Don't make us pick a side: Ted Cruz and Karl Rove engage in heated war of words

Ted Cruz slams Karl Rove in his new memoir -- and the political strategist is firing back

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published June 29, 2015 3:59PM (EDT)

Karl Rove                   (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)
Karl Rove (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

Ted Cruz didn’t just lament “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation's history" after the Supreme Court's rulings on Obamacare and marriage equality late last week -- he somehow also mustered up the energy to engage in a war of words with political strategist and Fox News contributor Karl Rove.

The Tea Party Senator and Republican presidential candidate is out with a new book, titled "A Time for Truth,” in which he reveals a whole host of autobiographical tidbits including claims that his Cuban-born father once tried to join Fidel Castro’s army, that he had a porn-watching session with Supreme Court justices and that Karl Rove once threatened and bullied him, a claim that Rove has already called a lie.

The all but obligatory political memoir by presidential aspirants (or sometimes not) tends to be a bore, full of forced humility and devoid of introspective honesty but conservative firebrand Sen. Cruz’s forthcoming book promises to at least be entertaining.

Cruz describes a time when as a law clerk to then Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, he had the opportunity to watch porn with Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as research for a case about online porn regulation.

"We were in front of a large computer screen gazing at explicit, hard-core pornography,” Cruz explains. “A slew of hard-core, explicit images showed up onscreen … as we watched these graphic pictures fill our screens, wide-eyed, no one said a word. Except for Justice O'Connor, who lowered her head, squinted slightly, and muttered, 'Oh, my.'"

Cruz also discusses his father’s failed attempt to join Fidal Castro’s army and tells of the time he showed up to an Ivy League admissions interview hungover, but it is his account of political strong-arming by Texas political operative Karl Rove that is most juicy.

The conservative blog, published an excerpt of Cruz’s book, highlighting the tale of intimidation by Rove after Cruz sought George H.W. Bush's endorsement for Texas Attorney General back in 2009:

“Karl had found out about my meeting with George H.W. Bush and called me on the phone. He was irate, demanding, ‘What in the hell do you think you are doing?!”


Rove was “in the process of helping raise money for the George W. Bush presidential library in Dallas,” and that “Texas donors were giving the Bushes tens of millions, including major donors who were supporting the Dallas state rep who wanted to run for attorney general,” so those donors “were now berating Karl.”


“Yeah, well I didn’t think you were going to get support from 41.”


“He suggested that the elder Bush was too old to have good judgment anymore.”


“Return the check,” Rove replied.

“Well, I can’t do that,” Cruz responded. “We already deposited it.”

“I pointed out that under Texas’s election law, we had to list the contribution on our ethics disclosure report,” Cruz wrote, noting that Rove “paused for a few seconds.”

“All right, fine,” Rove told him. “Then I want you to do nothing whatsoever to draw attention to it.”

And then he pulled out the hammer. He implied that if I made any news about Bush 41’s support, then Bush 43 would endorse my opponent and come out publicly for him—a threat that was fairly striking given that I had devoted four years of my life to working as hard as I could helping to elect Bush and serving in his administration. I always wondered whether Karl had the authority to make these threats on behalf of the former president—he certainly acted like he did.

Cruz wrote that Rove's tactics and threats to withhold the crucial Bush endorsement and donation from him left his wife "trembling, and visibly angry." His wife, Heidi, reportedly complained, "This is what’s screwed up about the Republican Party. Why the hell should the Republican nominee for attorney general in Texas depend not on their qualifications, but on who the donors are to the Bush presidential library?”

Rove apparently took great exception to Cruz’s account and rushed to pen a response, posted on Medium Sunday, arguing “my recollection of the phone call he references from six years ago (2009) differs from his reported account." Rove used the opportunity to throw a personal dig at Cruz vis-a-vis his 2016 rival, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio:

My call to Mr. Cruz apparently didn’t offend him back then because he continued seeking my counsel about his political ambitions, specifically his 2012 bid for the U.S. Senate. One piece of advice I offered was that he should stop describing himself as the “next Marco Rubio,” since he did not have Senator Rubio’s outstanding legislative record of accomplishments as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.


When Mr. Cruz and I talked in 2009, I was not raising money for the Bush Library, nor was former President Bush 43 going to endorse some unnamed Dallas state representative for state attorney general, nor were any library donors “berating” me.

Cruz wasted no time firing back at Rove with a post to his campaign website Sunday evening, titled A Time For Truth Isn’t Just The Name Of Sen. Cruz’s New Book, publishing past email correspondence between the two men that purportedly corroborates Cruz’s version of events.

And Cruz went directly after Rove, writing on his website:

I have known Karl Rove for a long time, and have considered him a friend. I understood that my recounting in my book A Time for Truth the threats he made in the 2009 Texas Attorney General race—and the disparaging remarks he made about President George H.W. Bush—would cause him some discomfort.

“But I never imagined that his response would be a straight-out falsehood. It’s disappointing; this is why people are so cynical about politics, because too many people are willing to lie.

According to the Washington Post, Rove's chief of staff confirmed some of the emails released by Cruz but said Rove has no recollection or record of others.

Cruz’s book comes out on Tuesday.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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2016 Elections Conservatives Karl Rove Republicans Sen. Ted Cruz