“A whole new world.” Those words—a damn Aladdin quote—are how The Atlantic’s new, ultra-cushy profile of Heidi Cruz, wife of Sen. Ted Cruz, opens. The piece closes with the words, “dazzling places she never knew.” I am not kidding.
Headlined “Heidi Cruz Didn’t Plan for This,” the profile, by writer Elaina Plott, is conveniently timed for the Cruz campaign. It’s running less than three weeks before the midterm elections, and comes at a time when Ted Cruz needs to come across as at least part-human. Clearly, given his innate inability to do this, his campaign PR squad turned to Heidi and The Atlantic to pick up the slack.
The piece itself is essentially a buzzy advertisement disguised as a rare behind-the-scenes peek. As such, everything is framed around Heidi’s relationship to Ted—and thus their Aladdin-themed wedding song—because to profile the actual career accomplishments of a former Bush administration member and Goldman executive, well, who actually wants to read that shit? (Speaking of Aladdin: Plott—and somehow, an editor—decided it would be a good idea to sprinkle in the quotes from “A Whole New World,” which played during Heidi and Ted’s wedding, throughout the piece. Again, this is supposed to show that the Cruzes are normal folks who enjoy the simple things in life. And also a big-ass house and pearls and the prevention of women’s access to basic maternal healthcare.)
The leading anecdote tries to humanize Ted by painting him as a romantic. It opens where all great love stories do: on the George W. Bush campaign trail, with the future couple casually talking about how much Heidi wants to shop at high-end New York City luxury department stores.
Later that summer, Ted gave her a strand of pearls. Probably fake, she still thinks, but they were from Bergdorf Goodman. And this was special: She’d mentioned once that she liked to go to Bergdorf’s, to look at the china and other delicate things behind glass, and he’d listened.
A Harvard Law grad bought a Harvard Business grad an overpriced piece of jewelry. How precious and original. The article swiftly moves to a first-person view of the reporter’s sitdown with Heidi, one that expects us to buy the following line from Plott:
Heidi Cruz is indeed easy to like.
That line is followed by this paragraph, which I think is supposed to convey that message but hilariously misses the mark:
If some people look like their dogs, Heidi Cruz looks like her house: expensive, serene, draped in pretty fabrics. That Wednesday afternoon, she greeted me somewhat breathlessly—“This client call went much longer than I thought it would!”—wearing a light-blue silk dress, a slightly darker blue scarf, and a knotted strand of pearls (not the ones from Ted). As we sat down to eat, she said what I imagine all women who wear these things must say, her voice warm and conspiratorial: “We’re gonna have some champagne. Yes, we are.” She leaned to grab a bottle off the dining-room table, and the crystal chandelier reflected her hair and turned gold.
The entire article includes one potentially useful spot of insight and reporting, when Potts asks Heidi about a night in 2005 when—distraught over her decision to move to Texas and change her life to support Ted’s political career—she stormed out of her Texas house and wept by a nearby highway, until a police officer picked her up. (At no other point in this entire profile does Heidi come off as genuinely as she does when talking about that night.) But then, yet again, the framing of the incident through The Kindness Of Ted undercuts everything and leaves the reader with no greater conclusion than the fact that Ted maybe harmed her professional life and then said some nice words:
The officer who arrived on the scene believed that Heidi was a “danger to herself,” according to his report. He drove her to the police station. Her husband came to pick her up. “Ted’s never mad,” Heidi remembered. “He just hugged me and said, ‘I just wanna make sure that you’re happy here, and that this is a successful chapter. We’re not always going to be here.’” She said the moment helped her realize how much he loved her.
“It was a challenging time. Because she was struggling with having given up a professional post that was very meaningful to her,” the senator told me recently about that night. “But we came through that process, and actually came closer together.” He said they never considered leaving Texas.
Later, we find that Romantic Ted storyline to be tenuous, at best:
I asked Ted whether he thinks his wife is happy now in Houston. “Um, I think … sure,” he said, after taking a couple of beats. “I think she has”—another pause—“a professional life that has been very rewarding, a personal life that is fun and relaxing.”
The biggest letdown of the piece is its failure to more fully examine what it frequently hints at: that Heidi Cruz had (and still probably has) more professional and political potential than her husband.
And that’s a shame, because a critical look at Heidi Cruz would be a fantastic midterms piece! Throughout the article, there are traces of moments that could have been mined to construct a realistic look at a woman who has successfully managed to both climb the slimy corporate banking ladder while also pairing herself with the biggest conservative ghoul to appear in the Senate in the past 10 years. Take, for instance, when Heidi appears to inadvertently confirm her reported disgust with dirty Iowan peasants during Ted’s 2016 campaign:
“You cannot prepare to run for president,” she told me. “You can’t prepare to be told on the flight, ‘Oh, sorry,’ last minute, ‘you’re gonna have a meeting with a bunch of pastors at the hot-dog stand in the Des Moines, Iowa, airport, and they’re gonna ask you about your husband’s spiritual life.’
“I mean, that’s the weirdest expletive I’ve ever heard!” she exclaimed. (She actually said the word expletive.)
Or when she confesses that she and Ted were concerned about whether Donald Trump would implement their arch-conservative desires once in-office:
“What I did talk to Ted about … was if we support him and he ends up not being a conservative—not appointing conservative justices, not doing tax reform— are we part of a damaging decision in history?”
Heidi Cruz may be overshadowed by Ted from a media perspective, but their pre-1950s social and fiscal views are totally in step with one another. Plott even acknowledges this, writing, “For the most part, Heidi sees eye to eye with her husband on policy.” That’s why it’s so weird that the piece does not challenge a single one of those views, but instead is completely concerned with Heidi in relation to her marriage, and not her decision to align herself with a man who would happily describe himself as a New Age Jesse Helms.
The polls, as far as they can be trusted, show Beto O’Rourke trailing Ted Cruz in their Senate race by around seven points. That’s up from the four-point gap he reportedly had back in August, but still not quite comfortable enough for Cruz’s team to take their foot off the gas. By having Heidi thrust herself into the national media, the hope seems to be that Ted will come off as a Good Husband married to a Successful Wife. The Atlantic, for whatever reason, has happily complied. Then again, I’m not sure how surprised one can be that the author of “I Was An Ann Coulter Fangirl” delivered a padded magic carpet for the Cruz couple to fly away on.