Ted Cruz is a United States senator from Texas, darling of the tea party and a man who once filibustered in the Senate by carefully enunciating Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.” And as of Monday, the radical right-wing Republican is running for the GOP nomination for president.
But he won’t find all his audiences on the presidential campaign trail as enthusiastic as the one Monday at Liberty University, where he kicked off his campaign. Students at the school founded by the late Jerry Falwell, arch-conservative pastor and televangelist, are by political inclination conservative, true enough. But they’re also required to attend a convocation three times a week, including the one where Cruz announced. Failure to do so can result in a fine.
The son of a Cuban immigrant, Cruz worked his way through Princeton and Harvard Law School and was regarded by some of his Ivy League professors as one of the most brilliant students they ever taught. His is a bootstraps story, to be sure. But for all the inspiration in his own story, Cruz seems to have built his political career primarily with vitriolic attacks on all who disagree with him and with a “free market” philosophy that seems to say, “OK, I’m aboard the boat. Now pull up the rope.”
The 44-year-old senator has support among those most conservative Republicans who oppose anything associated with President Obama. That includes, of course, the Affordable Care Act, which Cruz vowed Monday to repeal.
For all his supposed intelligence, Cruz is remarkably closed-minded and factually impaired. On Monday, he also asked the crowd to imagine a world where the Internal Revenue Service had been abolished, replaced by a flat tax. He rejects all scientific evidence to continue to deny the existence of climate change. He opposes any path to amnesty for illegal immigrants of which there may be 2 million in his state of Texas. He has among the most radical conservative views on abortion rights. He paints the American economy as desperate, despite all evidence pointing to a dramatic rebound. Cruz is even one of those still trying to sell the idea that because of “Obamacare,” insurance costs for all Americans have gone up dramatically, when they simply have not.
There is an irony in the radical senator’s small government, free-market philosophy. He seems to make government a target – yet now he wants to be the leader of it.
Cruz will bring to the GOP presidential race what the tea party took to the Republican Congress. He will force other candidates such as Jeb Bush, who might be conservative but is a more mainstream candidate, to dwell on issues such as abortion and gay marriage that are guaranteed to polarize the electorate. Bush and other right-center Republicans will be pinned down by Cruz on issues they’d just as soon not discuss.
And, sadly, that’s going to distract the Republican electorate from what could be productive discussions about job growth, practical immigration policy and health care. Cruz may not get the GOP nomination, and probably won’t, but he will shape the primary campaigns in a way that ultimately will hurt the Republican nominee.
The politics of destruction and personal attack and polarization and social conservatism may work in a state that has gone as far right as Texas has. But the Ted Cruz brand of that kind of politics, the kind that rejects compromise and even discussion of it, eventually will wear thin on Republicans as well as Democrats.
A president, once the election is over, should be a leader who seeks to bring people together. Ted Cruz seems to know only how to tear them apart, for his own selfish political ambition.