(Reuters/Yuri Gripas/AP/Jason DeCrow/Photo montage by Salon)

"Ted Cruz gives me the willies": Camille Paglia analyzes the GOP field -- and takes on Hillary Clinton

She dismisses Rubio, Jeb and Rand in part three of our interview, but warns Dems not to overlook Scott Walker


David Daley
July 31, 2015 1:28AM (UTC)

In the first two parts of Salon's conversation with Camille Paglia, we covered Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton, the return of the '90s sensibility, and then the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

Today Paglia trains her devastating insight and wit on the rest of the GOP field -- look out Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. She also has some surprising thoughts on why Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee -- and why it would be unwise for Democrats to overlook the appeal of Scott Walker.

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Catch up with the first two parts of our interview here and here.

The Tea Party has been very successful in pushing the Republicans to the right. Now you’re finally seeing progressives understand they have to be active and aggressive if they want to exert power within the Democrats. The Sanders/Warren wing and #blacklivesmatter have changed the conversation. But Hillary remains the very likely nominee and she doesn’t even feel like she needs to answer questions on TPP and Keystone, for example. The Sanders enthusiasm makes for good copy, but progressives are going to lose those fights. Where are the 16 Democratic candidates who might make for a more robust and lasting debate?

First of all, when we look at the abundance of candidates who have put themselves forward on the GOP side, compared to the complete paralysis of the Democratic party by the Clinton machine, I think you have to be worried about the future of the Democratic party. Young feminists are asking why there hasn't been a woman president and automatically blaming it on male sexism.  But there are plenty of women Democratic politicians who are too scared to put themselves forward as candidates because of the Clinton machine. There's something seriously wrong here with Democratic thinking. You either believe in the country, you believe in your party, or you don’t!

Given the problems facing the nation, this passive waiting for your turn is simply unacceptable.  The Democrats have plenty of solid, capable women politicians who are just too timid to challenge the party establishment.  Well, excuse me, that proves they don’t deserve to be president!  You sure won't be able to deal with ISIS if you can't deal with Debbie Wasserman Schultz!  The paucity of declared Democratic presidential candidates is a major embarrassment to the party.  Look at that herd of eager-beaver competitive guys on the Republican side--overflowing with energy and ambition. There’s even a woman, Carly Fiorina, who has no political experience and therefore no chance of winning, but she is bravely putting herself forward and speaking out.  And she has impressively informed herself about international politics, which is a No. 1 requirement for any woman presidential candidate. I said in a recent op-ed for Time that women must take responsibility for mastering more than the usual social welfare issues. Women politicians have to develop themselves beyond the caretaking side of the spectrum. All this talk about the lack of women engineers and how that’s somehow evidence of sexism--oh, really?  It's mostly a self-selecting process, as proved by the way that the overwhelming majority of women politicians around the world actually behave. What do they instantly gravitate towards?  Social welfare, caretaking, the environment.  They ignore military history and strategic geopolitics.

I have constantly said that Senator Dianne Feinstein should have been the leading woman presidential candidate for the Democratic party long ago.  Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is a very deft and clever behind-the-scenes legislator and dealmaker, a skill she acquired from her political family--her father and brother were mayors of Baltimore. Both of these women, to me, are far better politicians than Hillary Clinton. Hillary has accomplished nothing substantial in her life. She’s been pushed along, coasting on her husband’s coattails, and every job she’s been given fizzled out into time-serving or overt disaster.  Hillary constantly strikes attitudes and claims she’s "passionate" about this or that, but there's never any sustained follow-through.  She's just a classic, corporate exec or bureaucrat type who would prefer to be at her desk behind closed doors, imposing her power schemes on the proletariat.  She has no discernible political skills of any kind, which is why she needs a big, shifting army of consultants, advisors, and toadies to whisper in her ear and write her policy statements.  There's this ridiculous new theme in the media about people needing to learn who the “real” Hillary Clinton is.  What? Everything they're saying about what a wonderful person Hillary is in private tells us that she's not competent or credible as a public figure! A politician, particularly a president, must have a distinct skill or expertise in communicating with the masses.  It's the absolutely basic requirement for any career in politics.

