The moment that became a metaphor for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign was delivered courtesy of his own 7-year-old daughter. As he attempted to reel the child in for a hug and kiss — the very image of a homespun politician’s family for the news cameras — little Caroline scrunched up her face, began yelling “Ow, ow, ow,” and tried to pull away.
Can you blame the kid?
Caroline unknowingly spoke for everyone in the world who cares about justice and democracy. But her actions were also a good symbol of the attitude of many Republican Party leaders toward her father. If Donald Trump is the candidate for the GOP presidential nomination that party leaders are afraid of, Cruz is the one they loathe.
For them, the big question now is whether fear (of a Republican Party permanently damaged by Trump) will win out over loathing (of having a man they seem to universally despise as GOP nominee and possibly the president for four years), or the other way around.
Type “Ted Cruz” and “hate” into a Google search, and the results are hilarious: “The most hated man in Congress” (Salon), “Why D.C. hates Ted Cruz” (The Atlantic), “Is Ted Cruz really an awful, terrible jerk?” (Mother Jones), “Everybody hates Ted” (The New Republic), “Ted Cruz: The 2016 Republican candidate everyone loves to hate” (Vanity Fair), and “Ted Cruz’s biggest challenge: To know him is to hate him” (Vice), and that’s just a small sampling. (Then there is the infamous booger-eating display, about which, the less said the better.)
The Republican with the only realistic chance of beating Trump — short of a convention brawl where party leaders try to take the nomination away from him — is “so easy to hate that loathing him has become a form of political poetry,” noted the New Republic:
“[W]acko-bird,” “abrasive,” “arrogant,” and “creepy” are some of the kindest adjectives that have been thrown his way. Cruz has alienated about everyone he’s ever encountered in life: high school and college classmates, bosses, law professors, Supreme Court clerks, and especially his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Some detest Cruz the politician because of his grandstanding, but most dislike Cruz the person. In that respect, he’s really not your average politician — after all, most people hate politicians. But everyone hates Ted Cruz.
If colleagues don’t like him, people outside the Beltway have even more reason to detest him — for his role as one of the Republican Tea Partiers loudest champions in dragging mainstream politics further and further to the right.
The Princeton- and Harvard-educated Cruz was elected as senator from Texas in 2012, riding the Tea Party wave after years of serving as Texas’ solicitor general and working as a policy adviser on George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign.
He holds all the political positions of the Republican Right: for “limited government,” except when it comes to legislating social issues, in which case he’s for Congress and the courts stepping in to dictate to women and LGBT people; for “securing the border” and mass deportations of undocumented immigrants; and a claimed love of the Constitution, but especially the Second Amendment.
Cruz says he “stands with Israel” and is gung-ho about prosecuting the “war on terror” — he says he wants to “utterly destroy ISIS” and “carpet bomb” terrorists into oblivion.
Cruz opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, as well as LGBT rights generally. He’s anti-choice and pro-death penalty. He’s a climate-change denier. Cruz is in favor of a Constitutional amendment to mandate a balanced budget and says he would end income taxes for corporations.
As a Tea Partier, Cruz spouts the usual rhetoric about representing ordinary people, but he has close and seldom-mentioned ties to Wall Street. Until her recent leave of absence, Cruz’s wife Heidi worked for Goldman Sachs as head of one of the mega-bank’s regional offices.
Cruz has often repeated the story of asking his wife to liquidate their assets to fund his upstart campaign for Senate. But a plucky story about a poor boy making good this is not. Although he ran, in part, on a platform of criticizing the federal government’s bailout of Wall Street, the Cruzes got a loan of as much as $500,000 from Goldman Sachs — a direct beneficiary of the bailout — in 2012 that helped fund Ted’s Senate bid.
The Cruzes failed to disclose the loan in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission — possibly because the image of a “populist firebrand” standing up for the little guy doesn’t square with someone getting a hefty handout from Goldman Sachs. As a GOP Senate staffer put it, “It’s amazing that this guy can rail against crony capitalism when he is one of its biggest beneficiaries.”
Cruz has surrounded himself with some scary people as well. His foreign policy teamincludes Elliott Abrams, a Reagan-era holdover who was implicated in the Iran-Contra affair.
The Cruz campaign recently announced that Frank Gaffney would be signing on as a foreign policy adviser. Gaffney, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.” He founded the Center for Security Policy, an anti-Muslim “think tank,” in 1988; promoted the white supremacist Jared Taylor on his radio show; and openly called for “a new and improved counterpart” to the Cold War era’s House Un-American Activities Committee to root out the Muslim menace supposedly lurking in America.
Oh, and Gaffney believes Barack Obama is a secret Muslim — and that the “radical left” is using refugee resettlement programs to “erase American laws, traditions and culture.”
As a senator, Cruz made his name by leading the Tea Partiers’ fanatical obstructionism against the Obama White House — even when that meant defying the Republican congressional leadership and causing the shutdown of the federal government.
In 2013, Cruz made headlines when he took control of the Senate floor and spoke for over 20 hours in favor of the right’s pet project of repealing Obamacare. By that point, there was no chance for actually overturning the health care law from 2010 — the speech was an exercise in hogging the spotlight, complete with the bizarre spectacle of Cruz reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.
