalf of the state of Texas, but does not ultimately choose what appeals will be pursued.

Now, Brooks could argue that Cruz ought to have refused to argue the Haley case at all. He can (and does) argue that he should have avoided arguing in favor of keeping a man in prison unjustly because of the precedent it might set, even while acknowledging that he had been sentenced in error.

But he can’t argue that it was Cruz’s decision to appeal the case to the Supreme Court in the first place. In this case, Cruz was just following orders.