If you don’t have an effective public persona, if you’re not a good speaker, if you don't like to press the flesh, if you’re not nimble enough to deal with anything that comes along, then you are not a natural politician!  And you sure aren't going to learn it in your late 60s!  Get off the stage, and let someone else truly electable on! All this silly talk about how wonderful Hillary is in private.  Oh, sure, she's nice to the important people and the people she wants or needs something from!  Then she's Pollyanna herself!  There are just too many reports stretching all the way back to Arkansas about Hillary's nasty outbursts toward underlings when things aren't going well.  The main point is that the ability to communicate with millions of people is a special talent, and Hillary pretty obviously lacks it.

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That said, is there a single candidate on the Republican side you could imagine as an actual president?

I thought that Mitt Romney was an excellent choice by the GOP four years ago, even though he was opposed by the Tea Party.  He was an old-style Rockefeller Republican, a type that doesn’t exist anymore. Nelson Rockefeller was governor of New York when I was in college in the 1960s, and he was flooding the state university system with tons of money in an attempt to make it equivalent to the University of California. I was very grateful for what he did, because I had a superb education at Binghamton, with wonderful new facilities and funding of programs like the film society.  Rockefeller collected abstract art.  It's hard to imagine a Republican politician today--or actually a Democrat either--as an art collector. He was such a sophisticated, genial man, but today he would be considered a RINO by many Republicans--Republican In Name Only.  It's unfortunate, because there was value in that old WASP patrician style--where people were born to wealth and privilege and yet they devoted their lives to public service.

At any rate, looking at this crop of GOP candidates, I don’t see anyone right now who seems authentically presidential or who has the necessary gravitas.

Let’s walk through some of them. The young senators – Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Rubio is widely praised for his intelligence, but he comes across as unsettlingly glib to me. He's sharp on foreign affairs--that's a strong suit for him.  But he seems oddly weightless, like a peppy young boy. I don’t see any depth yet.  Ted Cruz--oh, lord!  Cruz gives me the willies. The guy is a fanatic!  He's very smart, clever and strategic, and he has a fine education from Princeton, so people have to watch out for him. But I think he is self-absorbed and narcissistic to a maniacal degree.  I will never forgive him for his insulting arrogance to Dianne Feinstein when the Judiciary Committee was debating gun control two years ago. There's a two-minute clip on YouTube which I urge people to look at it.  Cruz is smirkily condescending and ultimately juvenile.  He peppers Feinstein with a long list of rat-a-tat questions, as if he's playing Perry Mason grilling a witness on the stand.  He was trying to embarrass her but only embarrassed himself.  A president must be a statesman, not a smart-alecky horse's ass.

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Rand Paul hasn’t caught fire and his foreign policy stances can be wildly inconsistent, but he is interested in a host of issues – civil liberties, the drug war, drones, privacy, the growth of the surveillance state – that I certainly wish the left would raise, yet are not exactly in Sanders’ wheelhouse.

Exactly! Code Pink's Medea Benjamin wrote a protest book called Drone Warfare that is a very important statement.  I've been furious about the Democratic party's lack of pressure on the Obama administration about the obscene overuse of drones.  As a libertarian, I find myself agreeing with Rand Paul on so many different social and political issues. Unfortunately, however, Paul lacks gravitas as a physical presence. The U.S. presidency has a highly ceremonial aspect.  The president isn't merely a prime minister, a political leader--he's the symbolic embodiment of the nation. Therefore, physical attributes and vocal style are very important.  Despite the cartoons that caricature and ridicule him as a befuddled boy with big ears, Obama has always known how to handle himself as a candidate and then president. He projects a sober, unflappable confidence and presents himself with elegance and grace--all of which produced his success early on, when Hillary was the frontrunner in 2008.  Many Americans were so sick of Bush, with that lumbering cowboy stance of his.  And remember that terrible moment at a European summit when Bush came up behind the seated Angela Merkel and grabbed her by the shoulders?  She jumped out of her skin.  What an embarrassment to the nation!  I was so happy when Obama took office--finally a president who projected class and dignity.  I'm talking only about persona here, not policies--because while I voted for Obama in 2008, I would not do it again in 2012, when I voted for Jill Stein of the Green Party.

