The latest conventional wisdom about the Republican race for president is that Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is the candidate most likely to knock Donald Trump off his pedestal and win the Republican nomnation,
I can live with that.
No, it's not that I believe Cruz holds views less offensive (and out and out revolting) than Trump. It is just that Cruz is NOT Donald Trump and does not pose the threat to American democracy that Trump does.
The one major difference between the two makes all the difference in the world. Cruz is a career politician, a United States senator, a former clerk to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who is following the traditional route to a presidential nomination although, like President Obama, he is taking his shot very early in his career. Cruz is a Republican candidate running as a Republican, just like the rest of the GOP field.
But Trump represents something entirely new and terrifying. He is running solely as a celebrity. Trump, (Mister Trump as he insists on being called), who has never held public office or served in the military, is running just as Trump. A former Democrat, he conveniently assumed a Republican identity because that is where there is an opening. He makes clear that if the Republicans do not "treat him fairly" (by which he means handing him the nomination) he might run anyway as head of the Trump party.
He stands for nothing except Trump. He seems to have been taken by surprise at how well his Latino immigrant bashing worked for him at the start of his campaign and then expediently adopted the anti-Muslim rhetoric that is the hallmark of his campaign. It does not matter whether he believes anything he says--just like it didn't matter whether he really believed President Obama was born in Kenya--because his only goal is promoting the Trump brand, now right into the presidency.
This is what makes Trump infinitely more dangerous than Cruz. Cruz is trying to advance through the political system, the very one he denigrates. Trump's plan is to win not through any grassroots or ground operation but by using his celebrity and incessant appearances on television (free media) to sweep him into office. His plan is to win as a heretofore hidden segment of the public comes out, of the woodwork probably for the first time, to vote for the candidate who acts like he hates "the system" (and various minorities) as much as they do. He will not ask for their votes for the Republican candidate for president but as TRUMP, the heroic figure who can fix every problem through either sheer force of will or, as with foreign adversaries, just sheer force. His technique to build his popularity (which would also likely sustain a Trump presidency) is by scapegoating minorities which, to use his favorite adverb, works "beautifully."
That is why Trump is so often likened by those who are appalled by the Trump phenomenon (including Republicans like Gov. John Kasich of Ohio) to fascists or worse. He is running as a strongman not a politician and, if he is nominated or, heaven forbid elected, our political system could change forever in terrible ways, terrible ways that evoke the most horrific parts of the twentieth century, in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere.
That is not the case with Cruz. He is just another rightwing politician with reactionary and even ugly views. He will either win or lose but either way his candidacy does not pose a mortal threat to the democratic system. For better or worse, he is just another politician. Compared to Trump, he is infinitely better.