Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ted's Gotham Gambit

Ted Cruz hates New York.  Hates it in all its detestable, soda-suppressing, libertine, multicultural, same-sex something, money-grubbing, Progressiveness.

When he’s not hating New York, he takes a moment to feel sympathy for whatever number of us (he graciously offers that it might be “millions”) who feel the heavy hand of liberal oppression on our throats. He delivers these comments with that marvelous Cruz smirk—the happy admixture of ego and malice that makes him so beloved by his adherents. 

Ted Cruz is an absolute genius. Not a nice guy: a divider, a score-settler, a man who can hardly wait to take charge and impose his special brand of “limited government”.  But, very clearly a man who knows the rhythms of his people, just as his friend-of-convenience turned foil, Donald Trump, knows the rhythms of his. 

My family and I are targets of Senator Cruz’s particular ire.  I live here, and while our lives are far more conventional and sedate than that estimable man’s most fecund fantasies, I don’t think he would appreciate our politics.

Which, of course, is exactly the point.  Ted Cruz doesn’t want to be my pal. He doesn’t much care whether he gets my support—if he actually wins New York’s electoral votes this November, the world will truly be turned upside down.   Given that, my utterly conventional nuclear family is anathema to him—I’m not rich enough for him to whisper sweet little nothings in my ear, and I’m completely worthless as a voter—even if I was a conservative.

So Ted doesn’t need me and my family and friends, but he can use us.  Like every New Yorker—especially the hardy city types, the ones who take subways and busses with an endless variety of people speaking a Babel of languages, we have a palpable value to Ted Cruz—as objects of derision.  That’s a tune that Ted will sing to all the non-New Yorkers who harbor doubts about our morals, our politics, and our very way of life.

Why does he do this?  Let’s start with the obvious:  We New Yorkers are aliens to the caucus-goers in Iowa, the flinty Manchester-Union devotees in New Hampshire, and especially the socially conservative primary voters in the Southern and Southwest Super Tuesday states.  When Ted talks about us, he more than winks at his base—he calls us out, and they love it.  His open dislike of us makes him more appealing to them.

There is also a rather deft silent handshake.  He is decidedly not going after all New Yorkers. Ted’s been working the money rope line, and he’s been collecting—even from those Eastern city-slickers and sinners.  Cash has no feelings to hurt—and cash is invested for a return. And, that astringent moral Calvinism that he plans for the country?  Not to worry—those are for the unwashed poor, working and middle classes, not to be actively enforced against the elites.  How is he doing? Not at all badly. Personally, if I were a wealthy New Yorker looking to invest in a Republican candidate for a good return, I’d pick someone other than Cruz, if for no other reason than it might be awkward socially if it came to light.  But, there are plenty of Supreme Court-sanctioned ways to put a marker down privately. And, once Ted is the nominee, I could show my party loyalty and my dedication to free market principles while also, if necessary, claiming some squeamishness about the object of my bounty.  A nice tax cut and some regulatory relief would salve any psychic disruption I might have.

Most importantly, Ted playing a high-level game of jujitsu with Trump.  Donald has done something no national politician has done successfully for close to half a century—he’s not just campaigning for people’s votes, he’s publicly cut out of the herd the votes he doesn’t want, specifically Muslims and Latinos.  It would be foolish to say that those exclusionary pronouncements are the only reason for his rise—Trump is a roll-up-your-sleeves-straight-shooter-I-can-fix-it candidate in an era of deep dysfunction in government, and that has a powerful appeal.  But Trump has found a way to mainstream what had previously been limited to social media and hard-right talkies—he’s discovered the same vibe that Garry Wills so brilliantly described in Nixon Agonistes when observing a George Wallace rally—the pulse of a crowd stirred viscerally by anger at specific people.  Cruz can’t match Donald for pure vitality—but his assault on my home town does two things extremely well.  First, it reminds people that Trump himself is no true conservative, but a thrice-married sybarite who probably shares his fellow New Yorker’s values: “socially liberal, pro-gay marriage, pro-abortion, focused on money and the media."   Second, Cruz is signaling to his base that he’s willing to spread the dislike beyond just some disfavored ethnic groups—Cruz will be the scourge of his (and theirs) ideological and political enemies, regardless of their backgrounds.

Smart, mainstream Republicans have noticed this.  They were slow to react to Trump—it took them too long to realize that Donald’s dissing of maybe 10% of the electorate was quite possibly enhancing his appeal to some of the rest of the 90%.  Donald wants to show a few less-well-dressed customers the door, ostensibly to make the rest of the shopping experience more pleasant.  And they can always say Trump isn't a"real" Republican. But Cruz’s rise has them completely flummoxed, because it appears he’s willing to cull a far greater number.  Cruz wants to use fire to purify the body politic. 

That frightens Establishment Republicans. They want to win badly, but worry about the Faustian Bargain.  The conservative columnist Michael Gerson just wrote, “For Republicans, the only good outcome of Trump vs. Cruz is for both to lose. The future of the party as the carrier of a humane, inclusive conservatism now depends on some viable choice beyond them.”

I’d be interested to hear the voice of “humane, inclusive conservatism” but for now, I have a more pressing concern.  Teddy doesn’t like us.  And he could be President.  That’s more than enough to keep me up at night in The City That Never Sleeps.

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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