Tuesday, March 24, 2015


National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke agrees "wholeheartedly" with Ted Cruz on a wide variety of issues. He thinks Cruz is extremely intelligent -- "very often the smartest man in the room." And yet -- as he wrote yesterday after watching Cruz announce that he's a candidate for the presidency -- Cooke can't stand listen to Cruz speak:
... for all his obvious talent Cruz’s rhetorical style frankly makes my hair curl a little. Striking a pose that lands somewhere between the oleaginousness of a Joel Osteen and the self-assuredness of a midwestern vacuum-cleaner salesman, Cruz delivers his speeches as might a mass-market motivational speaker in an Atlantic City Convention Center....

Britain’s Queen Victoria, The Atlantic records, once complained that William Gladstone “addresses me as if I were a public meeting.” Watching Cruz this morning, one understands how she must have felt. Sure, the man is probably sincere. Certainly, he is one smart cookie. But to my skeptical ears, there is always a touch of condescension in the pitch -- a small whiff of superciliousness that gives one the unlovely impression that Ted Cruz believes his listeners to be a little bit dim.
That's true -- and it's a major reason why Cruz isn't going to be the Republican nominee, much less president.

Cooke recalls an event last year at which both Rubio and Cruz spoke. Going in, the audience was skeptical about Rubio, though not about Cruz.
At the drinks reception afterwards, however, a good number of minds seemed to have been changed. “Rubio talks to you,” one attendee explained; “Cruz seemed to lecture.” This is an anecdote, I will grant. But it reminded me of the age-old observation that it is one thing to be the smartest man in the room, but that it is quite another to behave as if you know it.
And this isn't just Cruz's rhetorical style -- it's his approach to the work of politics. As Jonathan Chait writes -- in a post titled "Why Ted Cruz Wants Republicans to Hate Him" -- Cruz thinks he's battling moderates in his party the way Barry Goldwater did half a century ago. But moderates really were very powerful within the GOP in the 1960s. Goldwater conservatives had to wage war on the Establishment if they wanted an unyieldingly conservative party. Cruz, by contrast, is fighting exclusively on matters of style. His side has already won the ideological battle:
... there is very little in [Cruz's] platform to distinguish him from the rest of the party. In his announcement speech, Cruz ticked through his plans for America: repealing Obamacare, a flat tax, securing the border, banning abortion, preserving traditional marriage, opposing Common Core, and unyielding support for Israel and opposition to terrorism. Cruz’s style is uniquely terrifying to his critics (or thrilling to his supporters), but the substance is unremarkable standard-issue Republicanism....

Because he agrees with the policy goals of figures like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, all he can do to distinguish himself from them is stoke the suspicions of the base that those goals have been undermined from within. His shutdowns, his filibusters, his wild personal attacks -- they all reinforce Cruz’s story. He is the one Republican too brave and pure to submit to the Obama agenda. If his tactics fall short, it merely serves to dramatize his colleague’s fecklessness.

All this is why so many Republicans despise Cruz, and it will make it difficult for him to win the nomination. But the loathing between Cruz and his party is not some failing of etiquette. It is his entire plan.
Iif you want to understand Cruz, is it even appropriate to focus on the battle for conservatism's soul? I suspect the battle matters to the self-absorbed Cruz only because it provides an arena where he can act out, and it's his self-absorption that you need to look at it if you want to understand him.

In The New York Times, Ashley Parker and Maggie Haberman tell us that in 2000 Cruz, then a 29-year-old former law clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, scored a coveted ticket to oral arguments in Bush v. Gore.
But when his superiors asked Mr. Cruz to give up his spot to Donald Evans, a close friend of Mr. Bush’s and the campaign’s chairman, Mr. Cruz initially balked, refusing to hand over his ticket.

He backed down only after an angry phone call from a senior staff member. But the incident, which a Cruz adviser declined to discuss, has become lore.

To those who knew him as a young domestic policy adviser in Mr. Bush’s headquarters in Austin, Tex., the moment was classic Cruz -- reflecting a brilliant and unusually ambitious upstart who chafed at orders from superiors and often rubbed people the wrong way but always saw himself destined for a lofty place in history.
Right -- it's all about him.

The Times story, bafflingly, goes on to call him "savvy in his tactics." Savvy? Seriously? Well, maybe on some level -- he's 44 now and we're all taking him very seriously as a presidential candidate. But he seems to have alienated everyone he works with now. He was savvy about promoting himself -- up to a point -- but that's all he's ever been savvy about. Now he's being judged on what he can actually get accomplished, and he's failing at that. He thinks his innate brilliance should carry the day, and if it doesn't, it's everyone else's fault. That kind of self-regard will get you only so far. He's reached his limit.


Anonymous said...

Ted Cruz is what happens when your parents tell you that the reason why the other kids don't like you is that they're just jealous, and you believe it. He's arrogant, obnoxious, and literally leaves an oily film on everything he touches--or at least he did when he was my friend's college roommate in 1988.

Glennis said...

He's Newt Gingrich without the humble, self-effacing charm.

Victor said...

I suspect that Cruz is great in debates, not only because that's what he's trained-in as a lawyer, but that debates are a battle of will and ego's - while, public speaking is engaging others, and bringing them along with you.

As for treating his audiences as "dim," well, if he's speaking to conservative audiences, I can certainly understand why.
They are.
And when he presents his list of grievances against Obama, Democrats, and liberals, his audience knows the tune by heart.

However, unless he gets a great public speaking coach, he won't play nationwide in the same way he plays to conservative groups.

And, even if he gets s really great coach, the question is, will he listen to him?

When this 'Ted talks,' he doesn't listen.
Not even to sage advice.
He knows better than any and every one else!!!

Unknown said...

People confuse "smart" with traits/abilities that are useful in analytical thinking.

A fabulous memory is not "smart". An ability to juxtapose numbers and calculate in the head is not "smart", the gift of gab is not smart (though it allows one to dominate a discussion), and ability to recite dogmas is the opposite of "smart"

Smart is a combination of being savvy, being analytical, being objective without biases, being unhindered by dogmas...and always includes following the methods of the scientific method (even if you never heard of it).

Unknown said...

The far right's rap against a lot of Republicans is that they are not sufficiently far right. The mantra of "if only we had nominated a real conservative we would have won" is legend. Cruz is plowing that ground. No one can accuse him of being less than 100% dip-shit.

Never Ben Better said...

Thanks, Aunt Snow, for my morning belly laugh.

BKT said...

Agreed-- Aunt Snow wins the comments.

John Taylor said...

Ted Cruz and his ilk are a relic of the past. The country has moved on from his narrow minded and regressive ideas.

Phil Freeman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M. Bouffant said...

One other style note: 44? I seriously thought he was 50+. He certainly has that "old man" thing so popular w/ Republicans.

David Empey said...

I dunno; I hold no brief for the odious Cruz but I think in the matter of the ticket to the oral argument I'm on his side. Why should someone have to give up a "coveted ticket" because some friend of their bosses wanted one?

Glennis said...

I suspect that Cruz is great in debates

Perhaps in formal, structured debates like those conducted at Ivy League debating societies, back in his college days.

In the free-for-alls of the Republican primary? Probably not so much.