In the primary debates, Cruz will benefit from having a tall and commanding physique, as Bill De Blasio did in the New York mayoral debates.  On the whole, Republicans don't seem to realize that persona and self-presentation are crucial in a media age.  For example, Rand Paul has obviously had his eye on the presidency for years, so it's astonishing that he apparently has never given any thought to how he should dress or cut his hair or even stand in front of cameras.  It's as if his idea of style was flash-frozen in the Everly Brothers era. The tall candidate often has a big advantage in any campaign. It wasn’t the case with Jimmy Carter, but he was an exception.  People do want a sense of implicit authority in the president.  This is certainly what has also held women back from reaching the White House--they don’t present or conceive of themselves in an authoritative way. Dianne Feinstein is the only woman politician in America who has true gravitas. I'm not talking about her policies, about which there is huge division in California.  What I'm saying is that candidates for president must have a perhaps unteachable quality of inward power and steadiness--and Feinstein has it.  Rand Paul neglected this issue--which led to his surprisingly thin skin with the media. You would think after so many years in the public eye, he would be better about handling the press.  But right out of the gate, he was arguing and sniping with a woman TV interviewer.  It came across as petty and tacky--utterly unpresidential.

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In the same way, Sarah Palin, who I had great hopes for as a dynamic new type of frontier-woman politician, was way too reactive with the media. She was fighting with bottom-feeders half the time, and they dragged her down to their level.  A major politician can't do that! You have to learn how to take it but give it back in ways that don't bounce back at you.  You have to pick the right fights.  It's a game that every politician must learn--including the ability to satirize the media, which voters love. Being able to handle the media is an essential aspect to running for president, and here is where Hillary has failed abysmally in this campaign. You can’t simply ignore the media or spew memorized talking points at them.  Carly Fiorina is proving herself surprisingly superior to Hillary in knowing how to spar with the media.

Let me pull you back to the front-runners. Scott Walker.

I think that liberals are dangerously complacent about Scott Walker. They've tried to portray him as a madman, an uneducated rube, a tool of the Koch brothers.  Right now, Walker seems to be the true GOP frontrunner, but I also feel he lacks gravitas.  He's not ready for his close-up.  What is this oddity about so many of the GOP candidates--their excessive boyishness, as if their maturation stalled?  But Walker is a very talented and combative politician, with far more substance than liberals are allowing for.

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The union issue is huge--because as governor of Wisconsin, Walker went to war with unions and won.  Liberals are caught in the past right now in their rosy view of unions, which were heroically established during the progressive era that reformed the abuses of the industrial revolution.  But the union battle in Wisconsin had nothing to do with exploited working-class miners or factory workers.  In his push to balance the state budget, Walker took action against the middle-class public sector unions, whose negotiations with municipal and state governments outside the arena of private competition have become an enormous drain on local budgets as the economy has worsened. There has been a history of rampant corruption in the public sector unions, coming from their cozy quid pro quo relationships with politicians.  Liberals need to wake up about this!  All they have to do is read the obituaries of the smaller newspapers in metropolitan New York to see how the early retirement and lavish pensions of the public sector unions have grotesquely drained taxpayer dollars.  Obituary after obituary--so-and-so, aged 75, worked for fifteen or twenty years as a policeman or city sanitation worker, retired in his late 40s, and spent the rest of his life on the taxpayer's dime, pursuing his hobbies of fishing, boating, and golfing.  Great work if you can get it!

And then the teachers’ unions! What a colossal tactical error American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten (a longtime Clinton friend and donor) made several weeks ago in unilaterally declaring her union's endorsement of Hillary Clinton right in the middle of the Bernie Sanders surge. Probably for the first time ever, American liberals woke up to the corrupt practices that have become way too common in the political maneuverings of the big unions. The point here is that Scott Walker, in his defeat of the public sector unions, drew the roadmap for struggling municipal and state governments everywhere to balance their budgets, as he did in Wisconsin.  Because who ends up suffering the most? It's the kids.  All that money outrageously pouring into inflated pension plans has been gutting public education and community arts programs.

Exactly how have the teachers unions improved the quality of education in our big cities?  Look at the dilapidated public schools in Philadelphia or in many other cities run by Democrats.  The rigid and antiquated seniority system imposed by the teachers unions has been a disaster--"last hired, first fired."  So many young and vital teachers have been terminated during budget cuts--the entire future of the profession.  The unions value seniority over quality, and it's inner-city children who have paid the price.

In my opinion, Scott Walker still lacks seasoning, presidential temper, and a working knowledge of international affairs.  But if Democrats try to use the union issue to take him down, they're simply empowering him--and we're going to end up with President Walker.

