Friday, April 1, 2016


Let’s get it out there.  Ted Cruz has a very good chance of being our next President. 

Yes, those shrieks you are hearing are reminiscent of the sounds of saber-toothed tigers caught in the La Brea Tar Pits.

How Cruz got there is the equivalent of a four-wall bank-shot in snooker.  He is easily the least likeable major-party candidate since Richard Nixon, and that may understate his negative appeal. 

But, he’s run an utterly brilliant campaign, superbly disciplined, always on message.  The Cruz people admit they followed Obama’s 2008 playbook—great fieldwork, looking at the whole board, being opportunistic in picking up stray delegates where they were available.  And they have done Obama one better, being utterly ruthless at the state and local level—targeted hardball, including ballot challenges, grabbing control of rules committee, and booby-trapping the delegations. 

Yet, for all that, he’s still the same unpleasant man of whom Lindsay Graham recently said, "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”  As funny as that line is (sort of a pity Graham’s campaign flat-lined before he even announced) it’s shot full of irony, because Graham has endorsed Cruz as a final bulwark against Donald Trump.

That linkage—Cruz as the last man standing against Godzilla, is part of what is motivating Establishment figures to hold their noses and even don hazmat suits to offer their swords to the Man Who Would Be King.  But Republicans can also turn to Cruz because his positions accurately reflect much of what is mainstream in the GOP.  When you look carefully at the domestic policy proposals of those who ran (with the exception of Rand Paul) there is very little difference in substance outside of a bit of nuance and the manner of delivery.  Republican orthodoxy is orthodoxy for a reason—you take the pledge, as it were, and publically accept the Commandments.

So, why not Ted Cruz?  He’s clearly a conservative in a conservative party, Republicans, even moderate ones, line up behind the choice at the Convention, and Ted’s going to have the biggest non-Trump block of delegates?  

What I think is giving pause to many Republicans, what has made them reluctant to grasp Ted’s robe, is an internal conflict about what it means to run a democracy. 

Our system is not designed to run smoothly. Decision-making is not imposed, rather, the Constitution is a mechanism built for compromise, for checks and balances between the branches of government, between the Federal Government and the States, and between any government and irreducible individual liberties.

The genius of this is that it trades the efficiency of an autocracy for the “higher use” that can be attained through the self-interested motivations of a capitalist’s respect for property rights coupled with a democratic attachment to diverse ideas, cultures, religions, and political philosophies.  Our accomplishments, both as a country, and as individuals, reflect the dynamic and stimulating tension that freedom fosters. 

But it is messy. Capitalism is messy—it involves creative destruction, winners and losers, and some bad actors.  Democracy is messy—it encompasses awkward compromises, unresolved conflicts, and more winners and losers. 

Messy scares people, especially in times of stress.  They may be aware of Ben Franklin’s words about how when you trade liberty for security you end up with neither, but to their minds, that was 18th Century thinking when global, economic, and cultural threats seemed less existential. ,

Republicans think about messiness and authority differently than Democrats.  Democrats are fine with social messiness, but more autocratic (that’s what redistributionist policies are, autocratic) when it comes to  what they see as economic justice.  Republicans tend to value clear-cut rules, stability, safety, and order.  When government expresses its power, it should do so to maintain that order—and they are willing to accept and even encourage some autocracy, particularly as it relates to law-and order and social issues, to get that.

What is critical to making this work between the parties, and the respective autocratic urges, is a combination of good faith, adherence to written (and unwritten) rules, and the enlightened self-interest that tells you that the shoe can be on the other foot.  It is, interestingly enough, a very democratic and capitalist response—discussion, bargaining, agreeing on price, making the deal.  240 years of uneasy consensus and incredible growth tell us it does work.

Now, seems to be different.  Trump’s candidacy is the obvious indicator—a very large group of the electorate feels that the system has failed them, so they reject the process.  Trump is an autocrat—he offers blunt-force trauma to break through the status quo.  The institutional GOP rejects Trump because he’s too noisy and divisive—and because he’s not one of them. 

Cruz represents a different challenge.  Ideologically, he is a paragon of Republican orthodoxy. But temperamentally, he’s an exemplar of a different type of conservative that has emerged in the last few years, a no-compromise, deeply authoritarian and often theocratic one.

This type of Republican is on full display in Sam Brownback’s Kansas, where the legislature is exploring ways to impeach state Supreme Court Justices that they don’t politically agree with.  In Indiana, with new laws essentially banning most abortions.  In North Carolina, obsessing about LGBT people so much they went into special session to legalize discrimination against them.  Mississippi, which goes further than North Carolina, in that it also expands the sinners beyond gays to any out of wedlock sex (hopefully, Alabama Republican Governor Robert Bentley won’t feel the need to cross the border too soon).  Kentucky, which is working on Bible Study classes in public schools, a new anti-abortion initiative, and my personal favorite, repeal of all state mining safety regulations.

Maybe that can work in a conservative state.  In Kansas, in particular, Brownback has simply overwhelmed the opposition with brute force.  But it is high risk, leaving a great deal of wreckage behind, including unhappy business interests, and aggrieved citizens with long memories.

Ted Cruz nationalizes that confrontational approach. He’s not merely a conservative, he’s an authoritarian change agent unbound by custom, without respect for checks and balances, without respect for any part of the Constitution he doesn’t agree with, and most seriously, without respect for American citizens he sees as threats or just plain political opponents.   

And, that worries the GOP.  Yes, they want a more conservative government.  But they also want to build a long-term governing coalition, and Cruz endangers that.  Parties are defined by their leaders.  The Democrats have been defined by Mr. Obama.  The Republicans will be defined by their nominee.   Ted Cruz, the GOP knows, engenders, and earns, visceral distaste.  

And yet, it is going to happen. Cruz is going to take Wisconsin, and Trump will not get enough delegates to win the nomination outright.  People are getting in line…not with relish, but with resignation. 

To paraphrase the old Goldwater slogan:

In their hearts, they know he’s wrong.

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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