Meet the Next Ted Cruz

In November, Chip Roy is likely to be elected to Congress. Top House Republicans worry that he’ll be to the right of the Freedom Caucus.

When Chip Roy was a top staffer for Ted Cruz, he was an architect of the Texas senator’s strategy to shut down the government over Obamacare.

Now, in all likelihood, he’s heading for Congress with a House seat of his own, and top Republicans worry he’s going to make Cruz look like a squishy moderate.

Roy is ready to play hardball with GOP leaders in Congress. He has pledged to support House Freedom Caucus founding chairman Jim Jordan for speaker, and is expected to quickly establish himself as one of the House GOP’s most outspoken and combative members.

.. As with so many conservatives, however, Roy is treading lightly when it comes to Donald Trump. Once a fierce critic—described by friends as a committed “Never Trump” advocate in 2016, when he was working in support of Cruz’s presidential campaign—the congressional hopeful now talks fondly of the president, praising his assault on “the swamp” and sharing his concern about a “deep state” acting as a shadow government.

And while most Republicans campaigning for Congress this November are touting the accomplishments of President Trump and his GOP majorities—tax reform, regulatory relief and a soaring number of federal judicial appointments—in the deep-red 21st congressional district of Texas, Roy is running on a different message: Republicans haven’t done nearly enough.

“If there is a thousand miles to go, we’ve gone maybe 50 miles,” Roy tells POLITICO’S “Off Message” podcast. “So now, we’ve got to focus on the things that the people really want to see done. We’ve got to have health care freedom, we’ve got to balance the budget and we’ve got to secure the border.”

.. In 2010, when that Tea Party wave first came to Washington—and then two years later when that second Tea Party wave came, with your former boss, Ted Cruz—the message was clear and very urgent: America was in danger of going over the cliff if something was not done dramatically to change course. But President Trump has made little mention of reducing the debt, reducing the deficit, cutting spending. He talked during the campaign about it being a great time to borrow. He is not someone who has ever campaigned on this idea of fiscal responsibility that seemed fundamental to what Republicans stood for.

Roy: I think if you take a step back and see what’s been accomplished in the last 20 months, we’ve seen things that make us happy. But you are rightfully pointing out that some of these core issues that drive not just [the] conservative base—not just Obamacare repeal, but health care freedom, border security, other issues where we have not seen them get it across the finish line. I am basically of the belief that this is it. If Republicans are given another chance this November, I’m hopeful that we will still be in the majority and have the chance to do the right thing. If we’re given that responsibility and fail, woe is us, because I don’t think we’re going to get any more bites at the apple.


What would you say is the difference today between conservatism and Trumpism?

Roy: Conservatism, at its core, is a belief in the Constitution, limited government, and giving people the ability to live their lives unfettered by government interferences so that we preserve and protect the liberties that God gave us. And we believe that generates wealth and opportunity and—importantly—empowers people at communities and the state level to be able to do the things we want to do to help one another.

Whether it’s the Christian principles of wanting to help your neighbor and do unto others or whatever it might be driving your morality, we believe in doing good, helping people through charities, through community action, through churches, through Boy Scouts or groups and organizations. That is the conservative ethos, and unfortunately, the actions in Washington get everything focused on Washington action to “solve problems,” [which] seeps into the supposedly conservative mindset and rhetoric. And they feel like, “Well, we’ve got to go do something.” And that results in more government spending and more programs and takes us farther away from our core constitutional values.

I’m not sure I can define—or even want to try to define—Trumpism versus conservatism. What we see right now is that the swamp or the establishment or the status quo or whatever you want to call the inner workings of Washington, D.C.—which were not working—needed to be challenged. And that challenge began years ago.

It began when Mike Lee was elected instead of Bob Bennett, Ted Cruz instead of David Dewhurst, Rand Paul instead of Trey Grayson in Kentucky, Marco Rubio instead of Charlie Crist in Florida. Those were tectonic shifts in the party, and we saw the rise of the Freedom Caucus. You’ve now got a block of people in Washington saying, “I’m going to represent the people and the conservative values that the people sent me here to represent.” And that’s at odds with the power brokers [who] want to maintain control at all costs.


Alberta: But it seems that Trump has very successfully not just remade the party in his image, but coalesced the party behind him. And I’m wondering, as a guy who is going to join the House Freedom Caucus, is that a source of concern for you when you think about runaway spending, when you think more broadly about Article One? We heard so much about Article One during the Obama years from conservatives on the Hill. You don’t hear much about it anymore.

Roy: Well, you’ll hear me use the phrase “Make Article One great again,” which I’ve said is really important no matter who is in the White House. The job of Congress [is] to check the executive branch no matter who is there. Whether it’s free-trade issues, NAFTA, whatever it might be.

.. I think over the last 21 months on Capitol Hill, many Republicans will acknowledge that they have not been sufficiently aggressive in checking the Trump administration—certainly as far as oversight is concerned. Do you share that concern? For instance, there are concerns about Trump’s financial interests in foreign countries. Do you believe that the president should release his tax returns? Or if not, that the legislative branch should compel him to do so?

.. There are many Republicans in the delegation who feel that President Trump’s concept of a border wall is not feasible and that it would not be effective. And there is some conversation coming out of the White House that he has begun to understand that his initial vision is not something that’s really executable. If you, Chip Roy, were placed in charge of securing the border—as it relates to the issue of a physical barrier—what would you like to see?

