In 2012, grassroots conservatives in Texas worked to elect Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate in an underdog victory that would become a model for years to come.
Nine years later, those same activists—and many more—are still working to hold him accountable.
Last month, Cruz posted a graphic on his social media channels declaring, “Joe Biden & the CDC need to end mask mandates on airplanes & public transportation for vaccinated Americans.”
Cruz’ message rang starkly counter to the battle against COVID-19 vaccine passports that citizens have been fighting for months, causing grassroots leaders to speak out.
A coalition letter led by Grayson County Conservatives, and signed onto by 170 grassroots leaders, sought answers from Cruz.
“This statement, as posted, implies that mask mandates should be ended only for those Americans who have accepted a vaccine. It draws a distinct line between persons who have been vaccinated and those who have not and implies that vaccinated persons have rights and privileges above and beyond those enjoyed by unvaccinated persons. The problems with this suggestion are broad and dangerous and do not reflect the values of many conservative Texans,” their letter stated.
“There is a propaganda war that seeks to divide the population based on vaccination status. Intentionally or not, this meme implies that this discrimination is acceptable,” they added.
Before sending the letter, the team noted they made multiple attempts to gain clarification from the senator’s office, but they were unsuccessful.
When they banded together to send their coalition letter, however, they finally got a response.
In a five-page response, Cruz noted, “The staff-prepared graphic you referenced does not fully represent my position on vaccination-status discrimination and has since been deleted.”
“I introduced the No Vaccine Passports Act to stop efforts that would infringe on our individual liberty, threaten health-care privacy, and undermine personal autonomy, while also defending the rights of Americans to earn a living and provide for their families,” said Cruz, while defending the proposal from criticism that exceptions in the bill still allow employers to place mandates on their employees:
Generally speaking, businesses enjoy the legal right, and in many cases have an obligation under state or federal law, to establish workplace policies to protect the health and safety of employees and customers. In that sense, the provision of this bill that you highlighted acknowledges current law. However, it still significantly limits how far employers can go. Should this bill become law, if a business wanted to adopt new policies related to COVID-19, it would have to measure its proposed policies against the less-intrusive distancing, masking, and symptom checks listed in the bill to determine if those proposed policies are unnecessarily restrictive. If they are, those could be found to be discriminatory. By doing so, this provision addresses an issue we are both concerned about, specifically to prevent vaccination-status discrimination, and to stop it from “expand[ing] indefinitely over time.”
Cruz followed up by filing two new bills to prevent federal mask and vaccine mandates.
“His position is clear: there should be zero COVID mandates, meaning no mask mandates, no vaccine mandates, and no vaccine passports, and he has introduced legislation to do exactly that,” said a Cruz spokesperson. “Every day, Sen. Cruz is fighting to protect individual choice and personal freedom.”
The Greg Abbott Endorsement
As part of the senator’s effort to use the August recess to reconnect with Texans, Cruz participated in a town hall meeting hosted by True Texas Project in Grapevine and simulcast at the conservative organization’s numerous satellite chapters across the state.
The scene was a homecoming of sorts, as the group’s predecessor, the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, was one of several grassroots organizations instrumental in first getting Cruz elected in 2012.
During the forum, Cruz spoke out on a number of issues from the porous southern border, to big tech censorship, largely to agreement from attendees.
When asked if he would commit to endorsing a challenger to Gov. Greg Abbott or stay out of the race altogether, Cruz’ answer caused consternation.
For the last couple of years, grassroots disappointment with Abbott has turned into outright disapproval, especially in light of his unilateral executive orders that brought lockdowns, business closures, and mandates to the state in the last year.
That frustration has led to a series of challengers on Abbott’s right ahead of the 2022 primary elections, and organizers encouraged attendees to the Cruz forum to wear campaign gear from Abbott’s opponents.
Cruz, however, focused not on policy and decisions but on his “relationship” with the governor, dating back to when Abbott was Attorney General and hired Cruz to serve as Solicitor General.
“He is a close friend,” Cruz explained, mentioning a “pink teddy bear” Abbott had given his daughter when she was born, as well as Abbott’s help on Cruz’ previous campaigns.
“I understand there are a lot of folks here who have concerns with some of the things Greg Abbott’s done. I understand that … and I think primaries are a healthy thing in politics. But I gotta say, as for me, I’m going to vote for Greg Abbott.”
The statement elicited both boos and light applause in different parts of the room.
“I think I’d be a disloyal jackass if I didn’t vote for him,” Cruz added.
Sporting an orange Don Huffines campaign t-shirt, Julie McCarty—the group’s CEO—went to the microphone after Cruz’ conclusion to share her own story.
“Back in 2010, many of us from Northeast Tarrant Tea Party supported a state rep named Giovanni Capriglione. Gio was one of us; we worked heart and soul. My family and I went to dinner with him on many occasions. We were close friends,” McCarty said. “A couple of years later, Gio started turning as we all know politicians do on a regular basis. We started holding him accountable and having tough conversations. He still did not turn his ways, and in the end, we no longer support Giovanni.”
“So I would encourage Senator Cruz to hold Governor Abbott accountable, then do whatever step comes next,” she added.
A Lesson for Engaged Citizens
Though McCarty’s story was intended to parallel Cruz’ relationship with Abbott, the moral of the story stretches much further. It serves as an example of how all activists should treat their relationships with elected officials—even allies.
“As folks we hired at the ballot box to do the job they promised to do, it is our job as defenders of liberty to ask questions. It is an entirely reasonable expectation that all elected officials should answer for their conduct,” JoAnn Fleming, the executive director of Grassroots America We The People, told Texas Scorecard. “Our rights are under daily – even hourly – assault by out-of-control government at all levels. It has never been more crucial for citizens to hold all elected officials accountable to the first principles of liberty. Whether by an overt tyrannical action or ‘government creep,’ liberty has been under a super-charged assault since the convenient vehicle for government power grabs – COVID 19+ – came on the scene.”
“We don’t live in Mayberry or the 1980s anymore, and we aren’t returning to the days when the ’11th Commandment’ of Reagan provided sufficient cover for unprincipled Republicans,” she added. “Results are all that matter.”
“When politicians are your friends, that’s great, but you have to be prepared to call them out and hold them accountable when they do the wrong things,” True Texas Project President Fran Rhodes remarked. “Greg Abbott has plenty to be held accountable for, and I would hope that Senator Cruz, as his friend, would join us in acknowledging that fact.”
A spokesperson for Cruz told Texas Scorecard, “Sen. Cruz was elected by the people of Texas, and he expects them to keep their representatives accountable.”