Sen. Ted Cruz might raise some eyebrows outside of his conservative base for comments he made Wednesday in praise of former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms.
“I’ll tell you something … the very first political contribution I ever made in my life was to Jesse Helms. When I was a kid, I sent $10 to Jesse Helms, ’cause they were beating up on him, they were coming after him hard and I thought it wasn’t right, and at the time my allowance was 50 cents a week,” the Texas Republican said. “I am willing to venture a guess that I may have been Jesse Helms’ single largest donor as a percentage of annual income.”
Cruz also recalled a story about when a young Helms received a campaign donation check from John Wayne. He explained that, according to the story, Helms figured out how to get in touch with Wayne and called to thank him for the support.
“Apparently Wayne said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re that guy saying all those crazy things. We need 100 more like you,'” Cruz said. “The willingness to say all those crazy things is a rare, rare characteristic in this town, and you know what? It’s every bit as true now as it was then. We need a hundred more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.”
The remarks are near the start of a lengthy lecture on the role of the Senate in foreign policy that Cruz gave Wednesday afternoon at a Heritage Foundation event named for the late North Carolina Republican.
Helms was a leading conservative in the Senate for decades who rose to be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was nicknamed “Senator No” for his efforts to hold up nominations and other priorities of the executive branch. He could be a lone voice of opposition, though his final CQ Politics in America profile did note his work in later years with current Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., on foreign affairs.
But it was, of course, Helms’ views on social policy and matters of race that were the most contentious.
“One of the centerpieces of Helms’ lengthy social policy agenda is his crusade against homosexuality,” according to the PIA profile. Helms also led a fight against designating Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday.
For 16 days, Helms filibustered the legislation making the holiday designation, at the end of which he was the only senator to vote against it. That’s a point noted in obituaries of Helms, who died in 2008.
The late Washington Post journalist David S. Broder wrote in a 2001 column on the occasion of the North Carolinian’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate: “What is unique about Helms — and from my viewpoint, unforgivable — is his willingness to pick at the scab of the great wound of American history, the legacy of slavery and segregation, and to inflame racial resentment against African-Americans.”