“Iowa 80: The World’s Largest Truck Stop!” the road sign read. Well, I thought to myself, I’m obviously stopping here. They probably could’ve called it “The World’s Largest Tourist Trap!” too, but who cares – after 500 miles of driving down a dark wintry Midwestern highway, even the kitschy endless rows of “Iowa 80” trucker hats (one of which I bought because I’m an utterly shameless human being) were a welcome break. Little did I know that the whirlwind of a campaign I was about to join would ensure that this would pretty much be the last break I’d have for months. It was the middle of a frigid winter at the start of January 2016, and I’d just quit my job the week or so before so that I could volunteer for the Ted Cruz campaign at its state headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. For the longest time I’d been wanting to make a change in my life, to “do something” big and crazy and impactful, but nothing had ever felt right – until now. I had no plans for if we lost and frankly wasn’t too worried about it – helping a good man win the Republican primary just seemed worth it. And even though Senator Cruz would eventually come up short and end his presidential bid this very day in 2016, we left it all out on the field and should have no regrets.
Welcome to Camp Cruz
I arrived at our Iowa lodgings in the dead of night, just one of many volunteers arriving to help the campaign. Over a hundred volunteers from all over the country would be staying in some old dorms leftover from a now-defunct community college – it was dubbed “Camp Cruz” … and it was glorious. A bit shabby-looking from the outside, the inside of the dorm were decked out with posters, streamers, pictures, flags, and other things that creative types like to hang on walls. And it was filled with some of the best people I’d ever met – old & young, Christian & Jewish, black & white, Texan & non-Texan. The Camp Cruz in Iowa (as well as the Camp Cruzes that we’d set up in South Carolina, Wisconsin, & Indiana) would house hundreds & hundreds of volunteers from around the nation who, when combined with the local volunteers in each state, would provide a grassroots energy to the campaign that was simply unmatched. Every day at Camp Cruz in Iowa began with rah-rah speeches and – crucially – a big group prayer. Then we’d head into the headquarters in big car convoys and would spend the day (and I’m talking twelve hour days) helping with Ted Cruz’s vaunted ground game. Half the team would fill the phone bank and do outreach to undecided voters all day while the other half of the team would trudge through the chilly Iowa snow banks knocking on doors. And while working in the trenches together, we’d find a common spirit and would build lifelong friendships.
Joining the #CruzCrew
I can’t begin to name everyone who volunteered their time for Senator Cruz because there were literally tens of thousands, but I’ll mention just a few from Iowa that I became true friends with. There was Nathan Wood, an actor, farmer, & musician from Ohio who’d originally planned on staying for about four days and would end up volunteering for four months. There was Josiah Springer, an Illinois boy who also quit his job to spend his time leading volunteers through the Des Moines snow drifts. There was Mark Meuser, a California lawyer who’d closed up his San Francisco practice to help fill the Camp Cruz with more volunteers. There was Beth Avery, a Marylander who’d win us over with her drive and tenacity. There was Andy Hunt, a middle-aged gent with a wife, kids, & his own business waiting for him back home as he helped us break door knocking records. There were Josh Hammer & Elliott Gaiser, UChicago law students spending their precious free time helping the cause. There was David Helmer, a Virginian & recent high school grad who set the gold standard for hard work in every office I was in. There were the Dorins (Mary, Ronald, Beth, Tyler, & Ben), a great & inspiring Iowa family who had literally spent months of their lives volunteering for Cruz well before any out-of-state reinforcements arrived. And then there were our leaders, like Bryan English, the state director who’d been criss-crossing the entire state for nearly a year at that point, and like Spence Rogers, the deputy state director who’d brought his wife and kids along with him, living in their big family RV. And on and on and on. I wish I could just name everyone. But this same grassroots passion and these same kinds of dedicated volunteers from every walk of life are exactly what I would see first hand in South Carolina and as a staffer in Ohio and in Missouri and in Wisconsin and in Indiana too. The story of Ted Cruz’s campaign would be of the brilliance of campaign manager Jeff Roe and of an unbelievable group of staffers, absolutely, but just as importantly (if not more so) it was the story of a network of tens of thousands of supporters & volunteers spread throughout the nation. We’d be there for eachother during the ups & down, the highs & the lows, the victories & the defeats. And in each state, whether it was a victory speech or not, Senator Cruz would always make sure to thank (often by name) the volunteers who were helping him in this great endeavor. The stories from the campaign trail could fill a book, but the main reoccurring theme that repeated itself in every state was thus: people from all backgrounds, of all ages, and from all walks of life were willing to sacrifice for this campaign & this cause, to quit their jobs for it, to sleep on air mattresses in crowded dorms for it, and to put their entire lives on hold for it. But why?
