Just as there was a glimmer of hope late last month that House Republican leaders would try to pass an immigration overhaul this year, Sen. Ted Cruz and his staff mobilized to extinguish it. It was a one-two punch that showcased the stature of one of the Texas Republican's top aides.
While Cruz countered House leaders' rollout of their immigration principles on conservative outlets like Breitbart News, Amanda Carpenter, who helps formulate and amplify Cruz's message as his senior communications adviser and speechwriter, slung slices of red meat on Twitter.
“Maybe after offering up amnesty for Obama, the Establishment GOP will start working on a global warming cap-and-tax bill for Obama. #WhyNot,” Carpenter tweeted . She continued in rapid fire, tweeting: “Want to know why conservatives aren't, supposedly, pushing happy ideas? bc we keep having to kill terrible ones the establishment pushes!” and “Hey, remember when they promised to keep the focus on Obamacare. Dontcha kinda think amnesty distracts from that?”
Soon after, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, began to express doubt that immigration reform could be done this year .
Carpenter's acerbic wit has helped grow her Twitter presence to reach more than 50,000 people — far more followers than most congressional staffers and surpassing many of Cruz's fellow senators.
Her unique position in the Twitterverse has provided another pipeline from Cruz to the conservative grass roots. And Carpenter doesn't hold back — targeting the establishment and GOP leaders again and again, as well as President Barack Obama.
She said in an interview last week that pushing aggressively for change makes the establishment uncomfortable.
“Washington is resistant to change,” Carpenter told CQ Roll Call. “The rise of the grass roots and the influence they have been able to wield in terms of phone calls, letters, emails. This is a relatively new thing that’s happening. We view it as a very positive thing. As Cruz likes to say, ‘Liberty is never more safe than when politicians are terrified.’ So I think people are trying to adapt to that."
Carpenter acknowledged she has more freedom on social media than is typical for staffers, “which I really enjoy."
But that freedom has provoked the quiet — and sometimes not so quiet — ire of fellow Republicans who contend that Cruz and his operation are merely seeking publicity for a possible 2016 presidential run at the expense of electing a Republican majority.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page recently called Cruz “the minority maker” and part of the GOP’s “kamikaze caucus” after he forced his fellow Republicans to back a procedural vote to advance a bill to suspend the debt ceiling and avoid a default. Both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn face tea party primary challengers who were quick to use their "yes" votes as campaign fodder .
And Carpenter herself has been target of vitriol. Playboy magazine in 2009 singled her out among 10 GOP women in a crudely headlined article they subsequently took down, and in September a Sacramento County Democratic Party official resigned after a posting an offensive tweet about Carpenter’s children.
She makes no apologies for her vocal Twitter presence, though she said she doesn’t find herself antagonistic. She argues any tension has more to do with complacency among establishment Republicans than anything she says or does.
“This office has allowed me to be fairly vocal on social media in a way that other offices don’t allow their staffs to do,” Carpenter told CQ Roll Call. “But this is the model. We want to be making our argument, making our case, pretty vocally and when we are not the popular voice in Washington it's more important than ever for us to communicate what we are doing and why so people can understand it and it's not viewed as ‘Oh, Cruz is just causing trouble.’ No, here is the explanation behind it.”
She said her boss is good at making his own case, “but it also helps to have other people amplifying that in real time when a vote is going down."
Carpenter's Twitter presence helped boost Cruz's lengthy #MakeDCListen floor speech on Obamacare last year . And she was active before, during and after the government shutdown, which many establishment Republicans blamed on Cruz.
She dismissed a common criticism of her boss — that Cruz values party purity over pragmatism.
“This isn’t about purity, it's not about making people look bad, it's about how are we going to change Washington for the better,” Carpenter said. “You don’t do that by green-lighting the status quo and keep doing the things that we’ve done that have created a $17 trillion debt and a government that we can’t even exercise any oversight of.
“Am I passionate about stopping that, yes,” she said. “Does that cause disagreement? Yes. [But] that’s OK.”
Echoing Cruz on elections, she added: “Republicans, when they stand on principle, they win."
The 31-year-old mother of two grew up in Montrose, Mich., in an apolitical family. She embraced becoming a conservative Republican working her way through college at Ball State University and founded a website where she wrote about, among other things, the rising cost of tuition.
That led to jobs at conservative media outlets and a column at the Washington Times. She became a regular on Fox News, and built trust among online conservative activists. She first made her way to Capitol Hill as a senior communications adviser and speechwriter for South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint — who has since become a key Cruz ally as the head of The Heritage Foundation.
DeMint “pioneered a lot of the grass-roots model ... and trying to change Washington from the outside in rather than from the inside out,” she said. Initially, she worried that as a freshman, Cruz wouldn't get active immediately, but joining the Texan's office was the "best decision that I could have made" after leaving DeMint's staff, she said.
Carpenter warned not to expect anything different from Cruz if Republicans win the majority.
“His principles are not going to change,” she said. “He’s said before, ‘I don’t trust Republicans, I don’t trust Democrats.’ He’s still going try to do the things he set out to do. The goal of being in the Senate isn’t just to be the guy with the most people on your team. It's to fix it."