Hey, did you hear the one about the disappearing “Nigerian email scammers”? They’ve “become a lot less active lately” because they’ve “all been hired to run the Obamacare website.” That’s Sen. Ted Cruz, folks, on his Reactionary Real America Victory Tour Monday night, and he’ll be here all week, maybe all decade. Tip your waiter!
Declaring that our first black president’s signature policy achievement is being run by “Nigerian email scammers” is GOP dog-whistle politics at its finest. Of course, Cruz wasn’t just going for cheap laughs at the expense of the Affordable Care Act. He knows it’s a short hop from Nigeria to Kenya for his Obama-hating Houston audience. Polls show up to two-thirds of self-described Republicans still harbor doubts that the president was born here, and even mainstream GOP leaders indulge rather than dispel those doubts. Cruz enjoys them. (Remember, his father told an audience that only “political correctness” keeps Republicans from telling Americans that Obama is Muslim.)
So, a reference to Africans? Check. A stereotype about people who either work for or use government services, like “scammer”? A reference to “email” that’s a stand-in for “something about the Internet these people probably don’t understand anyway”? Check. It took Newt Gingrich several tries to communicate to his audience that Obama suffers from “a Kenyan anti-colonial mind-set” and is “the food stamp president.” Cruz did it with one dumb joke.
The Texas demagogue also knew Obama supporters would likely see through his “joke” to its slick birtherism and borderline racism – and he didn’t care. In fact, that’s part of the fun.
At home in Houston Cruz also reprised his big applause line from his San Antonio visit on Saturday. "I've spent the past month in Washington, D.C.," Cruz told the avid crowd. "It is terrific to be back in America."
Clearly Ted Cruz is running for president of reactionary, imaginary “real America.” It’s an America that’s dying. On Tuesday the Center for American Progress released fascinating poll data about what Americans think about our multiracial future, and it’s beyond encouraging. Some of it is predictable – white seniors and white conservatives have the most worries about that future; millennials of every race are the most optimistic. Overall, blacks and Latinos are somewhat more concerned about the problem of racial and economic inequality, and more ready for action, than whites and Asians, whose incomes and educational outcomes are higher.
But even among white people there’s a bracing optimism about demographic change and willingness to take measures to reduce racial inequality. In fact, the poll found that Latinos, not whites, are the most concerned about the downside of racial change, based on reaction to a series of eight statements designed to measure concern about it – that such change may lead to a drain on government services, erode our common culture, or cause an increase in anti-white discrimination, to give three examples. And strong majorities of every group, including whites, say they’re willing to invest more in programs that will reduce racial inequality and encourage economic growth. Self-described white conservatives were the only subgroup in the survey that expressed opposition to such spending.
And that’s Ted Cruz’s base. It’s a small base, and a shrinking base, from which to run a presidential campaign. But it’s a base that exerts enormous sway in the GOP primary process. After his hero’s return to Texas, Cruz plans a trip to Iowa this weekend, where his reception will likely be just as warm.
Ted Cruz is not chastened by national GOP poll numbers. He’s looking at his own. In the latest Pew poll, Tea Party Republicans approved of him 74-8. And despite the complaints of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Republicans overall approved of Cruz 56-44. And while Tea Partyers make up 40 percent of self-described Republicans, they make up 49 percent of those who vote in every primary. So right now Cruz has the approval of three-quarters of the majority-voting bloc in the GOP base.
That’s not “America,” except in Cruz’s imagination. Ted Cruz will never be president of the real United States of America, but he’s already president of the one that exists in his mind.