.. Roy: I was just down in Laredo, down with the Border Patrol. And of the 72 miles of the Laredo sector, how many miles do you think has not a fence, not a wall, but even a road that allows you to navigate parallel to the Rio Grande? Two miles. They can only navigate two miles of that whole sector. Cartels have operational control of the other side of the river. [Border Patrol has] no cell signal often. They often don’t have a radio signal, and they’re being asked to man our border and to secure it.

The result is that MS-13 has strengthened. The result is that cartels choose who comes across the river, and if you try to come across yourself through a coyote, you are at the mercy of the cartels. We’ve allowed that to be the case: Women getting sold and children getting sold into the sex trafficking business; children riding on the top of train cars.

We’ve allowed that to become a broken system that is bad for immigrants and bad for our sovereignty. So what do you do to fix it? Of course you need physical barriers. In Southern California in the mid-1990s, there was no real fencing on a good chunk of the border, and we had over 600,000 apprehensions per year in Southern California. Now, we have triple-layer fencing in Southern California. Those apprehensions are down to the 30,000 range. Now, people say, “Well, it didn’t work: People have migrated to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.” That indicates it actually worked.

.. Texas has unique features. We’ve got ranchers [who] need access to the Rio Grande. We’ve got Big Bend National Park, where you’ve got a lot of beautiful vistas. Fine, you know what? Start down in the Gulf of Mexico, start down in Brownsville, start down in the valley working up the river. Build fences, clear the cane, make sure that [Border Patrol agents] have the resources they need—cameras and radios and better cell signals. When you get to a rancher and that rancher says, “Well, I need access to the river.” “Awesome. We’re going to give you a 100-yard opening or a 500-yard opening or whatever you need, and then we’ll put cameras and we’ll make sure there’s a Border Patrol person manning that post.”

.. Alberta: If, in fact, you go to Congress, describe to me your mentality coming in. Obviously, you worked as chief of staff for Sen. Cruz, and he—and you along with him—developed reputations as sort of sharp-elbowed operators in those first couple of years when he was on the Hill. Most famously with the government shutdown in 2013.

I’ve talked to some folks in town, and some of the leadership folks and their allies are a little nervous about Chip Roy—“This guy is going to be to the right of the Freedom Caucus.” And then I talk to folks in the conservative movement who are thrilled. They think that they’re getting a needed reinforcement and a guy who, quite frankly, might not go weak at the knees the way that some of the other so-called conservatives in Washington have. How do you view your role in today’s Republican Party if you arrive in Congress next year?

.. Roy: My job is to set the baseline. I don’t want to have a discussion about health care freedom or repealing Obamacare that starts with the false notion that somehow pre-existing conditions governs how you establish insurance and structure it—we’re viewing through the lens of insurance coverage instead of making sure that people have access to doctors and can afford health care.

.. process does matter. That’s kind of what I’m getting at. We ought to think about this differently. We shouldn’t be thinking about it in terms of all of the discussions that happen behind closed doors and then come together and say, “OK.” The leadership drops the bill and says, “This is the bill.”
.. Roy: We should all be extremely critical and circumspect of anybody running for office. That’s our job as Americans. Whether it’s Ted Cruz, whether it’s Donald Trump, whether it’s somebody in the Congress, whether it’s me, we should all be looking at it through the eye of,
  • “Are you doing what you said you would do?
  • Are you representing me the way I think you should?
  • Are you following the Constitution?”

I was viewing it through that lens, and I think it was reasonable for Americans to go, “Well, wait a minute. Who are you and what are you about?” I knew what Senator Cruz was about. I had prayed alongside him. I had worked side by side with him. I knew where he was..

.. I don’t always agree with him on every way he tweets or everything he says, but if you look through what we’ve accomplished, it is truly hard to be critical from a conservative perspective on a lot of fronts. I’d like [the Trump administration] to be better on spending, but I really think that if you look through what we’ve accomplished on regulatory relief, on tax relief, on judges, on the embassy in Jerusalem, on taking on the swamp and truly changing the game in Washington from that perspective, it’s hard to argue with those results, even if I might have an issue with one or two things. You don’t agree with everybody, as they say.

.. One thing you talk about in your campaign is this idea of a “deep state” that is in some sense acting as a shadow government—unchecked and out of control. It’s interesting because often, the most damaging leaks to President Trump have come from within his West Wing from folks close to him. When you talk about the deep state, what exactly do you mean and what is your real concern?

.. If, for example, Secretary [Betsy] DeVos at the Department of Education wants to try to push school choice, and there’s some bureaucrat that she’s hired who is a conservative school-choice advocate, if a future president comes in and a secretary of Education doesn’t want to advance that policy, that policy shouldn’t be being advanced by an unelected person deep within the Department of Education. This is why I believe a lot of that needs to be thinned out so that we don’t have those issues. Why do we have these massive entities up there that are largely unchecked?

.. You’ve brought us full circle from talking about Rick Perry and his “oops” moment. If you were king for a day, would you eliminate any of these departments or agencies?

Roy: I think so, but it’s kind of like talking about the wall. I don’t want to refer to it as metaphorical as much as I just want the power eliminated and the number of people making these decisions unchecked reduced. I want spending reduced on all these things. The number of agencies is almost academic. Fine, eliminate one of them. Could you take some of the pieces of the Department of Energy, with all due respect to my former boss who is currently the secretary, and put it at the Department of Defense because it’s nuclear-related? It’s like a corporate reorganization. You can reorganize all you want; the question is where’s the decision-making occurring? How many bureaucrats are there doing it? How much of that should be being done in Washington or not?