Sen. Ted Cruz blames the media for distorting his image

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Avocado makes Sen. Ted Cruz sick.

The Texas Republican liked playing a bad guy in high school theater, hearing audiences cheer when he got killed.

He passed on thoughts of both military service and a Hollywood acting career; now he says he regrets the former but not the latter.

And he won't say whether fellow Texan Lyndon B. Johnson was right in creating Medicare or his political hero Ronald Reagan was right in his vain attempt to stop it.

That's some of what emerged from a wide-ranging interview with the hard-right candidate for president, who for much of the country remains a two-dimensional figure who read Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor during extended remarks aimed at stopping Obamacare. The effort failed and left fellow Republicans angry at Cruz as a subsequent government shutdown backfired politically.

Cruz explained he was merely keeping faith with the Texans who sent him to Washington, and blamed the media for distorting his public image.

"Historically the media's had two caricatures for Republicans—that we are either stupid or evil," he explained over a Tex-Mex lunch in Houston. "They've to some extent invented a third caricature for me, which is crazy. I get portrayed in a lot of outlets as a wild-eyed lunatic with dynamite around my chest."

"You know, at the end of the day, that doesn't bother me because it's fundamentally false," he concluded. "I've got real confidence that the American people make their own judgment."

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the podium as Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., look on, during a rally on the east front lawn of the Capitol to call for the defunding of President Obama's executive action that grant's amnesty to illegal immigrants, December 3, 2014.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images

Cruz said, for example, that he doesn't oppose raising the U.S. debt limit, but rather simply wants to pair that action with spending cuts. Whatever controversy Medicare inspired during the battle to create it, he calls it today "a fundamental bulwark of our society" that must be reformed and preserved.

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Some libertarians want to phase out Social Security, but he wants to overhaul it for future recipients by raising the retirement age, curbing inflation increases in benefits and moving toward the kind of private accounts former President George W. Bush once sought.

"On Social Security, we have made promises and commitments for 80 years now," he explained. "We need to honor those commitments. And Social Security is something where, with really modest reforms, we can preserve it."

"The principles I believe in, I think, are basic common sense—live within your means, don't bankrupt your kids and grandkids. Follow the Constitution."

Cruz said both Presidents Bush and Obama had erred by supporting the Wall Street and auto bailouts that then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke argued were necessary to avert economic collapse. Those who argue that those steps and stimulus spending saved the country from depression, he said, "are the same liberal academics whose Keynesian answer to everything is more and more spending."

"Both administrations are spending far too much time listening to people urging them to be crony capitalists rather than standing for hardworking taxpayers," Cruz explained. "Crony capitalism is a dominant instinct in Washington."

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Cruz credited his father, who fled a Cuba dictatorship to come to the U.S., with instilling an appreciation of "the perils of government." He was raised in Houston, where he recalls being a "terrible athlete" even though he played basketball for his small high school. He landed roles in high school productions of "The Sound of Music" and "Oliver," in which he enjoyed playing the violent Dickens character Bill Sikes.

In fact, Cruz said he briefly considered moving to Hollywood and seeking an acting career but dropped the idea, which his parents strongly opposed. He also considered joining the military by signing up for the Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Princeton, and "I've always regretted" failing to do so.

Cruz met his wife Heidi during Bush's 2000 presidential campaign. Both went to work for the administration, then moved to Texas after Cruz accepted a job as the state's solicitor general. She suffered a bout of depression after relocating, an advisor to Cruz says, but the presidential candidate says he doesn't fear that the travails of a campaign will be detrimental.

"She and I decided to run together," he explained. "We spent, I'd say, six or nine months thinking about it, praying about it.

"The reason we decided to run is that I think our country is in crisis," Cruz added. "I don't see a whole lot of candidates who I think are likely to energize and mobilize and bring back those millions of conservatives. And if we don't do that, Hillary Clinton will be the next president."

One food he'll definitely be avoiding on the campaign trail is avocado.

"My dad grew up with an avocado tree in his backyard," he said. "It makes me physically sick. I think I probably am allergic. Or if not, I just really dislike the stuff."