Geraldo Rivera: The Cruz Missile

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is a Latino Republican and one of the freshest, most engaging voices in American public life. I spent some time with the new senator Wednesday at New York’s elegant Plaza Hotel where he spoke powerfully to a room filled with well-heeled GOP contributors. It was a private, off-the-record event, one of several stops he made over the last two days; this one smaller and more intimate than the big public speech he gave later that evening at the nearby Hilton Hotel, to about 500 of the wealthy faithful.

Senator Cruz made clear ... death in the House is exactly what he wants for the bill, fearing it is too big, too generous to the undocumented and disproportionately beneficial to the neediest immigrants.

- Geraldo Rivera

Fearless and enormously self-confident, the 42-year-old son of a Cuban immigrant has already ruffled feathers in a body that prides itself on decorum and the sanctity of seniority. Both Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican John McCain have been cut by the prodigy’s biting wit honed on the Princeton University debate team and in the moot courts of Harvard Law. 

But for all the buzz surrounding his rapid ascension as one of the senate’s bright stars, he is also a hard right social conservative whose Latinismo hasn’t stopped him from taking positions that are antithetical to many Latinos.

Tough and clear as he is on education and jobs, the bitter irony is that Senator Ted Cruz might be the single biggest obstacle to the passage of comprehensive immigration reform. Like many Cuban-Americans, particularly the older generation, Senator Cruz reflects the favored-nations status that refugees and descendants of Cuba Pearl of the Antilles often feel toward other Latin American migrants expelled from their homelands by poverty rather than politics.

In this regard, this born-in-Canada, son of a Cuban-born dad and an Irish-Italian descendant American mom raised in Texas and the Ivy League lacks the sensitivity of Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who is the prime architect of the comprehensive immigration reform bill drafted by the ‘gang of eight.’ The pair, Cruz and Rubio, another Cuban-American, along with Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, round out the Four Horseman of Libertarianism. Having trampled gun control, except for Rubio, they have turned their scary attention to immigration reform.

Our meeting Wednesday was cordial. Since the session was off the record, I met Senator Cruz in the hallway outside the conference room suite. He is very engaging in a Gov. Rick Perry, shy, strong cowboy way. After the usual greetings, I asked about the Latino vote in Texas and the U.S. in the last election and specifically the Republican Party’s shrinking share of that key demographic.

“You got about 35 percent of the Latino vote in Texas, running well ahead of Mitt Romney. Do you think the GOP has given up, surrendered this important voting bloc?”

“First of all, I got over 40 percent of the Latino vote according to our polling (whoa), and there is no doubt that the tone of the Romney candidacy was almost designed to drive Latinos away.” The senator then went on to describe how Governor Romney’s harsh rhetoric about creating conditions so dreadful for undocumented immigrants that they would go home voluntarily, self-deport, turned off Latino voters. The senator added that the pity was that Latinos are socially conservative, faith and family-based folks who would naturally gravitate toward the GOP if the party was more welcoming.

“But what about immigration reform, and the bill proposed by the Senate’s ‘gang of eight; are you optimistic or pessimistic?”

“I’m both,” the senator from Texas answered. He is optimistic that there is some common ground in the immigration debate, having emphasized the need to increase the number of high-end visas for the highly educated who come here to study and then are forced to leave when their student visas expire. The senator also relentlessly stresses the need for strengthened border security, saying that any reform is meaningless unless the flow of the undocumented across the border can be stopped.

But what about the gang of eight’s immigration reform bill?

The senator in his New York speeches and from his comments in Washington seems almost scornful of the carefully crafted omnibus bipartisan legislation that provides for enhanced border security, but also provides a rough, navigable path to legitimacy and even ultimate citizenship for the millions living here in the shadows.

Calling the bill’s security provisions laughably inadequate and pledging to do his best to derail the legislation, Senator Cruz has spoken darkly about its likely trajectory, conceding that Leader Reid can probably force that bill through the Senate, but that it will die in the House.

Senator Cruz made clear during his serial speeches Wednesday that this ignominious fate, death in the House, is exactly what he wants for the bill, fearing it is too big, too generous to the undocumented and disproportionately beneficial to the neediest immigrants among us.

The bottom line is that this new star in the American Latino firmament appears to have closer affinity with Tea Party conservatives than with the Mexican and other Central and South American immigrants who are in the process of making Texas a majority Latino state by the turn of the next decade.

Geraldo Rivera currently serves as a roaming correspondent-at-large for Fox News Channel. He joined the network in 2001 as a war correspondent.