If rising tea party star Ted Cruz was hoping to show off his lighter side to Americans during his first late-night talk show appearance, he might not have gotten what he was looking for in an interview with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show Friday.
Cruz hammered home his favorite talking points, blasting the Affordable Care Act as the “biggest job killer in this country.” Leno didn’t give him much opportunity to talk beyond politics, kicking off the interview by asking if he was as “aggressive, arrogant and abrasive” as his critics have said.
“What I’m trying to do is do my job. And occasionally people don’t like it,” Cruz replied.
Leno then turned to the issue of political compromise, asking him whether Ronald Reagan could survive in the tea party today.
“Reagan said, ‘What do you do if they offer you half a loaf? Answer: you take it, and then you come back for more,’” Cruz said of his approach to compromise, insisting that Reagan’s “grassroots” approach to politics does mesh well with tea party principles.
Cruz used the question to set the narrative he might employ if he runs for the White House in 2016, telling Leno he compares our current economic situation to the late 1970s, when Jimmy Carter’s policies weren’t working and Reagan was bucking his own party and preparing to take the country back to free-market principles.
Asked about brinksmanship and the government shutdown, Cruz put the blame on both parties.
“I think the biggest divide we have is not between Republicans and Democrats, it is between entrenched politicians in both parties in Washington and the American people,” he said to cheers from the audience.
Leno pushed back, asking if Cruz was equally entrenched, noting his involvement in the government shutdown. “You seem pretty set in your ways, ‘This, this, this, or I shut down the government,’” Leno said.
But Cruz pivoted back to his bullet points, talking about the dangers of spending, taxes, regulation, and – of course – “Obamacare.” Leno clearly thought that Cruz’s role in the government shutdown wasn’t a smart political move.
“If I was a strategist for your side, and I didn’t think Obamacare was going to work I would have sat back and said, ‘You know something? Let’s not shut down the government. Let’s see what happens,’” Leno said, adding later, “If they had just not shut it down what’s happening with Obamacare would still have happened, and rather than having people vilify you for shutting down the government it might have been seen in a different light.”
Cruz insisted he was not a “fan” of shutting down the government, inspiring chuckles from Leno who said, “You looked like a big fan from where I was sitting.”
“The reason we had a government shutdown is President Obama and the Democrats said ‘We will not negotiate and we will not compromise,’” Cruz replied.
But according to Cruz, his daughter was a fan of at least one thing he did in the lead up to the government shutdown. In one of his only lighter moments on the show, he explained how his daughter enjoyed his filibuster.
“Nothing I’ve done in the Senate has impressed Caroline at all. She is tough,” he said. “Except the only moment was when I read ‘Green Eggs & Ham’ and when I got home Caroline looked at me and she said ‘Okay, dad. That was kind of cool.‘ “
Leno also pushed Cruz on social issues too, including marriage equality, where Cruz pushed a states’ rights approach. Asked about his father’s critical comments about the gay community, Cruz pivoted. “I think the critics are better off attacking me. My dad has been my hero my whole life,” he said.