In the four years since he made national headlines for his infamous filibuster speech against Obamacare, Senator Ted Cruz has become a household name—first as an ambitious young senator, then as a presidential candidate.
But 25 years ago, Cruz was an undergraduate student at Princeton. When he wasn’t winning debate championships or provoking the ire of his freshman-year roommate, he was getting to know one of the nation’s leading conservative academics, the professor Robert George.
George was Cruz’s constitutional-law professor and his thesis adviser. Cruz credits George with pushing him to not only think about the Constitution more deeply, but to constantly revisit his own beliefs. In the years since they were student and teacher, the two have stayed close. On the presidential campaign trail, Cruz regularly turned to George for advice.
For The Atlantic‘s series “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I spoke with Cruz and George about their mentor-mentee relationship. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Kitchener: How is the Ted Cruz that you know today different from the Ted Cruz that you knew when he was a student?
Robert George: A 20-year-old man is not going to have the maturity of a 45-year-old man. I’m a wine guy. If you know anything about wine, you know a great red Bordeaux in the cask, before it’s ever been put in the bottle. That wine isn’t ready to drink yet. It’s not going to have the nuance, the depth, the sophistication. But boy, 20 years down the line, that’s when the payoff comes. It’s similar here.
The young Ted was more of a libertarian—but so are most kids. Then they get older. And they realize, “Gee, libertarianism would be fine in a world of mature adults with high educations, who have their passions under control and aren’t tempted to do things that will get them addicted to drugs.” But that’s not our world.
Kitchener: How important was it for you to find a like-minded, conservative thinker to look up to during college? Was it difficult?
Ted Cruz: If you were a person on the left, you had a multitude of mentors available on the faculty. If you were a conservative, you didn’t have nearly as many. One year when I was a student, Robbie was on sabbatical. The visiting professor who filled in for him was also conservative, and Princeton gave him the same telephone extension as Robbie. He joked that the university figured, “Ah, we’ve got one conservative, just dial the same number, they’ll tell you the same ridiculous right-wing theory, and then you can dismiss it.”
Kitchener: You were already a well-respected professor by the time Senator Cruz arrived at Princeton. How did he manage to catch your attention?
George: Ted took a number of my classes. And once I had him in class, he stood out immediately.
George: He was someone who was always pushing up against the conventional elites on campus. At …read more
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