It Was About More Than Just The Man
— It Was About The Mission
C.S. Lewis once said: “Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought noone but myself!’” Well, a friendship on the Cruz campaign friendship was born at the moment when one person who’d hit the pause button on their life said to another person who’d hit the pause button on their life: “What! You’re obsessed with the Constitution too? I thought noone but myself!” We were united in this love for liberty and for the greatness of our founding. There was also Senator Cruz’s record as Solicitor General of Texas, where he helped win cases defending the Second Amendment, protecting our national sovereignty, and upholding religious liberty – he hadn’t just talked about these things, he’d actually fought for them and won. There were his continuous, relentless, fearless, and occasionally solo efforts to repeal Obamacare, just like he promised he’d do. And there was, of course, the well-earned scorn of the Establishment here in DC, ticked off mainly because Ted wasn’t kidding about the promises he’d made on the Senate campaign trail. We wore that scorn like a badge of honor. And so we were united in the hope that someone who’d actually followed through on their promises in the Senate would do the same as President. I would always say that “Honest Politician” was an oxymoron – except when it came to Senator Cruz. But ultimately, this wasn’t just about Ted Cruz the man. It was about more than that. As one of the great friends I made on the campaign trail put it to me: “The volunteers drove thousands of miles and worked tirelessly, not for the Senator or for some cult of personality, but for the principles, values, and ideals he joined them in defending: the right to live; the right to enjoy the fruits of your labor; and the right to express and share your faith. The volunteers left their families at home to knock on doors in the rain because Senator Ted Cruz stood for interpreting the Constitution in the way it was intended: in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. And they knew that he would be able to lead this nation in a direction that would empower all Americans to work together to realize the dream of freedom that patriots had over 240 years ago.” So that’s why people were willing to work for him. That’s why the grassroots rose up to support him. And that’s why he’d find surprising success out on the trail. And even though he ultimately fell short in Indiana a year ago, the message he sent still reverberates today.
The Fight Goes On
It seems like a lifetime since the Republican primaries came to an end, but it was just 365 days ago. And in the year that has passed, Senator Cruz has continued to demonstrate why we all backed him in the first place – ensuring that President Trump promised to pick Supreme Court justices that believe in a fealty to the Constitution, helping guide Neil Gorsuch through the Senate, utterly eviscerating Bernie Sanders in a debate on Obamacare, revamping NASA for space exploration the 21st century, proposing that we build the wall and make Mexican cartel members like El Chapo pay for it, dunking on Deadspin, and standing up for Israel. And his re-election in 2018 seems that much safer following Joaquin Castro’s unsurprising decision to pass on the challenge.
In his presidential campaign concession speech on May 3rd of 2016, Senator Cruz laid out a series of questions for the nation to ponder: “Will we rise to meet the challenges that face our nation on the international stage or will we withdraw and cower timidly from the world? Will we secure freedom of thought, expression and religion for future generations? Or will we succumb to the tyranny of a political correctness and the temptation of radical politics and balkanization here at home? Will we hold fast to our founding values of rewarding talent, hard work and industry or will we continue on that path of creeping socialism that incentivizes apathy and dependency? Will we deliver control of health care to citizens and their doctors or will we continue down the Obamacare road to second rate socialized medicine? Will we keep America safe from the threats of nuclear war and atomic terrorism? Or will we pass onto future generations a land devastated and destroyed by the enemies of civilization? This is the responsibility with which we have been charged by history. This is our challenge. This is the fight that falls to our generation.” These questions will ultimately be answered only by those that rise to the occasion, and we should be glad that a man like Senator Cruz is still there in the Senate fighting the good fight. Senator Cruz should be proud of the stand that he made and that he continues to make for the cause of liberty, and everyone that helped him — staff & volunteers alike — should have no regrets. It was a fight worth fighting. So let’s remember that the idea of America is still worth fighting for. Let’s remember that the Constitution is still worth defending. And let’s remember that, in this struggle over the direction of our nation, we can still #TrusTed.