A Cruz Divided Against Itself...
Watching the final GOP debate of 2015 on Tuesday night, it appeared to me that there was really only one major takeaway: Ted Cruz was bad. Really bad.
There were some other minor headlines. Carly Fiorina again demonstrated her remarkable talent for coherent and concise tough talk. (My girlfriend noted that she seemingly always completed her comments before the bell.) Trump looked like an oaf in managing to string together near incomprehensible sentences regarding foreign policy, which is arguably his most glaring area of policy ignorance. John “The Karate Kid” Kasich showed us his only real talent is talking with his hands. Poor, lovable Ben Carson apparently has a cold. Rand Paul groupies were in high attendance.
Again, the real story last night was Cruz. It must be said that I think Cruz is right on a great many things, but he has become his own worst enemy on stage. I believe he fancies himself a great orator, which he is not (his long career of arguing in front of SCOTUS notwithstanding). He fancies himself a folksy charmer, which he is not. Here is a man that is best suited to work behind closed doors within the constitutional channels of government to affect meaningful change. That is to say, I love the idea of him as a Senator or, as has been suggested by others, perhaps even a Supreme Court Justice. But not as a POTUS.
As far as his performance in the debate and its effect on his presidential run, I think there were three big things that will turn people off his candidacy going forward.
First, on immigration — possibly the most important issue in the general election — Cruz just plain lied about his record. In one of many exchanges with Sen. Rubio, Cruz said, “I have never supported legalization…” Except he definitely did in 2013. With this slip up, he has given to his detractors a soft target that will be easily exploited for weeks to come.
Second, Cruz continually felt entitled to interrupt, interject, and continue speaking well over the agreed upon time limit on numerous occasions. He is widely respected as a talented debater, yet couldn’t convince himself to remain within the consensual boundaries of the debate format. These actions serve only to proliferate the perception that Cruz is “unhinged.” The general “rudeness” he displayed last night will sully his reputation with many prospective Republican voters.
Third, Cruz’s bromance with Donald Trump is borderline despicable. The image of “The Donald” applying an awkward pat on the back of Cruz is burned into my retinas. Those of us that recognize how damaging and dangerous Trump’s candidacy is to true conservatism know that this unholy alliance is born of nothing but sheer political expediency on the part of Cruz. For a candidate with a genuine conservative pedigree fighting the good fight for years through legitimate legal processes to throw his arm around Trump is Cruz betraying everything for which he stands. There is, of course, room for reasonable compromise in the face of political realities, but we usually see that as a necessary staple given our separation of powers — or more to the point — as a necessity of actually being the president and not just running for the office. We are therefore left with two candidates on essentially polar opposite ends of the Republican spectrum appearing unnaturally friendly to the other’s position. This lends itself nicely to the progressive narrative that all conservatives are essentially Trump, which is an idea the media might use quite effectively against Cruz should he become the nominee.
The bottom line is that for a perceived maverick often touted as the antidote to the plague of the Republican establishment, Cruz is looking more and more like business as usual in a party begging for anything but.