The Ted Cruz era is nigh
I have a warning for you: Ted Cruz's moment is coming.
You may find this news exciting, or terrifying. But it's coming. Cruz may be the only Republican presidential candidate who in the course of this primary hasn't made any egregious mistakes, underperformed atrociously, or revealed themselves to be not what their supporters had hoped. He's raised more money than anyone except Jeb Bush, and if Donald Trump and Ben Carson flame out the way most people expect them to — not a sure thing by any means, but a better-than-even chance — Cruz could pick up much of their support. So it's not too early to take a good hard look at Cruz's strengths and weaknesses.
Cruz was declared by most of those keeping score to be one of the winners of Tuesday night's fourth Republican debate, and it isn't surprising, since he was a champion debater in college. Not that college debate is much like the joint appearances presidential candidates make, but Cruz is the smoothest talker in the bunch, with seldom a note of hesitation or uncertainty; everything he says comes out in well-organized paragraphs, with his talking points woven in exactly where he wants them.
And when it comes to talking points, no one has them down more firmly than Cruz. When he finds a joke or quip he likes, he sticks with it. For instance, among the things he said at the debate was that "There are more words in the IRS code than there are in the Bible — and not a one of them is as good." I've heard Cruz say this at least 10 or 15 times on television; I can't imagine how many times reporters following him around on the campaign trail have heard it. You will never hear Cruz tell a joke or use a statistic just once, or five or 10 times; I imagine him toting around piles of index cards on which he has every bon mot written out for easy access and memorization.
In an era when the defining political conflict is between the Republican establishment and the party's insurgents, Cruz has made himself the foremost champion of the insurgents, the one who takes the most uncompromising position on the value of compromise, and the one who's always eager to go one step farther in the noble yet doomed fight against Barack Obama, whether it's shutting down the government or defaulting on the debt. Ask Cruz to list his accomplishments in the three years he's been a senator, and he'll tell you about all the times he "stood up" to Obama and his own party, every one a crusade that ended in failure.
Which is just fine with the Tea Party, because for them, the fight is the whole point. The measure of a politician isn't what he has actually achieved, but the degree of contempt he has for the GOP leadership. And nobody has been more contemptuous than Cruz.
Which has something to do with why he is so universally disliked in Washington by members of both parties. It isn't just that he makes life difficult for others, but also that he's kind of a jerk about it. Which leads me to a necessary confession: I find Cruz utterly repellent, on a real gut level, and most of the liberals I know feel the same way.
That's no basis on which to make rational political judgments, but it is what it is. There's a self-satisfied smarminess about Cruz that is just inescapable. His manner is always exactly the same, the varieties of human emotion distilled down to a smirk and a sneer. He's about as charming as the lawyer who sues the school district because his kid got a 99 instead of 100 on a geography quiz.
That's all subjective, of course. I'm sure the conservatives who regard Cruz as a hero of the Tea Party find him to be a perfectly pleasant fellow, in addition to sharing their values and being plenty smart (which he is, even if his grasp of policy never seems to go deeper than an inch, however well-polished that inch might be).
In any case, at a time when one candidate after another is demonstrating their weaknesses, the idea of Cruz being the Republican nominee has gone from ridiculous to plausible. Since Jeb Bush proved himself to be such a dreadful candidate, reporters have been talking about how Marco Rubio is the most likely GOP nominee, though the voters haven't quite clued in yet. Trump and Carson are still clearly ahead of everyone else, but if their campaigns do eventually implode, the race really could come down to a contest between Cruz and Rubio. If that happens, it's at least possible that Cruz could wind up winning.
That's a lot of ifs. And if Cruz were the nominee, he'd lose by a margin to rival Barry Goldwater's. But chances are that we're going to be hearing a lot more from and about him in the next few months. If you can stand it.