One of the strange parts of the modern mass media age is that the mainstream is vastly more rigid and doctrinaire than in the prior age. Everyone assumed that the burst of new media platforms would broaden the scope of what is acceptable discourse. In the 90’s we were endlessly hearing about how “new voices” and “new perspectives” would change the conversation. Instead, it was one purging after another as the Overton Window swung left and became increasingly narrow.
The most obvious example that comes to mind is the treatment of Mark Steyn by the Conservative Industrial Complex. He made some glib comments about how homosexuals were discussed in the old days and was pilloried by the hysterical homosexual activist editor of National Review. Eventually, he was driven off the site as a heretic. His crime was being funny and interesting, which is always a problem for the ideologues.
Anyway, one result of this weird narrowing of the range of acceptable opinion is that decent writers have to figure out how to take the fringe ideas and make them respectable. It’s often an impossible job as so much has been deemed unacceptable. We live in a land where you can be fired from your job because you noticed that guys named Mohamed have a habit of exploding in public.
Still, the fringe is the incubator of interesting thought these days. A theme with the Red Pill Right, for example, is that we are in a similar phase as we were in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The Left is running out of steam as its ideas become increasing absurd and dangerous. Disorder and malaise are causing the silent majority to look around for someone to restore sanity to government and put things back into their proper order.
That’s what bleeds through here in this Ross Douthat column about Ted Cruz. It’s against the law now to mention Nixon as anything other than the Hitler of the 1970’s so comparing Cruz to Tricky Dick is, as they say, problematic. Instead, Douthat has to rely on a reference to a fictional character most of his readers have to pretend to know. It’s not a great way to get into the essential character of Ted Cruz, but it opens the door a bit to historical comparison at the root of it.
I wrote the other day about Cruz being a sigma male and that’s not a terrible framing, but a more useful one is to look at Cruz as the modern incarnation of Dick Nixon. Cruz, like Nixon, is a guy you instinctively want to avoid. There was an alien aspect to Nixon that even his friends found to be off-putting. His enemies, of course, pounced on these things, hence the name “Tricky Dick.” Cruz has this same problem. His friends are not enthusiastic about him, but his enemies are very enthusiastic.
Nixon, like Cruz, was never embraced by the GOP. Eisenhower picked him as his VP, but treated him like bad odor. Ike was universally revered, but Nixon, despite his talents, was despised by the WASP elite of both parties. Democrats hated him for Alger Hiss and Republicans hated him for being low-class. The fact that Nixon was smarter and more knowledgeable about international affairs made things worse as he could not be dismissed as a rube.
That seems to be a similar issue with Cruz. He had few friends in the Bush administration, despite checking all the boxes and being super smart. Of all the candidates running, on paper he should have been the first choice of the GOP elite. Instead he was the last choice. Even now, he is not really an option, just a useful weapon against Trump. It’s quite remarkable how much the party establishment hates the guy.
Of course, like Nixon, Cruz hates the establishment just as much as they hate him. A big part of Nixon’s ambition seems to have been driven by his rejection by the elites. We’re seeing that with Ted Cruz. He got the senate seat and they treated him like a hired man so he went rogue, calling out the leadership. He even accused McConnell of lying to the caucus, which is unheard of in Washington. His entire campaign is built on his personal animus to his party’s leaders.
Historical analogies are never perfect. Cruz will never be the GOP nominee. He is just being used right now as a vehicle for the Stop Trump folks. They hope Cruz can prevent Trump from getting 1237 delegates. If that happens, the convention goes to a second ballot, at which point the party leaders step in and dump Cruz and Trump for one of their own. If they cannot pull that off then they will make a deal with Trump, maybe having one of their guys as his VP. Either way, Cruz will never be the nominee.
That’s another point of comparison with Nixon. Ted Cruz is a very smart guy. He’s also a very clever guy. Nixon was one of our smarter presidents, but he had a huge blind spot at times when it came to his enemies. He never fully appreciated just how much they hated him. That seems to be the defect of Ted Cruz. He thinks he can win and there is no way in Hell the GOP will let him win. He is failing to appreciate just how much they hate him.