Ted Cruz said he would go to Washington to change Washington. Well, he’s done it. He’s united Democrats and more than a few Senate Republicans in hatred of Texas’ very junior senator and your new 2016 GOP frontrunner. But as much as Cruz sincerely drives me nuts, he might be the best thing that has happened to Democrats since the last big government shutdown.
Cruz does not embody the prototypical political neediness. His pathos doesn’t pander. He is no clown, and neither does he seem to care one whit about political reality, whether it’s taking on a long shot senate race against a multimillionaire lieutenant governor or trying to force the president to defund his signature legislative achievement. He should be refreshing, but all I want to do when he opens his mouth is put my fist in it.
There are a million reasons Cruz makes me want to punch him in his smug face, all of them good. (There is one bad one: It’s a felony. Don’t do it.)
A constitutional law expert who has argued before the Supreme Court, Cruz routinely misstates constitutional law, such as his contention that state legislatures and not judges should adjudicate rights.
A college debate champion, his practiced rhetorical delivery strikes many, myself included, as phony, smarmy, and disingenuous. His raised eyebrows express a feigned humility that comes across like nails on the chalkboard.
A graduate both of Princeton and of Harvard Law, he pretends a fake anti-intellectualism, such as when he claimed endangered lizards “make darn fine boots.”
He takes an imp’s glee in telling outrageous lies and exploits political opportunity even at the expense of the country he professes to want to save. All of these are great reasons, but they don’t explain why Cruz is the Republican whom Democrats love to hate.
It’s actually quite simple: Cruz is the kid in class who always thinks he knows the answer even when he doesn’t. He disrespects people whom he doesn’t think are as smart as he is, which is everyone who disagrees with him. He’s an elitist, intellectual snob.
Cruz has drawn comparisons to Joe McCarthy for questioning the patriotism of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State of John Kerry, the better historical antecedent is former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the king of patronizing condescension.
Cruz’s fight in the Judiciary Committee last March with Diane Feinstein was pure Gingrich. When he “mansplained” the District of Columbia vs. Heller decision to her, she snapped, “I am not a 6th grader.” While true, her response lacked composure. It was a visceral, intellectualized animal response. Not since Gingrich in his heyday as a Republican been able to get under our skin like this.
Republican voters consider this one of Cruz’s chief virtues and further evidence that he has succeeded in not going to Washington to make friends but to shake things up—another parallel to the former Speaker. Cruz is scratching an itch so satisfying to Republicans that they forget how Gingrich’s story ended—getting blamed for shutting down the federal government and resigning after leading his party to a historically rare electoral loss.
With his forehead crinkled in feigned innocence, Cruz says it’ll be different this time. But this isn’t a sequel, it’s a remake. We know how it ends, which is precisely why Democrats need to sit back, pour themselves some liquid therapy on ice, and enjoy the show.
Ted Cruz is the best thing that has happened to Obama since Michelle agreed to go out with him. Just as Bill Clinton thrived with Gingrich as his foil, the famously introspective and inscrutable Obama finally has a Moriarty to give him focus, if not purpose. The cartoonish obstruction offered by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell never rose to this level. They never moved us to hate, never incited us to demand their heads on spikes.
Not so with Cruz. Democrats could not have asked for a better Republican villain. He unites Democrats, divides Republicans, and swings independent voters our way. The better Cruz does, the worse Republicans do. The sound of his voice might make me want to tear the skin from my face, but right now he’s the best spokesman the Democrats have. Let the man speak.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @JasStanford.