This holiday season has offered far too little respite from humanity's dark side -- the hatred and fanaticism that gave us Paris, San Bernardino, Colorado Springs. How consoling, then, is Ted Cruz, who offers us the power of prayer and the balm of faith.
For Thanksgiving, Cruz called on the Almighty "to render our National government a blessing to all the people" and "promote the practice of true religion and virtue." His Christmas card quoted the Bible: "I have trusted in your loving kindness. My heart will rejoice in your salvation." Not content with mere random prayer, his website proposed to bind us in a" National Prayer Team." "Heidi and I," Cruz assured us, "are grateful for the prayers of people all over this great nation."
Lest we need guidance in placing our lips to God's ears, the website directs that our efforts be "dedicated to a focused season of prayer on behalf of the nation, presidential candidate Ted Cruz, his family and staff and the campaign" -- presumably including its pollsters and fundraisers. "Members," we are told, "will receive weekly emails containing prayer requests and short devotionals." Promptly, "Prayer Warriors For Ted Cruz" assured us on Facebook that "God is empowering # Ted Cruz in such a mighty way." Wafted by this wave of prayer, Cruz is currently brightening our holidays with a 12-city "Take Off With Ted Cruz Country Christmas Tour" through the southern primary states -- the spiritual uplift of which, serendipitously for the senator, has him pressing Donald Trump for first place in this morning's latest national poll.
So let us examine the senator's holiday rhetoric, the better to grasp what he is asking us to pray for.
"2016," he predicts, "will be a religious liberty election." But liberty for whom? Not gays or lesbians, evidently, for whom Cruz has prescribed conversion therapy to cure them of their "choice." The freedom Cruz has in mind are for people like Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who denied gay couples marriage licenses. After all, Cruz memorably explained, gays are behind the "jihad" -- such an evocative choice of words -- "being waged [against] people of faith who respect the biblical teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman." So deep is Cruz's respect that he pledges his best efforts to repeal gay marriage. "For the sake of this cause," he adds without apparent irony, "we need to bring people together."
Cruz's God, it seems, is also a gun enthusiast. Shortly after the slaughter in San Bernardino, he starred at a gun rights rally put on by a group whose self-described mission is to "glorify God in all we do." Cruz himself reacted to the massacre by proclaiming: "You don't get rid of the bad guys by getting rid of our guns" but "by using our guns." In Cruz's world, we may have to. Hours after the massacre, Cruz voted against a Senate measure to bar people on the FBI terrorist watch list from purchasing guns -- including the assault weapons used to murder 14 people. For those puzzled by the senator's seemingly circular reasoning, it is, perhaps, salient that the NRA vehemently opposed the measure.
Cruz' reaction to the Planned Parenthood killings in Colorado Springs was truly original. The shooter's cry of "no more body parts" caused some to wonder if the heated rhetoric against Planned Parenthood -- fervently stoked by Cruz himself -- had resonated in the mind of a deranged killer who, like so many other deranged killers, too easily acquired weapons. Not Cruz. Instead, he found a way to conflate two favorite themes: the murderer, he speculated, was a "transgendered left-wing activist."
With respect to the tragedy in Paris perpetrated by ISIS, Cruz swiftly cut to the heart of the problem: that President Obama is "willing to use military force [only] if it benefits radical Islamic terrorists" -- presumably including, though he chose not to mention this, those on the FBI's terrorist watch list whose right to acquire weapons of mass murder he voted to protect. But President Cruz will have the answer: "We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don't know whether sand can glow in the dark but we're going to find out." Less aglow was the former commandant of the Army War College -- "carpet bomb," he remarked, "is just one of those phrases that people with no military experience throw around." Which perhaps explains Cruz's bewildering claim that during the first Gulf War "we carpet bombed them into oblivion" when, as one would expect in the age of smart weaponry, no "carpet bombing" ever occurred.
Were your holidays lightened a bit by the Paris Climate Accord? Not Cruz's. He seized the moment to chair hearings denouncing climate change as a hoax perpetrated by liberals who "want massive government control over every aspect of our lives." Among the GOP candidates, Cruz is by far the most vehement in his rejection of climate science: remarkably, the senator purports to believe -- in utter defiance of the scientific community -- that according to satellite data "there has been no significant global warming for the past 18 years."
One suspects that Cruz knows very well that his climate denial is nowhere close to intellectually respectable. Thus his diversionary suggestion that Obama's efforts to battle climate change are just another manifestation of weakness in a president who "apparently thinks having an SUV in your driveway is more dangerous than a bunch of terrorists trying to blow up the world" -- including, one supposes, those folks on the terrorist watch list. For those attempting to follow this rhetorical bait and switch, it is worthy of note that in only one segment of Americans does a majority reject the overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made climate change is all too real: conservative Republican primary voters, including those clustered in Iowa.
