GOP stars Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan have complicated history

GOP stars Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan have complicated history
© Greg Nash

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSteyer calls for Senate term limits to pass gun control legislation Cruz targets California governor over housing 'prescriptions' This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime MORE (Texas), who represents the GOP establishment’s best chance to prevent Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE from securing the party's presidential nomination, has a complicated relationship with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? Trump lashes out at Fox News coverage: 'I won every one of my debates' MORE (R-Wis.).

As House Budget Committee chairman, Ryan opposed the Cruz-led government shutdown of October 2013. Cruz voted against the deficit-cutting “Ryan budget,” arguing that it depended too heavily on “gimmicks.”

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The two young Republican stars did team up last year on a Wall Street Journal op-ed urging colleagues to back fast-track trade legislation that Ryan was spearheading.

But the first-term Texas senator quickly backtracked and voted against giving President Obama trade promotion authority (TPA), complaining of “secret deals” between GOP leaders and Democrats.

Those splits highlight precisely why many in the GOP establishment are still reluctant to rally behind and Cruz, even as the Tea Party favorite begins to aggressively court his colleagues on Capitol Hill and make his case against Trump.

“Elected leaders don’t trust Cruz. They have watched him be very loose with the facts during his rise to prominence, and those distortions of reality have created big political problems,” said one House GOP leadership source. “There is a sense that he helped create this tornado of distrust-driving angst in Republican voters.

“Much of the overpromising that has disappointed our voters came from Ted.”

Cruz beat the billionaire businessman in Wisconsin’s primary on Tuesday and is hoping to close a delegate gap with the GOP front-runner before July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

If Trump can’t clinch the nomination before then by winning 1,237 delegates, Republicans could choose instead to nominate Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or even someone not in the presidential race.

Ryan, Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyLawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Romney: Trump administration unprepared for coronavirus outbreak Ex-Romney adviser praises economic populism MORE’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, is staying neutral in this year’s primary race, citing his role as ceremonial chairman of the convention.

He has repeatedly has said he’ll support the eventual nominee and that he does not want to be the party's standard-bearer this year.

Last month, the Speaker placed separate calls with the three remaining candidates — Cruz, Trump and Kasich — to brief them on House Republicans’ plan to put forth an election-year agenda.

“They’ve worked together before and have a good relationship,” said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong, who declined to say whether the Speaker has had any additional communication with the Cruz campaign.

If Cruz and Ryan have a good relationship, it would contrast with Cruz’s dealings with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans give Barr vote of confidence Democrats block two Senate abortion bills VA could lead way for nation on lower drug pricing MORE (R-Ky.) and Ryan’s predecessor, former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 Lobbying world Pelosi-Trump relationship takes turn for the terrible MORE (R-Ohio).

Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general, took the unprecedented step last summer of calling the Senate GOP leader a liar during a floor speech, a move that roundly condemned by fellow Republican colleagues.

And Cruz frequently clashed with BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 Lobbying world Pelosi-Trump relationship takes turn for the terrible MORE over GOP tactics, prompting Boehner to call Cruz a “jackass” at a closed-door Colorado fundraiser last year. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Boehner dismissed Cruz as a "false prophet” who was unrealistic about what could be changed in government.

It was a reference to fall 2013, when Cruz rallied dozens of House conservatives to oppose any funding bill because it did not defund ObamaCare. Cruz’s strategy resulted in a 16-day government shutdown that hurt Republicans politically but did nothing to halt the healthcare law. GOP leaders and their allies panned it as another example of Cruz overpromising and underdelivering.

While Ryan agreed with the goal of gutting ObamaCare, he had warned earlier that summer that threatening a shutdown amounted to “swinging for the fences” and ultimately would fail. In his 2014 book, “The Way Forward,” Ryan called the shutdown strategy “flawed from beginning to end.”

“It was a suicide mission,” the future Speaker wrote.

One of Cruz’s first votes after he was sworn in as a senator in January 2013 was against one of Ryan’s budgets that had helped put the self-described policy wonk on the national map.

Cruz was one of five GOP senators who joined Democrats in rejecting the Ryan blueprint, which cut trillions of dollars in spending from programs such as Medicaid and repealed ObamaCare. The Texas firebrand opposed it, in part, because it repealing the healthcare reform law but still counted its revenue.

Cruz also raised eyebrows in early 2014 when he hired Paul Teller as a top aide in his Senate office and then promoted him to chief of staff.

Teller had just been fired from his job as executive director of the conservative House Republican Study Committee after lawmakers discovered he was working with outside conservative groups to derail a two-year budget deal Ryan was negotiating with his Senate counterpart, Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayLawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Public health experts raise alarm as coronavirus spreads Overnight Health Care: Senate panel to hold hearing on US coronavirus response | Dems demand Trump withdraw religious provider rule | Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan backlash MORE (D-Wash.).

The high point in Cruz and Ryan’s relationship came a year ago when they jointly published an op-ed in the Journal, calling on Congress to pass the TPA legislation.

As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Ryan was leading the effort in the House. He heard some favorable comments from Cruz, called him to discuss their shared views on trade, and they agreed to author an op-ed, aides said.

“By establishing TPA, Congress will send a signal to the world. America’s trading partners will know that the U.S. Is trustworthy and then put their best offers on the table,” Ryan and Cruz wrote, adding that it's a “good, fair deal.”

“Promoting American trade will create more opportunity in the country, and so we strongly urge our colleagues in Congress to vote for trade-promotion authority.”

Last May, Cruz voted to advance the TPA legislation.

But the honeymoon was short-lived. The next month, the Texas Republican reversed course, citing what he called a “corrupt” side deal McConnell and Boehner struck with Democrats to extend the expiring charter of the Export-Import Bank.

“TPA in this Congress has become enmeshed in corrupt Washington backroom dealing,” Cruz wrote on the conservative website Breitbart.

Cruz’s fears, however, weren't completely unfounded: In December, Congress voted to revive the expired Ex-Im Bank, infuriating Cruz and other Tea Party opponents.