clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why Ted Cruz and Karl Rove are calling each other liars — and who has the better case

Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz
Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call Group / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Get some popcorn, liberals — two of the biggest names in Republican politics are at each other's throats.

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz and GOP operative Karl Rove are airing an old dispute, with the Bush family looming over the controversy. It involves a 2009 endorsement for Cruz from former president George H. W. Bush, which, Cruz alleges, a furious Rove tried to roll back at the behest of donors to George W. Bush's presidential library.

Cruz and Rove, who was George W. Bush's top political adviser, are now accusing each other of misrepresenting what happened between them in a phone call back then. And Sunday night, Cruz released emails he exchanged with Rove, which corroborate some of his own claims.

Overall, Cruz is trying to make a larger case that he's long been an outsider trying to challenge the good old boys' network in the Republican Party. Rove, conversely, wants to suggest that Cruz is a self-promoting charlatan. But when it comes to the specifics of this case, Cruz's version of events looks like the more accurate one.

Cruz's claim: Rove strong-armed him into downplaying an endorsement from Bush 41, to please Bush 43's presidential library donors

Cruz kicked off the dust-up by publishing an unflattering anecdote about Rove in his new book, A Time for Truth. When Cruz was running for attorney general of Texas in 2009, he sought the endorsement of President George H. W. Bush — and won it, plus a donation. Then, he writes, an "irate" Rove called him shortly afterward, asking, "What in the hell do you think you are doing?"

Rove's problem, according to excerpts of Cruz's book quoted by Breitbart News, was that George W. Bush's presidential library was busy raising millions of dollars from wealthy Texans. And many of those rich donors supported the politician who was expected to be Cruz's rival in the primary, state representative Dan Branch.

According to Cruz's account, Rove was worried George H. W. Bush's endorsement of Cruz would infuriate those donors and hurt his son's library fundraising. "He suggested that the elder Bush was too old to have good judgment anymore," Cruz wrote.

Rove suggested he return the check, but it had already been cashed — so he instead told Cruz, "I want you to do nothing whatsoever to draw attention to it," and "implied" that if Cruz failed to comply, George W. Bush would endorse his rival, the book says. Cruz writes that he caved, to the disappointment of his wife. (Both Cruz and his rival Branch ended up bowing out of the race when the incumbent, Greg Abbott, unexpectedly decided to run again.)

Rove's claim: His call to Cruz had nothing to do with the library's fundraising, and was instead about letting Greg Abbott have time to decide whether to run again

Karl Rove at Bush library

Karl Rove attends the opening ceremony of George W. Bush's presidential library, in 2013. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Once excerpts of the book got out, Rove disputed Cruz in a post on Medium called "A Time for Setting the Record Straight." Rove said that his phone call to had absolutely nothing to do with Cruz's expected rival Dan Branch or fundraising for the George W. Bush presidential library.

Instead, Rove said, he was concerned that Cruz had misled George H. W. Bush by not making it clear that the incumbent Abbott might run again (as he ended up doing). "Most Texas Republicans were waiting for General Abbott to make his decision and hoping that he would run again, as he was doing such a terrific job," Rove wrote, implying that Cruz is a ladder-climbing upstart. "It was the right thing to do," he added.

Most of all, Rove said, he would certainly never "question the judgment of one of the finest men I have ever known, President Bush 41."

Cruz's rebuttal: An email exchange that seems to disprove Rove's story

Yet Rove's defense seems to have been foiled by an email trail. Cruz fired back with a statement on Sunday, saying that Rove's rebuttal was "a straight-out falsehood" — and released the following email backing up his claim:

ROVE EMAIL TO CRUZ, JULY 1, 2009: thanks — I appreciate your doing what you can to keep this down — the distress you mention is not mine or 43 — it is the people raising money for the library who are also Branch fans and will not understand why one part of the Bush family is for not-the-guy while they are raising money big bucks for library.

Thanks too for clarifying that you asked to visit with 41; be as nonchulant as possible about the gift and we’ll muddle through

The email appears to conclusively disprove some of Rove's recent claims, and back up Cruz's. Rove's email mentions "distress" from "the people raising money for the library" who are "fans" of Cruz's expected rival, Dan Branch (not the incumbent Greg Abbott, as Rove claimed on Medium). The email says those library donors "will not understand why one part of the Bush family is for not-the-guy" — why George H. W. Bush is endorsing Cruz rather than Branch — "while they are raising money big bucks for library."

Cruz also released his side of the conversation — a very long email apologizing "if I have done anything to distress you or President Bush 43 in any way," and extensively discussing the potential candidacy of Dan Branch (not Greg Abbott).

Only Cruz and Rove know what exactly was said between them on that phone call. But according to the only hard evidence we have — the emails — some of Rove's key claims in his Medium piece are flatly wrong.

Vox Featured Video: The Race to 2016