With Ted Cruz seemingly on track to win the Republican Party’s first presidential nominating contest in Iowa next month, party actors are scrambling to signal to voters that they should support anyone but this senator from Texas — perhaps even Donald Trump.
Bob Dole, who was the Republican presidential candidate in 1996, has said the party would suffer “cataclysmic” and “wholesale losses” if Cruz were the nominee.
Unlike Cruz, at least Trump could “probably work with Congress,” Dole said on Wednesday, “because he’s, you know, he’s got the right personality and he’s kind of a dealmaker.”
The Republican governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, has outright said he wants Cruz defeated in his state. North Carolina senator Richard Burr is reported to have told supporters he would rather vote for Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, than for Cruz.
Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, is refusing to introduce a resolution affirming Cruz’ eligibility for the presidency similar to the one his party passed in 2008 to confirm that John McCain, born on a military base in Panama, could run for president that year.
Cruz was born in Canada. Trump argues that he is therefore not a “natural-born citizen” and ineligible to become president.
“I just don’t think the Senate ought to get into the middle of this,” McConnell told ABC News on Sunday.
Republican Party actors know that a Trump candidacy would all but guarantee a victory for Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee — which is why he is still unlikely to win the nomination.
But there are many who would rather hold their nose and lose with Trump than pledge fealty to a candidate Cruz.
It isn’t hard to see why.
Both Cruz and Trump publicly disdain their own party. But whereas the latter simply dismisses America’s entire political class as “stupid,” Cruz accuses his peers — all of them — as traitors to the conservative cause.
It is this willingness to burn the whole party down for the sake of his own political ambitions that other Republicans can’t stomach.
In 2013, Cruz, only months in office, almost singlehandedly brought the federal government to standstill, demanding the defunding of President Barack Obama’s health reforms as the price for reopening the government — something Democrats were never going to agree to.
Politico reported at the time that Cruz had no plan to end the shutdown, nor could he give colleagues a concrete plan for defunding Obamacare.
Yet he had no qualms about comparing those same colleagues, who recognized the impossibility of defunding the health law, to Nazi appeasers.
“The entire effort has been totally disingenuous,” one Republican senator lamented.
That same year, Cruz insinuated that Chuck Hagel, a fellow Republican who became Obama’s defense secretary, was taking money from tyrannical regimes because he declined to reveal the source of a $200,000 payment. “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea,” Cruz said.
Left-wing media likened his questioning to that of Joseph McCarthy, the infamous 1950s lawmaker who saw communist sympathizers everywhere. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, also a Republican, agreed that Cruz’s line of inquiry was “out of bounds.”
In 2014, in what The Week‘s Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry described as the “most cynical and despicable political stunt of the year,” Cruz chided an audience of Arab Christians for supposedly not “standing with” Israel when in fact they applauded his appeal to support the Jewish state and only turned against him “when it became clear that he was launching into a rah-rah pro-Israel stump speech that had nothing to do with what they were doing there.”
Cruz tarred and attacked one of the most powerless and beleaguered minorities in the world, solely for personal political gain. He was speaking truth to the powerless. He was strong against the weak.
Earlier this year, Cruz again tried to shut down the government unless parties agreed to defund Planned Parenthood, a women’s health organization that also provides abortions.
Frank Bruni summed up Cruz’ signature moments in The New York Times as “a florid smearing of Chuck Hagel with no achievable purpose other than attention for Ted Cruz, a flamboyant rebellion against Obamacare with no achievable purpose other than attention for Ted Cruz, and a fiery protest of federal funding for Planned Parenthood with no achievable purpose other than attention for Ted Cruz. Notice any pattern?”
Yet at a presidential primary debate broadcast by CNBC in October, Cruz had the gall to accuse the moderators of pitting one Republican against the other.
The audacity of those complaints was awe-inspiring: Cruz rose to national prominence with gratuitous, overwrought tirades against fellow party members and with a complete lack of deference to elders in the Senate, which he entered in January 2013 at age 42.
Many politicians rankle their peers, Bruni admits. Many have detractors. But Cruz generates antipathy “of an entirely different magnitude.” He spins this as the price paid by an outsider who challenges the status quo, but it is really “the fruit of a combative style and consuming solipsism that would make him an insufferable, unendurable president,” according to Bruni.
David Brooks has argued in the same newspaper that what is striking about Cruz is the utter lack of compassion in his rhetoric.
Instead, his speeches are marked by a long list of enemies and vows to crush, shred, destroy, bomb them.
“As is the wont of inauthentic speakers, everything is described as a maximum existential threat” by Cruz. The country is heading off “the cliff to oblivion.” Freedoms are “taken away every day” and the Democratic candidates are competing for “who would wear the jackboot most vigorously.”
Cruz “sows bitterness,” according to Brooks, “influences his followers to lose all sense of proportion and teaches them to answer hate with hate.”
Facts are irrelevant. America’s economy is doing better than eight years ago and better than most in the developed world. Crime is down. So are abortion rates. Yet Cruz maintains that the United States are on the precipice of disaster.
He is not the only one. Trump likes to say that “nothing” works in America anymore. Marco Rubio, another senator, has warned, “We’re on the verge of being the first generation of Americans that leave our children worse off than ourselves.” And Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, seems to believe the apocalypse is just around the corner.
But Cruz makes the case better than most. Which makes him far more frightening to those Republicans who are more interested in winning the election than the adulation of the far right.