Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for President today, and I cringed. It’s not that I have succumbed to the mantra of Hillary’s inevitability, or that of the Tea Party’s unelectability.
It’s simply because the guy is a geek.
Americans like winners. Patton’s famous speech to the 3rd Army in 1944 exemplifies this, and although his words sound dated, his point remains patently true: America loves a winner, hates a loser, and has little enthusiasm for leaders who are less than heroic.
Ted Cruz, I’m sorry to say this, but he’s a lot less than heroic. He’s the kid in the front of the class with the right answers, but all the wrong moves. He’s the one who shares his lunch and gets punched in the nose for his generosity. He makes the cool girls at the dance look for another girl to dance with – even the wallflowers give him the back.
Ted Cruz, whatever you think of his philosophies or his Cuban version of the Horatio Alger story, is hopelessly geeky. And not endearingly so. This guy is geeky in a “hey don’t talk to my kid” kind of way. I see him on TV and it’s “please turn the channel or mute that weirdo”.
Yes, Ted Cruz embodies a truly broad-spectrum kind of creepiness. Which means that he’s unelectable. Like Romney.
At least Romney understood the camera and never seemed to set a foot wrong. But Cruz, with his limp-wristed wave like a rodeo queen, his chinless profile and disturbing half-smile lacking all warmth, this guy seems unable to set a foot right.
If Romney, whose looks, résumé, flawless family and shiny-bright Colgate smile sprang straight from central casting as “The Ultimate Conservative Candidate”… if Romney brought all that and was still unelectable, how unelectable is the Tea Party’s darling?
Imagine for a moment how unlikely it would be for an urban Democrat from say, the Bronx, to get excited about this guy. Or even listen to him. Try sketching out a scenario in your mind where a Jewish retiree in Miami Beach is swayed by Cruz’s vaguely Randite economic arguments. Or try to imagine the emotional response of an urban 27 year old barista who lives with her tattooed boyfriend, when told by Cruz that she needs to get married and start having babies in order to “preserve America’s moral future”.
As they say in the west… “it’s gonna be a train wreck”.
Anyone but an R
No matter what they do, the Republicans are almost sure to lose in 2016. The tides are running too strongly against them – they’ve never had much of a foothold in the cities, they’ve lost the young, they lost the Hispanics with their opposition to amnesty and naturalization, and among the technically-savvy born after 1975, they have almost zero footprint.
It goes without saying that among intellectuals and those under the rainbow banner, they have about as much success as a bacon salesman offering free samples in Mecca.
And finally, the Republicans have never had traction among blacks, either north or south. Today, because of their staunch opposition to Obama and siding with the police during the recent controversial shootings, they will never win black support again. Not in fifty generations.
All they have now are the farmers, the veterans and the evangelicals. Mostly white, aging and cruising past the peak of their historical and demographic dominance – Nixon’s “silent majority”. Their decline into minority status is already well underway, like a 1960s Buick cresting a long and suddenly quite steep hill. Without brakes.
What Matters Now
The Dems will run a woman next, and will enjoy a similar victory on that first Tuesday of November 2016, just as they did in 2008 when a largely unknown black intellectual stormed onto the national stage and simply blew John McCain away.
The argument has been made that Democrats learned how to turn the nation’s history of racism and sexism on its head, by encouraging millions to prove that they are neither racists nor sexists by voting for candidates on the basis of race and sex.
That sounds catchy in an Ann Coulterish sort of way, but I don’t think it offers the key to understanding Republican losses at the presidential level. I believe that candiates with a D appended to their names will continue to dominate. Not because Democrats are so well loved, but because Republicans are so well hated.
This is an outgrowth of a long-term cultural conflict, a philosophical war contested daily on CNN and Fox, the never-ending debates reminiscent of the pre-1861 tensions leading to the breakaway of the Confederacy. It’s symptomatic of a cultural divide unbridgeable in the short term, unless one side or the other changes radically.
And I believe that it is the Republicans who must change, that the only future for them is to become largely Libertarians, if they are to have any significant role in future presidential races, other than as perennial spoilers.
Progressive or Regressive?
The America which Republicans long for, no longer exists. The story of America has always been about progress, and the left, firmly in possession of the “Progressive” label, has placed the Republicans on the opposite bank of the political river – as the Regressive party.
“God, guns and guts” might have made America great a century ago, but theirs is becoming a song of nostalgia, a sad turning backwards towards a 1950s vision of America, like Archie Bunker fondly watching reruns of Gunsmoke and muttering, “those were the days”.
During the Cold War, this was still a winning pitch. But we are decades past those bygone days. This is neither Saudi Arabia where church and state are one, nor is it the USA of 1941, when a great moral crusade unified the nation. World War Two and the Cold War are equally dusty and distant. Shockingly so for those who remember them, but history has moved on, conclusively.
Today we live in a modern, technical and highly secularized world where Fifty Shades of Grey applies to affairs of politics as much as those of the heart. Trying to lead an increasingly secular and internationally-focused nation as ours, by being sexual moralists, social traditionalists and gun rights advocates will gain Tribe R little ground in the future.
The question of whether the Republicans rally behind Ted Cruz or another tie-wearing traditionalist doesn’t really matter, because they are rallying behind ideas that have slid into a minority position on not just a societal, but a global scale. How can they expect to move forward with eyes so firmly fixed on a sepia-toned past?
Liberty or Irrelevance
What does matter at this juncture, is whether the Republicans can reconstitute themselves and draw in new passion for the timeless ideals of real liberty, rather than preaching moralism, traditionalism and the dream of trickle-down prosperity.
Truly revolutionary political, economic and social freedoms remain perenially appealing, and although this philosophical river carries with it many dangers, it also offers the greatest benefits to those who dive into it fearlessly.
It is simple, pure and compelling – liberty’s arguments (I’m referring to those of a 1776 vintage) are instantly understood around the globe, and have been the envy of the planet for centuries. Why did those huddled masses risk it all to cross the Atlantic a century ago, or the Rio Grande today? For greater freedom.
If politicians with an R after their names can make that pitch, genuinely arguing for more liberty rather than less, there might be a chance for their party to remain in meaningful contention for leadership in the marketplace of ideas.
But I believe that the chances of this happening are slim, and if Brand R is to succeed, its message must be delivered by new blood, by inspired and inspiring candidates whose passion and leadership reinforce a new liberty-centric message delivered with genuine, broad-spectrum appeal. This doesn’t require candidates of a certain gender or race, but instead it demands better ideas and vastly greater content of character on the part of their candidates.
So, the final question for me comes down to this – is there any real Republican vision on a presidential level, championed by a cringe-free candidate, all wrapped up in a shade of GOP red appealing to the average voter? If Ted Cruz embodies the most innovative and precedent-breaking candidate they’ve got to offer, that answer is now (and for the foreseeable future, barring a philosophical tsunami at their next convention), all too obvious.
Even to Archie Bunker.