Ted Cruz quip hearkens to FDR's gramps saying 'all horse thieves are Democrats'

Ted Cruz's reference to horse thieves and Democrats was uttered before by Franklin D. Roosevelt's grandfather in connection with his mother's courtship by a Democrat. This photo shows the young FDR with his mother, Sara Delano Roosvelt (NEH photo).
Ted Cruz's reference to horse thieves and Democrats was uttered before by Franklin D. Roosevelt's grandfather in connection with his mother's courtship by a Democrat. This photo shows the young FDR with his mother, Sara Delano Roosvelt (NEH photo).

Ted Cruz, asked to clarify why he disagrees with Donald Trump’s call to bar Muslims from entering the U.S., offered a quip linking horse thieves and Democrats that he attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s grandfather.

We wanted the goods on Cruz’s 19th-century throwback.

In the Dec. 15 Republican presidential debate, Hugh Hewitt asked the Texas senator to specify how he differs with Trump’s prescriptions for protecting the country, which include a call to temporarily bar non-American Muslims from entering.

Cruz said: "I understand why Donald made that proposal. I introduced legislation in the Senate that I believe is more narrowly focused at the actual threat, which is radical Islamic terrorism, and what my legislation would do is suspend all refugees for three years from countries where ISIS or Al Qaida control substantial territory."

HEWITT: "So you're saying you disagree because he's too broad and you have a narrower focus? Why do you disagree with him?"

CRUZ: "Well, you know, I'm reminded of what FDR's grandfather said. He said, ‘All horse-thieves are Democrats, but not all Democrats are horse-thieves.’"

Audience members laughed and Cruz continued: "In this instance, there are millions of peaceful Muslims across the world, in countries like India, where there is not the problems we are seeing in nations that are controlled -- have territory controlled by Al Qaida or ISIS, and we should direct at the problem, focus on the problem, and defeat radical Islamic terrorism. It's not a war on a faith; it's a war on a political and theocratic ideology that seeks to murder us."

A day later, Cruz’s answer led us to inquire into the origin of the horse thieves’ quip.

We didn’t find a conclusive explanation but we did hear back from Matthew Hanson, an archivist for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, N.Y., who said the earliest horse thief-Democrats reference he found appeared in "Gracious Lady," a 1935 book by Rita Halle Kleeman about FDR’s mother, Sara "Sallie" Delano Roosevelt; her adventurous father was Warren Delano, who made and lost fortunes trading in China.

By email, Hanson advised that Delano was a staunch Republican while FDR’s father, James Roosevelt, was a Democrat. And while describing the relationship between Warren and James in the context of James’s courtship of Sara, which led to an 1880 wedding, Kleeman wrote:

"Mr. Roosevelt and Sallie’s father had known each other, serving on the same boards for many years…. Mr. Delano had always admired and liked him. In fact, after knowing Mr. Roosevelt, Sallie’s father had for the first time conceded that a Democrat might be a gentleman! Before that he had often said jestingly that while he would not go so far as to say that all Democrats were horse-thieves, he would say that all horse-thieves were Democrats!"

And how did the author learn of the jest?

The book doesn’t explicitly say, Hanson said, though the foreword says Sara Delano Roosevelt "and her family cooperated generously. Her brother and sisters told me many of the incidents in the background that the little ‘Sallie’ had been too young to remember, and got out for me from the obscurity of the years the family diaries that had been carefully written up day after day for a century. Mrs. Roosevelt herself brought up from the depths of her memory the mass of little rememberings, the stories of the seemingly unimportant happenings which, molded together, make the picture of a life."

We asked if perhaps President Roosevelt’s grandfather had a biographer we could query about the horse thieves-Democrats line. "Unfortunately," Hanson said, "the only biographer of Warren Delano with whom I am familiar," Cynthia Owen Philip, "passed away earlier this year. I do not believe that she published a book on Warren before her passing."