In an election season dominated by one of the most polarizing figures in the history of American politics, it says something when Texas Senator Ted Cruz is the most hated man on the ballot. The outspoken, fiercely conservative senator has made a lifetime’s worth of enemies in Washington, and they aren’t shy about letting the public know how they feel. Even the ones who have managed to pull themselves to a podium to endorse him look like they would rather be anywhere else, supporting anyone else. Alas, the rise of Donald Trump has made for some strange bedfellows.
But it’s odd. Even the people who want to keep Trump as far away from the Republican nomination as possible concede that he’s a nice guy. No one has come forward to say, “You think he’s a bigot on stage? You should hang out with him in real life.” Quite the opposite, in fact. As harshly as his enemies have condemned his rhetoric, none of them have maligned him as a human being.
Not so with Cruz. And you can start with the way Trump talks about him. The billionaire has accrued a well-deserved reputation for hitting his opponents hard, mercilessly, and effectively. But look at the narratives he built around his political enemies. Carly Fiorina – a failure at her job. Jeb Bush – a “low-energy” RINO who supports amnesty. “Little Marco.” These attacks were ruthless, but they spoke to his opponents’ policies, backgrounds, experience, and CVs.
“Lyin’ Ted”…well, that’s a little different. That’s an attack on the man’s character. And while we can argue over whether or not Cruz “stole” this primary state or that one, Trump has been assailing him in very personal terms since Iowa. A “nasty guy,” he called him. The only other politician Trump talks about in these terms is Hillary Clinton.
This week, former Speaker of the House John Boehner held court at Stanford University, where he was asked about the Texas senator.
“Lucifer in the flesh,” Boehner said. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”
Now, it’s easy enough to wave away this kind of talk. Boehner is more or less the embodiment of the “Washington cartel” that Cruz has been railing against for years. There’s enough professional animosity there for Cruz supporters to dismiss his critics as ideological enemies who resent him for his principled conservatism.
But does that really explain all of it? Cruz isn’t the first ideological puritan to go to Washington. For all the attempts to make Marco Rubio out to be just another establishment stiff, he’s got a Senate voting record almost as conservative as Cruz’s. You don’t see everyone talking about what a terrible guy Rubio is. You don’t see people talking this way about Jeff Sessions or Ben Sasse. You have to wonder if Cruz’s enemies aren’t trying to tell us something pertinent about his character.
Well, he’s threatening to throw all of these bums out of their cushy gigs, of course they hate him!
Maybe. Maybe that’s all there is to it.
But it does get you thinking…