On Tuesday night, Senator Ted Cruz appeared on Fox News to respond to the State of the Union address — and talked about how the US economy was only working for the "top 1 percent," who he said have gotten "fat and happy" under Obama's administration.
Cruz's rhetorical move is unusual for a prominent Republican, particularly a presidential contender. This emphasis on the "the 1 percent" has long been condemned by many in the party as class warfare. For instance, Sen. Marco Rubio said in 2012 that "convincing one group that their life isn't doing better because another is doing too well" is "divisive."
But Cruz's line is the latest example of why many Republicans are reacting to the latest good economic news by sounding more like Elizabeth Warren, as Matt Yglesias wrote recently. The solutions they're proposing are quite different from Warren's — but, at least rhetorically, their diagnosis of the problem is getting more and more similar.
What Cruz said
Cruz began with a common refrain, saying that Obama’s speech "doubled down on the same failed policies of the past six years." He added, "It’s not working." But when anchor Megyn Kelly pressed Cruz for more specifics, his response was more interesting:
KELLY: He says it is working. He calls it "middle-class economics" and says "the verdict is in, it’s working." Some of the stats offered by the president and in some of the news reports today: Unemployment down to 5.6 percent. Gasoline prices down. Stock markets are up. Economy grew by 5 percent in the third quarter of last year, its fastest rate for more than a decade. How can you hit him on the economy?
CRUZ: Because the facts are, we’re facing a divided America right now when it comes to the economy. It is true that the top 1 percent are doing great under Barack Obama. Today, the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our national income than any year since 1928.
He continued by citing wage stagnation, Americans dropping out of the workforce, and even said that the "rich and powerful" have gotten "fat and happy":
CRUZ: "The sad reality is, with big government under the Obama administration, the rich and powerful, those who walk the corridors of power in the Obama administration, have gotten fat and happy. But working men and women across this country — we have the lowest labor force participation since 1978. The reason the unemployment rate keeps dropping is millions of people keep dropping out of the workforce altogether so they’re not counted in that number. And, I’ll tell you, wage stagnation. For over a decade now, median wages have stagnated, and this is an administration that benefits those with connections to Washington with influence."
What it means
Now that the economy is in better shape than at any other time during the Obama presidency, the GOP is trying to sharpen its messaging on what, exactly, still isn't right.
Cruz’s rhetoric about the top 1 percent and wage stagnation is striking and calls to mind that of not only Elizabeth Warren, but Sen. Bernie Sanders, a socialist from Vermont weighing a run for president. (The statistic that the top 1 percent’s share of the economy is the highest since 1928 is a favorite of Sanders’.)
But of course, Cruz’s focus on "big government" as the problem is very different from Warren or Sanders. So while the GOP senator has adopted a similar diagnosis of the problems we face, he certainly isn’t calling for similar solutions.
The context is that Cruz is gearing up for a likely presidential run. The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker reported Monday that Cruz’s campaign "could start before this spring." Drucker added that Cruz is planning to give a top campaign position to GOP operative Jeff Roe, and quotes a source calling Roe "a mean, bare-knuckles brawler."
But it’s clear that Cruz isn’t turning against all of the 1 percent. Politico’s Ken Vogel reported this week that Cruz will attend a summit hosted by the Koch brothers’ political operation this weekend. Cruz’s argument that "those with connections to Washington" have unfairly benefited is a favorite of Charles Koch, who has condemned government "cronyism."