A particularly dispiriting lump of holiday coal was Donald Trump's nativism -- espousing a massive deportation of Mexicans while proposing to "register" Muslims in America and bar Muslims abroad from traveling here. Artfully gliding in Trump's slipstream, Cruz proclaimed himself a "big fan of Donald Trump's," commending Trump for "focusing on the need to secure our borders" and echoing his hard line on immigration, and his "Christmas Tour" features an echo of George Wallace's segregationist pledge, promising to oppose legal status "today, tomorrow, forever." While modestly demurring to Trump's worst rhetoric with respect to Muslims, Cruz abandoned his erstwhile devotion to "religious liberty" -- opposing a Senate resolution against imposing a religious test for entry into the United States.
Perhaps, by now, you've lost the thread of Cruz's Thanksgiving call to "promote the practice of true religion and virtue." Unwittingly recorded at a private fundraiser, Cruz helped clear things up: Stating that Trump and Ben Carson will never become president, he confided that "my approach has been to bear hug both of them, and smother them with love... [until] the lion's share of their supporters come to me."
This, for once, is a window into the depths of Cruz's soul, long apparent to the political cognoscenti. As a key Republican insider of four decades says flatly, Cruz is relentlessly "Machiavellian -- the most calculating man I've seen in this business." His current calculation was on sharp display in the most recent Republican debate: eliminate Marco Rubio by tarring him with conservatives as a supporter of "amnesty and citizenship," and keep in good stead with Trump so as to inherit his nativist vote. Indeed, his Christmas stump speech includes a fresh appeal to the lowest common political denominator: "I think the new politically correct term is no longer illegal aliens; it's undocumented Democrats" -- to which he adds the implication that Rubio talks more favorably about legalization when speaking Spanish on Spanish-language television.
The simple truth about Cruz, says Eliana Johnson of the National Review, is that "the man who boasts of his ideological purity is perhaps the most obviously tactical candidate." His path to the nomination runs through Iowa and the deep South -- through evangelicals, gun fanatics, nativists, climate deniers and social conservatives -- and every position he takes is laser focused on winning them over. And it's working -- Cruz has surged past Trump in Iowa and into second place in the latest national polls, and the growing consensus within the Clinton campaign is that Cruz will be the GOP nominee. Cruz, not Trump, is becoming the man to watch.
And he bears watching. His holiday rhetoric is not that of a God-smacked extremist prone to verbal excess, but a cold-eyed cynic, a top-tier graduate of Princeton and Harvard who condescends to his target audience for his own narrow ends. For the construct which defines him is not a hard right-wing belief system, but something far more frightening: the barren psyche of a demagogue.
Classically defined, a demagogue is "a political leader who appeals to the emotions, fears, prejudice and ignorance of the lower socioeconomic classes in order to gain power." Thus, as with Cruz, for the sake of stirring excitement, demagogues "oppose deliberation" and "accuse moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness."
Bad enough. But consider the psychology of someone for whom personal advancement obliterates truth or fairness, and who sees others as chess pieces instead of human beings. A week before Christmas, Congress passed a rare bipartisan compromise by wide margins: a spending bill which prevented a potentially ruinous government shutdown -- which, had it happened, would have been politically ruinous to Republicans. Protected by Republican leadership from the consequences of such a disaster, Cruz used conservative talk radio to throw them under the bus: "This is Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan passing the Democratic agenda, funding Obamacare, funding amnesty, expanding low-skilled immigration... It's an absolute betrayal."
This is Cruz -- a loner who routinely uses his Republican colleagues as foils for personal attacks; whose private conversation is little different than his self-aggrandizing stump speeches; and who is widely proclaimed as "the most hated man in the Senate." In self-exculpation for this universal loathing, Cruz mocks Rubio for being adequately socialized -- "he's a wonderful communicator, he's a charming individual, he's very well-liked in Washington" -- and argues: "If you want someone to grab a beer with, I may not be that guy. But if you want someone to drive you home... I will get you home."
To a person, Cruz's colleagues would rather have a beer at home. How else to react to a nakedly ambitious man whose behavior and persona suggest the following characteristics: "manipulative," "cunning," and "callous," with a "grandiose sense of self," "a penchant for pathological lying," and a "marked lack of empathy for others." Which, as it happens, are among the hallmarks of a sociopath.
Small wonder, then, that of the 15 candidates followed by the Washington Post's fact checker, Cruz trailed only Trump and Carson in the percentage of statements rated as "false or mostly false." It is sobering to realize that if Ted Cruz assures us that something is a fact, there's a two-thirds chance he's lying.
"Any President," Cruz informs us, "who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander in chief of this nation." In truth, pious frauds are not fit to be president, demagogues even less so -- whether on their knees or on the stump, seeding America with ignorance and hate for their own narcissistic ends.
Let us pray.