As Donald Trump works hard to promote the narrative of Sen. Ted Cruz as a nasty guy who can’t get along with people, the person who knows Cruz best is eager to paint a different picture.
“I want to tell the American people who Ted is,” Heidi Cruz told CNN in an exclusive interview aired Wednesday at her husband’s campaign office here in the first primary state.
“A person who, when I’m really busy running around the house the other day to pack, when he had a lot more on his plate, sat down and packed my suitcase for me,” Heidi Cruz said.
“A person who got home from the campaign trail after three weeks of being on the trail who met me at a restaurant for dinner at 11 p.m. because that’s where I wanted to go, and got there early with a bouquet of flowers,” she added.
Still, Heidi Cruz made clear there are limits to how far she wants to go in her quest to humanize her husband. She says she whole-heartedly supports his take-no-prisoner style in the Senate, the one that makes him so actively disliked by most of his Republican colleagues.
“It’s because he’s fighting for the American people. And they want him to be unwavering. He’s unwavering for principle for them,” she said, with intensity not unlike her husband. “We should be compromising moving forward, not compromising moving backwards. So I don’t want him to give up any of the fight. I want him to be unwavering for the values of the people in the base of the Republican Party that have been staying home in past elections.”
Love at first sight
In fact, Heidi Cruz is quite similar to her husband in many ways. She is whip smart, goal oriented, Ivy League educated and clearly unused to taking no for an answer. But she is the less awkward, more natural socially one of the pair.
The now anti-establishment couple met on the hyper-establishment George W. Bush campaign in Texas in 2000.
Although many Bush campaign aides from that era have told CNN how disliked Ted Cruz was for being overly ambitious and insufferable, that was not how Heidi Cruz saw him.
“It was love at first sight,” she recalled. “Of course you always think you know … a first thought is what is the person, what is your sense of them. How are they reacting to you? And Ted just seemed to be interesting. He was a good-looking guy. He greeted me with a smile.”
In a 2013 New York Times profile of Heidi Cruz, she recalled her now-husband asking a series of questions on their first date. Like, what were her 10-year and 20-year plans?
When we asked, tongue-in-cheek, whether that was simply irresistible, Heidi Cruz laughed.
“Ted is goal-oriented. Ted wants to use his life. We all live on this earth for a limited period of time. And Ted’s going to make sure that he uses it to its fullest. And so he maps out what he’s going to do,” she said, adding that she was more intrigued than taken aback because “I’m probably a little bit like that myself. So I was interested that he asked the question.”
Not-so-secret campaign weapon
Heidi Cruz is not just the candidate’s wife sent out to sell voters on her husband’s presidential attributes, she is an integral part of the Cruz campaign operation.
A Harvard MBA who was an executive at Goldman Sachs until taking a leave of absence for the campaign, she volunteered early on to put her background in finance and skills with money to use, becoming one of her husband’s chief fundraisers,
She told us she made more than 600 phone calls to donors in the first campaign fundraising quarter, and now makes an average of 30 calls a day – fewer when she has a big day on the trail.
“I’m active and I want to get things done. And so what we needed to do early on was to raise the money to ensure that we could go the distance. And I’m comfortable asking people to help. I’m very comfortable asking people to help, because it’s for them,” she said.
Heidi Cruz said one thing she was not so comfortable with when she started raising money for her husband was, for the first time in her life, introducing herself as Ted Cruz’s wife.
“That’s not something I’ve done in my professional career. So that was a switch for me to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hi, I’m Heidi Cruz, Ted’s wife.’ I used to have my own identity. But that is something that I am happy to do because I know how talented Ted is and I know what he can do for this country,” she said.
It’s not just fundraising or stumping for Heidi Cruz. She has an intimate knowledge about the political apparatus of her husband’s campaign and is now almost constantly on the trail, along with the couple’s two young daughters: Caroline, 7, and Catherine, 5.
For example, when talking about the campaign fundraising, she quickly launched into an explanation of their digital operation – much like any other Cruz political operative would.
“Your viewers may not know that our donations come only in small part from these phone calls. They have come from over 700,000 people all across this country with an average donation size of $66.13. That is an incredible vote for the American people,” she said.
Heidi Cruz gave up a job working for Condoleezza Rice on National Security Council in the White House, to move to Texas to be closer to her husband. She had excelled in several Bush administration jobs after the campaign, all of which she says she loved.
Ted Cruz’s post 2000 campaign story was quite different. He writes in his book about his disappointment in not getting a prime White House job, and instead going to the Federal Trade Commission.
Cruz soon went back home to Texas, launching a career that led him to the United State Senate.
So Heidi Cruz, a California native who says she loves New York City, joined her husband and eventually began working for the Houston office of the Wall Street bank, Goldman Sachs.
But with her husband’s Senate bid in 2012, and presidential run now centered around railing against big government – including bailouts of big banks – we asked whether it is a contradiction for his wife to work at one of the most well-known Wall Street banks.
“I don’t, because Ted doesn’t have an anti-Wall Street sentiment. He has an anti-government support of industry sentiment,” she replied.
“I run the private wealth business in the southwest front Houston. I’m on a full-time leave of absence. And the job that I have at that firm is in many ways, in my view, the heart of helping people who have achieved the American dream. And Ted is running on reigniting the promise of America,” she said.
“Listen, it’s great that we have wealthy people in this country. The clients of Goldman Sachs have been entrepreneurs,” she added.
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has been seizing on a New York Times article earlier this month that Cruz and his wife took out a loan from Goldman Sachs in 2012 during his Senate race, which may not have been properly disclosed.
Trump said last week of Cruz that “Goldman Sachs owns him.”
“I can assure you that Ted is in no way beholden to Goldman Sachs,” said Heidi Cruz. “So there are a lot of false suggestions out there because I think some are trying to distract from how well Ted’s doing in this election.”
As for the very personal insults Trump has been hurling at Cruz on the campaign trail, calling him “nasty” and a “whack job,” Heidi Cruz says they are countering that narrative by giving voters the chance to meet her husband.
“We don’t need to go through the eyes of other candidates,” she said. “We can give the voters in this country the chance to meet us directly, to meet Ted directly.”
Jerry Falwell, Jr
Cruz launched his presidential bid last March at Liberty University in Virginia, a large Christian school founded by Jerry Falwell. Cruz chose that venue, in part, to spotlight his own Christian conservative sensibilities.
But Tuesday, Jerry Falwell Jr instead endorsed Trump, who is not nearly as fluent in appealing to evangelical voters the traditional way like Cruz does by regularly quoting scripture.
Heidi Cruz, too, is a religious woman. She grew up a Seventh Day Adventist, and traveled to Africa as a child with her parents on missions.
She tried to downplay losing the Falwell endorsement to Trump.
“If you look at the people who have endorsed Ted Cruz for president, there is no doubt who the evangelical community is supporting. Bob Vander Plaats in Iowa, Steve King, James Dobson,” she said. “There is such a long list of wonderful God-fearing Christian leaders in this country who have come behind this campaign.”