In early January 2016, The New Republic sent me to Iowa to write about Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential bid. Millions of words had been devoted to Cruz himself and his surging campaign, but little was written about Cruz's campaign manager, Jeff Roe, a 45-year-old tobacco-chewing, foul-mouthed, scorched-earth former Howitzer operator turned political Svengali. Roe is Cruz's Karl Rove, the face of a new generation of operatives rising to the fore in U.S. politics. This story appeared two weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
Ted Cruz's Howitzer
Equal parts drill sergeant, data junkie, brawler, and entrepreneur, Jeff Roe will do anything to win. Just watch.
The New Republic | January 20, 2016
Ted Cruz couldn’t take it any longer. It was July 23, 2012. Houston. The final debate of the Republican runoff in Cruz’s bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate. The former Texas solicitor general had entered the race as a footnote, his polling in the low single digits, his political résumé extremely thin. Ted who? But over the course of 18 months, the little-known corporate litigator had caught fire with the Tea Party faithful, snagging endorsements from Sarah Palin and FreedomWorks, upending every expectation about his chances except his own. Now he stood on the cusp of one of the great upsets in Texas political history.
The debate moderator played a video question from a voter: “Why are they fighting so much?” Cruz turned to his opponent, three-term Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, a soporific millionaire who’d begun the race as the odds-on favorite but had underwhelmed and failed to avoid a runoff. As the summer had worn on and his numbers sagged, Dewhurst and his allies had tried to paint Cruz as a “D.C. insider,” a “conservative phony,” and a supporter of “amnesty for illegal immigrants.” Cruz had largely ignored Dewhurst’s salvos, though groups supporting his campaign had flung some insults about Dewhurst being a “Republican in Name Only.” But Cruz was particularly galled by his opponent’s latest hit. The week of the debate, a mailer had landed in mailboxes across the state—including that of Cruz’s father, Rafael—highlighting how Cruz, as an attorney, once defended a Chinese company accused of stealing blueprints from a U.S. manufacturer. The mailer branded Cruz a “D.C. trial lawyer” and accused him of lying about his work on the case. “Ted Cruz: Killing American Jobs, Deceiving Texans,” it read.
Cruz, full of indignation, pulled a copy of the mailer from his pocket. “One of the worst things you can say in politics is to malign someone’s patriotism,” he said, “and yet what the lieutenant governor sent to my father was a mailer that said, quote, ‘Ted Cruz worked against our country.’” The attack failed, of course. Cruz bested Dewhurst in the runoff, coasted through the general election, and headed to Washington to further torment the establishment and lay the groundwork for a presidential bid.
Almost two years after that debate, in the spring of 2014, the man who produced the “un-American” mailer arrived at a townhouse not far from the U.S. Capitol. Jeff Roe had spent the previous decade in Kansas City, building his own mini-political kingdom and earning a reputation as one of the sharpest and meanest operatives in the business. The 43-year-old had dreamed of running a presidential campaign ever since he got his start in politics in rural Missouri. Now, behind those townhouse doors, awaited a candidate set to interview Roe for the chance to land just such a job. This candidate also happened to be the same man whose career Roe had sought to end before it began: Senator Ted Cruz.