The first Latino senator from Texas is set to be a Cuban American Republican who was born in Canada. The most interesting thing about Cruz’s political rise is how little it had to do with the Lone Star State’s history. In a state that is majority minority, with Latinos (Mexican Americans) making up the bulk of that percentage.
In some respects, it seems like Cruz tries to have it both ways. He opposes the DREAM Act, but highlighted his own immigrant roots in a recent TV ad and at the Republican convention. So, in a sense, Cruz seems to use his heritage as part of his narrative when it suits him politically.
Yet, in a Republican political stronghold that has held fast since the 1990s, Ted Cruz comes to prominence as a consequence of not his Latino heritage, but the fact that he is closely aligned with Tea Party principles.
Texas has previously had Latino senatorial candidates. Most recently Rick Noriega, who ran in 2008, ran as a Democrat. Noriega was not only a former member of the state house, but a veteran and has served in the Texas National Guard. He’s also Mexican American, a population that’s been historically excluded from Texas’ political institutions.
Cruz, on the other hand, was Texas’ first Latino Solicitor General. He’s been conservative and ideologically aligned with the Tea Party from a young age, and his backing by the movement in Texas largely helped him defeat Rick Perry’s former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
So what does it mean that not a Mexican American Democrat, but a Cuban American Republican, will be the Lone Star State’s first Latino senator?
“There is no depth to his election as far as Latinos are concerned. Cruz is just the GOP trying to look inclusive. They are playing the race card in a superficial manner,” said Dr. Henry Flores, professor of Political Science and Dean of the Graduate School at St. Mary’s University, in San Antonio, Texas.
Flores contends that politics trump race when it comes to Cruz’s career — especially when it comes to his white backers.
“Ted Cruz’s election reflects the control the extremists within the Republican Party have over their party,” he said. “There is no depth to his election as far as Latinos are concerned. He does not have a great deal of Latino support.”
But Cruz hasn’t been after Latino support. He came to power because of the Tea Party in Texas — which was not only tired of Rick Perry’s presidential campaign, but tired of the “traditional” Republican legacy he tried to pass onto Dewhurst. In six years and in a state where Latinos are growing as a part of the electorate (and most often not for Republicans), it will be interesting to see whether or not Cruz will be able to maintain such a level of support without diversifying his outreach.