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The name Jeb Bush has not come up at all from you…

[loud laughter] What a joke! I didn't remember him at all! This shows what a nothing he is! The major media have been constantly saying that Jeb is the GOP front-runner, which is utter nonsense. It’s the same thing with Hillary--the polls have just been showing name recognition, nothing more. I've been looking at the comments on political news articles since last year, and Jeb Bush seems to have absolutely no support whatever--like zero!  To this day, I've never seen an online commenter enthusiastically supporting him.  It's really strange!  All these rich people throw big money at him, but I don't know who his voters could possibly be.

If Jeb had run for president after his successful run as governor of Florida, he would have had a better chance.  But he lost his chops during his long hiatus, and he's coming across as fuzzy and bumbling.  Conservative talk radio is totally against him--he's dismissed as the ultimate RINO.  On the other hand, let's see what happens in the primary debates.  It could well be that some of the younger GOP candidates will seem too shallow or shrill, and Jeb will gain because of his amiable personality and fund of government knowledge and experience.  Voters might well go for him in the end as the safe choice.

And there you are with a Bush versus a Clinton, and another of the returns to the 1990s we discussed earlier.

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Oh, I don’t see Hillary as even getting as far as the debates!  If things continue to trend downward for her, in terms of her favorability and the increasing scandals, then the Democratic establishment will have to take action to avoid a sure GOP win.  Hillary has way too much baggage for a general election--that should have been obvious from the start.  If Vice-President Biden jumps in, that would change everything.  I don’t think Hillary wants to be defeated, so what I’ve been predicting all along is that there will be a "health crisis," and she will withdraw.  Right now, her campaign is trying to change the headlines by releasing some new policy statement every day, but it's not going to change the looming investigations into her conduct as Secretary of State.  And of course the GOP is holding back its real anti-Hillary ammunition until she's the nominee.  Then we'll all be plunged backward into the endless nightmare of the Clinton years--it will be pure hell!

I’m hoping, once we get to the debates, that Martin O’Malley can show himself to best advantage.  He was an experienced mayor and governor of Maryland, and he has an attractive, low-key temperament. He's presented himself very well thus far in media interviews.  He's relaxed, open, and actually enjoys being with people--which Hillary clearly does not. He has an outgoing, fun-loving Irish pol quality, which many people nostalgically remember from the Kennedy years.

O’Malley, really? He hasn’t caught much traction, has been supplanted by Sanders in hearts and minds – and was very damaged by the protests in Baltimore, and the stories about his very aggressive police practices, and the way those strategies created the environment in which Freddie Gray died in custody.

Yes, that's true, but we're still very early in the process.  I feel that once we get to the debates, O’Malley’s actual hands-on, day-to-day experience with complex big-city governance will get traction. Right now we’re in a volatile period of slogans being shouted and passions about racial and immigrant issues boiling over. That’s what’s currently driving the news, but we’re not at the point where people are sitting in front of their T.V.s and intently assessing candidates for the presidency. How is this person handling him or herself behind the podium? How is that person responding to questions or conflict? The actual debates are when the electorate is auditioning candidates for the presidency.  That's where Obama gained big on Hillary.

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If Biden enters, I’m not counting him out. He’s going to suck up a lot of Hillary's support. I’ve never taken Biden too seriously--he always seemed like a lightweight.  But the death of his son Beau, a nice guy with military experience who seemed on track for the presidency, has given Biden more gravitas than he ever had before.  The way he handled himself at Beau's funeral--standing for five hours, personally greeting all callers. Biden comes in as someone who doesn’t have enemies and who knows the departments of government and international affairs.  He handles himself well in debates--even though Sarah Palin defeated him!

Biden doesn’t have any of Hillary's negatives.  Why do we want another divisive, polarizing figure in the White House? Who wants a president that half the country already hates? Does that make any sense? At a time when the U.S. has to negotiate with hostile or untrustworthy foreign states, you'd think we would want a president who has the support and good will of the nation.  People are tired of the polarization and looking for a uniter!


David Daley

David Daley, a former editor of Salon, is the author of the national bestseller "Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn't Count" and the forthcoming “Unrigged: How Americans Fought Back, Slayed the Gerrymander and Reinvented Democracy.”

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