Cruz holding the Senate hostage — to the bitter frustration his GOP colleagues — was one of the final acts of the 16-day federal government shutdown in 2013. Cruz engineered the unsuccessful and deeply unpopular strategy of blocking legislation to raise the federal debt ceiling — the level at which the federal government can borrow to finance its operations — unless a provision was passed to delay or defund the Affordable Care Act.
As even many Republican leaders acknowledged, Cruz and Co. were playing a high-stakes game of chicken with the world economy — not raising the debt ceiling would have caused a default on the national debt, within unknown but clearly catastrophic consequences for the global financial system.
Cruz’s stunt angered many bosses on Wall Street and in Corporate America, not only because of the unnecessary threat to the financial system, but because the health care industry was satisfied with the holes it had already poked in the parts of the health care law that imposed new regulations on it, while enjoying the spoils of a law that required people without insurance to buy defective coverage from private insurers.
As for impact on working people, Cruz and Tea Partiers wanted to make Obamacare worse than it already was, while furthering their wider project of slashing funds and resources from programs that benefit workers and the poor.
Then there was the direct effect of the shutdown itself. According to Think Progress, “A report from the Peterson Institute on International Economics found that the threat of default on American debt and other ways that Congress has governed crisis to crisis meant the loss of 750,000 jobs and sliced 1 percent off of GDP economic growth. The shutdown itself cost the economy an estimated $24 billion and 120,000 jobs in just two weeks.”
Since 2013, Cruz has defended the shutdown, telling Fox News’ Chris Wallace, “it was the biggest victory we’ve had in a long time.”
Cruz tried to repeat the maneuver in September of last year, threatening another shutdown over an amendment he wanted to introduce that would have banned federal funds for Planned Parenthood and blocked the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.
When Cruz’s Republican colleagues refused to allow him to offer his amendment during a voice vote, Cruz threw a tantrum, giving an hour-long speech on the Senate floor that denounced fellow Republicans for their “pre-emptive surrender.” That hissy fit led toformer House Speaker John Boehner calling Cruz a “jackass.”
No wonder prominent Republicans are agonizing over whether to let the primary frontrunner Trump get away with the presidential nomination — and risk the damage to the party’s image that might take decades to undo — or help Cruz in the race. Asked in January whether he preferred Trump or Cruz as the nominee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham replied, “It’s like being shot or poisoned. What does it really matter?”
Graham provided the laugh-out-loud topper to an NPR report on Republican loathing of the primary frontrunner-up. “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody could convict you,” Graham told a ballroom full of reporters at the Washington Press Club dinner.
Nevertheless, Graham recently announced that he is now fundraising for Cruz — which only shows the level of desperation among leading Republicans over the prospect of a Trump nomination.
Make no mistake: Whether it’s Trump or Cruz or even some more presentable candidate, the Republican nominee for president in November will stand for reactionary and bigoted policies that will be disastrous for ordinary people. Whatever their bitter internal disputes, that is common ground, from top to bottom, for the Republicans in 2016.
That’s why we’re certain to hear a growing call for anyone remotely left-of-center to vote for the Democratic candidate — all but certain to be Hillary Clinton at this point — against the Republican greater evil. Already, with Clinton not even halfway to the number of pledged delegates she would need to lock up the nomination, Democratic leaders are putting pressure on Bernie Sanders to start “winding things down” and stop criticizing the frontrunner.
But the problem is that voting for the “lesser evil” doesn’t stop the evil — and the story of Ted Cruz helps show why. Take Cruz’s pet project of opposing the Affordable Care Act. Cruz and much of the Republican Party are opposed to reforming the US health care system in any way at all.
But all the millions of people who gave their votes to Barack Obama and the Democratic Party — and Bernie Sanders, an independent aligned with the Democrats, for that matter — have been left with a health care law that put protecting the for-profit insurance-medical-pharmaceutical complex ahead of universal coverage and guaranteed access to health care.
The main elements of Obamacare — conceded by the administration in “negotiations” where the concessions only ever came from one side — enshrine the role of the private corporations and the free market in health care. They far outweigh the positive effects of the necessary regulations imposed on insurance companies — like a ban on using “pre-existing conditions” to reject applicants.
Meanwhile, the Republicans and the right got their way on another aspect of the Affordable Care Act: the expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor was overturned by a US Supreme Court stacked with Republican-appointed justices.
This is a good example of why socialists warn of the danger of voting for the “lesser evil” — in the case of Obamacare, we got a combination of the lesser and the greater evil.
We should recognize that the rise of Cruz and Trump represents a deep crisis for the Republican Party — and that Cruz’s own prominence and power symbolizes how reactionary policies, opposed almost entirely by the majority of people in the US, are nevertheless part of the mainstream consensus in the US political system.
But we shouldn’t allow Cruz’s ignorance and bigotry to be used as an excuse for voting for a Democratic Party that is just as zealously dedicated, if by different means, to upholding the power of Corporate America as the Republicans.