Monday, March 23, 2015

Predicting Character: The Willful Ignorance of Ted Cruz

Today's news was mostly buzz about Senator Ted Cruz's formal announcement to run for the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 Presidency.  There are others who can easily detail the horror and hilarity of the moment better than I.

Researching Cruz's background to develop a world-view analysis is tricky because of his relative newness to the national stage.  Where Jeb Bush's history is easy to find - tied into biographies of his President father and President brother - Cruz doesn't even have an official book biography as a reference point.  The best I could find as a librarian were articles in various magazines and websites, which can provide some profile material but not as much as a full-depth review would need.

Most of what's known about Cruz comes mostly as anecdote, such as:

  • His history at Princeton University, where fellow students noted him as "abrasive" and "intense" with an already hardline conservative world-view.  One student noted that he remembers Cruz as someone who wanted to argue over anything or nothing, just for the exercise of arguing. "The only point of Ted talking to you was to convince you of the rightness of his views." The link to that Daily Beast article is pretty much one of the more detailed works on Cruz's biography I've found so far.
  • His history at Harvard Law, where he reportedly refused to study with any student who did not previously attend another Ivy League school like Princeton or Harvard (for undergraduate studies).
  • His history as an evangelical, where the world-view is permanently set to "Waiting For Rapture" and openly claiming the "world is on fire", as a religious expression of Revelation-esque apocalypse.  It's important to note that evangelicals are pretty much hard-core Believers who do not change their views on anything, religious and political.

In short: Ted Cruz has the mindset of "my way or not at all."  A New Yorker profile said it best in the article's own title: The Absolutist.  To the writer Jeffrey Toobin about Cruz's failures to win friends in his own workplace and his own party:

...Cruz has learned no such lesson. As he travels the country, he has hardened his positions, delighting the base of his party but moving farther from the positions of most Americans on most issues. He denies the existence of man-made climate change, opposes comprehensive immigration reform, rejects marriage equality, and, of course, demands the repeal of “every blessed word of Obamacare.” (Cruz gets his own health-care coverage from Goldman Sachs, where his wife is a vice-president.)...

I have a variable descriptive of Cruz: he is someone willfully ignorant.  Someone smart enough to know how things work, but has made the conscious decision to deny those things to work at all because those things do not fit his personal values or fulfill his objectives. And where the hypocrisy of his ignorance is the most noticeable - his opposition to healthcare coverage while he himself enjoys the best that money can buy, his opposition to immigration reform when he himself as the son of an immigrant profited from the government's functional role as provider to new arrivals - Cruz refuses to acknowledge it, turning the accusations back on the accusers as though debating the conflict of interest away saves his position.

I've mentioned in an earlier, quick one-paragraph review of each major potential GOP candidate that nearly every candidate automatically fulfills the Active-Negative grade.  This is due to three factors:
  • Each candidate openly and wholeheartedly accepts the radical Far Right party platform, which disdains a pro-active government in favor of a pro-business, restricted federal system that many previous A-N Presidents pursued as policy.  Cruz not only accepts this, he wants to take it further Right...
  • Each candidate openly favors massive spending cuts to social needs yet massive spending increases to military/defense, which happens to pay off their business allies and which plays into a vicious pro-war agenda.  While a good number of A-N Presidents didn't actively pursue many wars (they were pretty much equal to Active-Positives in that) at least not until the 20th Century, many of them did not shirk from the jingoistic fervor that envelopes the nation during wartime moods.  Cruz's pro-war, bomb-Iran stance is a given.
  • Each candidate seemingly lacks the laid-back Congenial or Reserved traits common to Passive-Positives or Passive-Negatives, seen from their aggressive gubernatorial and legislative records.  Cruz certainly does not have the reputation of being a Compromiser. 

In terms of legislative successes, Cruz is something of a paradox: he actually doesn't have much of a track record with bills or legislation.  He's in the middle of the pack when it comes to co-sponsored legislation, but has zero of those bills made into law.  Cruz's success has been taking that lack of a legislative record and parading it as evidence he's not one of those "insider" politicians more obsessed with resume-building than "fighting the good fight." (which ironically pads his resume for the anti-government crowds)

As for his odds, Cruz offers another paradox: he's at once the most-liked candidate among the voting base (hi, Tea Partiers!) and the least-liked candidate among his own colleagues.  Cruz's habits of sabotaging legislative efforts in both the Senate and the House (his undercutting of Speaker Boehner in particular violates a lot of unwritten rules of congressional decorum) all in the quest of making himself look good to the rabid primary base has made far too many enemies among his own, which can hurt the part of the campaigning of getting endorsements.

Another knock against Cruz is his extremism, which is pretty harsh even for the primary system that favors the Far Right rhetoric.  To quote again the 538 article:

Cruz is more conservative than every recent nominee, every other candidate who mounted a serious bid in 2012 and every plausible candidate running or potentially running in 2016. Let’s look at three ideological measures: DW-Nominate common-space scores (which are based on a candidate’s voting record in Congress), fundraising ratings (based on who donates to a candidate), and scores (based on public statements made by the candidate). As my colleague Nate Silver has previously noted, these measures aren’t perfect, but together, they give you a fairly good idea of where a candidate stands.

538 even brought a chart:

There's Cruz at the bottom: he's scaling more conservative than the legendary Barry Goldwater, and to the right of failed hard-line candidates like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann.

This, however, gets to be the scary point: if the 2016 primaries are going to be anything like the 2012 Republican primaries, Cruz has a genuine shot to win.  This is because the 2012 campaign was pretty much a "Mitt vs. Not-Mitt" primary: the Establishment, Deep Pocket candidate Mitt Romney against whomever appealed to the extremist base that did not trust Romney's too-calculated posturing.  Every week a different candidate - Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Newt, Santorum - would be the preferred flavor because those candidates spoke to the twisted spirit and emotions of the Far Right.  Romney won out of sheer endurance because none of those Far Right candidates had the campaign savvy or charm to last.

In 2016, the Establishment candidate Jeb Bush is pretty much running a Jeb vs. Not-Jeb campaign (unofficially).  If a real charmer - Huckabee, as I noted then and now, could have seriously won the 2012 primaries against Mitt - gets in this race, Jeb is going to be toast even with the deep-pocket support much the same way Mitt was toast in 2008.

In fact, Huckabee right now is the only real reason not to fear Cruz.  This year, Huckabee is in the mix, and when he officially announces - which ought to be soon now that jumping into the race is a thing to do - he's going to be stealing and owning the religious conservative base that Cruz relies on for support.

But we dare not count Cruz out.  He has a base of support already.  The polling on him now among Republicans may be weak compared to Bush and Huckabee, but that is due more to those two being established players on the stage.  Cruz is one of those types of fear-baiting demagogues that does well in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina (not so much in New Hampshire, where they actually consider the small details like actual competency).

The other thing Cruz is going to do is make the primaries play to him.  By going out there as the hardest of hardliners, he will force the debates on immigration and religion and Obamacare to play to his opinions.  He's noted as a decent debater, who will likely stay strong at the podium instead of flaming out like Rick Perry did.

What makes Cruz dangerous as a Presidential candidate is not his debate savvy, however.  What makes him dangerous is his closed world-view that makes him more Active-Negative in the worst way, a world-view that makes him genuinely ignorant of facts.

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