Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) told the moderators of the Republican presidential debate at Iowa Events Center on Thursday that he might just take his ball and go home.
His threat to leave the stage came after he accused Fox News’ questioners of encouraging his rivals to attack him.
“I would note that the last four questions have been, ‘Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please attack Ted.”
Cruz’s comment provoked loud boos from the audience. His critique of the debate questions came after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was asked about how his plans to confront the jihadist group ISIS would differ from those put forth by Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.)
Moderator Chris Wallace offered a retort to Cruz.
“It is a debate sir,” Wallace said.
Cruz wasn’t satisfied with Wallace’s response.
“No, no, a debate actually is a policy issue,” Cruz said. “But I will say this, gosh, if you guys say -- ask one more mean question I’m going to have to leave the stage.”
It was unclear if this was a real threat, a badly delivered joke, or a shot at Donald Trump....
Well, obviously it was a shot at Donald Trump, or at least an expression of Trump envy -- hey, he can be petulant and walk away, why can't I? I think it's clear that it was also meant as a joke (in a serious/not serious way). But the audience couldn't tell it was a joke. It came off as self-pity.
But why should that be a problem for Cruz? It's never a problem for Trump. Trump's approach to the debates has been one long pity party, from his initial spat with Megyn Kelly to his complaints about debate length to his boycott last night. And yet he gets away with it. Why?
For that matter, why does Cruz get away with self-pity at other times? Here's Charlie Pierce writing about Cruz on the campaign trail, in moments that were clearly much more favorably received than last night's failed joke:
[Cruz] glistens ... when he gets all whispery and moved by his own words, describing his own martyrdom at the hands of liberals, and the media, and the leaders of his own party. A lone warrior, "constitutionalist fighter," as he says. He glistens more brightly when he's calling the president "...an imperial dictator like we've had the last seven years," or narcissistic and self-involved. He glistens more brightly when he talks about the seven battles he's fought against the right to choose and against marriage equality. He brags about the victories he's won as regards the former issue before the members of that same Supreme Court, which he calls "activists" when he talks about the decision in the latter question of which he doesn't approve. He glistens more brightly when he talks about "bearing the stripes" of his vain attempts to destroy the Affordable Care Act, and about "bearing the stripes" of defeating a very reasonable immigration reform bill that had passed the Senate. He glistens more brightly when he talks about how he has stood tall and dared to call "radical Islamic extremism" by that name. He glistens, Ted Cruz does.Here's the difference between Trump and Cruz: Trump has been such a relentless bully, to the delight of Republicans, that he can get away with just about any amount of self-pity, for any reason. The voters are certain that he's a tough guy. They know he's not a sniveling whiner (even when he clearly is a sniveling whiner).
Cruz doesn't have carte blanche to whine in the same way. He can't always get away with it. When can he get way with it? When he's whining about being attacked by Antichrists -- evil forces his audiences think are also attacking them. He's a victim of the president's executive orders! He's a victim of the Affordable Care Act! He's a victim of political correctness because he wants to say "radical Islamic extremism"!
Cruz has limited immunity on whining. He can feel sorry for himself when he's feeling sorry for himself in ways Republican voters feel sorry for themselves. But when he's complaining about Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly, Republican voters can't relate.
Trump has unlimited immunity. He's seen as an across-the-board tough guy. So he can whine about anything at any time.
Yes, Ted, it's unfair, because any idiot can see that Trump isn't really all that tough.
But don't whine about the unfairness. You can't get away with it.