AUSTIN, Texas — Ted Cruz has said that after working on George W. Bush's 2000 campaign, being passed over for a senior position with the new administration was "a crushing blow." Turns out, it was his own fault.
Cruz was offered a job as White House associate counsel shortly after Al Gore conceded the race in December, but he rejected it, members of the Bush transition team told The Associated Press. Cruz thought he was in line for the more senior role of deputy White House counsel.
The transition team members asked that their names not appear in print because they weren't authorized to speak publicly for the Bush administration. They said that even before the associate counsel job was offered to Cruz, the deputy counsel position had been set aside for Timothy Flanigan, a veteran of the George H.W. Bush administration.
Though the titles are similar, the deputy counsel reported directly to then-White House counsel and future U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, while the associate's role was one of nine working under Flanigan.
The incident underscores a recurring theme of Cruz's career, how his overt personal ambition rubbed colleagues the wrong way — sometimes to his professional and political detriment. By setting his eyes on a bigger prize and bypassing the chance to work as an administration lawyer in the White House, Cruz missed potentially invaluable experience and insight into the job he is now seeking.
"It's knowing how government works. It's knowing how decisions get made," Rear Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, director of the National Security Agency from 1977 to 1981, said of the benefits of working in the White House. "You just learn from seeing what gets their attention."
Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier declined to comment. She said a job offer Cruz didn't accept 16 years ago wasn't a priority.
In the summer of 1999, Cruz was at a Washington party when a law school friend introduced him to Josh Bolten, a future White House chief of staff who was then working as policy director for Bush's presidential campaign. Cruz became an Austin-based domestic policy adviser to Bush, and also met his future wife, Heidi, while working on the campaign.
Amid the recount in Florida, Cruz headed to Tallahassee and helped devise legal strategy and draft pleadings to the U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts.
After turning down the associate counsel's job, Cruz eventually caught on with the new administration as an associate deputy U.S. attorney general, and later was director of the Office of Policy Planning for the Federal Trade Commission.
In his autobiography, Cruz described being devastated that he couldn't land a senior administration job, but he also acknowledged that part of the reason he didn't was because he was "far too cocky for my own good."
Still, Clay Johnson III, who was executive director of the transition team, said that though valuable, Cruz's campaign experience wasn't enough to make him a candidate for one of the top administration posts that Johnson was vetting.
"Ted Cruz was not somebody who was being considered for a senior position," said Johnson, a high school friend of Bush's and former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. He said he had never heard Cruz's name until learning of his 2012 run for Senate.
Turning down the post in the White House counsel's office, though, helped bolster Cruz's credentials as a hero with the tea party — which now decries the Bush administration for running up towering spending deficits.
Bill O'Sullivan of the Texas Patriots PAC, a conservative grassroots organization outside Houston, said Cruz's career as a Washington outsider burgeoned after he left the Bush administration.
"If he stayed in Washington and was a functionary," Sullivan said "no one would know who he is today."