Stop calling Ted Cruz a conservative: This self-promoting narcissist is a fraud and a nihilist

Labeling Cruz a conservative underestimates how dangerous he is. It's time we called out this Messianic crusader

By Sean Illing
Published September 29, 2015 3:19PM (EDT)
  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

The people of Texas owe America an apology. They elected Ted Cruz to the United States Senate, and now the country is forced to endure his presence throughout the interminable election season. Cruz has worked diligently (and successfully) to become the least liked human being in Congress. Judging by last night, he’s hated most by his Republican colleagues, who, once again, blocked his inane efforts to shut down the government unless it defunded Planned Parenthood.

Both Republicans and Democrats passed a temporary spending measure that will keep the government afloat (a move supported by a majority of Americans) through mid-December. After the bill was passed by a vote of 77-19, Cruz theatrically sought a roll-call vote but he was promptly denied by his fellow Republicans, many of whom shouted “No!” at the Senator’s request.

Cruz, however, knows a conspiracy when he sees one, and he took to the Senate floor to dispense his bullshit with characteristic flare. “I mentioned to you [his colleagues],” Cruz said, “that the votes were always cooked here.” “How is it,” he rhetorically asked, “that Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell can promise that there will never ever be a shutdown? Because, I believe, Speaker Boehner has decided to cut a deal with Leader Nancy Pelosi.” In case the prospect of two legislators reaching a sane and popular compromise isn’t scary enough, Cruz clarified what’s really going on here: It turns out that Boehner knew he would lose his speakership if he didn’t cave to the insurgent wing of his party, so he went and made a devilish “deal to surrender and join with the Democrats.” Sounds legit, right?

The worst thing about Cruz isn’t his obnoxiousness or his undemocratic conservatism or his dreary affectations; it’s his self-promoting nihilism. What he’s doing, and how he’s doing it, feels unprecedented. Threatening to shut down the government or undermine the country’s credit rating in defense of campaign talking point is an act of legislative terror. Cruz represents the very worst of factionalist fervor. He has no regard for the constitution or the general will or the nation’s economy. He sees an opportunity to promote his brand and it doesn’t matter what the costs are, to his party or his country.

Cruz fancies himself a political martyr, the one Republican willing to fight for truth and transparency and conservative principles. He condemns his GOP colleagues as RINO cowards and pseudo-conservatives. But there’s nothing genuinely conservative about Cruz’s brinksmanship. He has no respect for Senatorial tradition or process or majority opinion. Again, he’s a nihilist and, perhaps worse, a fraud.

I say he’s a fraud because, as Burgess Everett recently wrote, he’s “pushing proposals that he knows McConnell and other Republicans will never back, like defunding Planned Parenthood in a spending bill, then criticizing McConnell for not taking up the plan ever as he uses the fight to bolster his presidential campaign as Washington’s consummate outsider.” And that’s really what this is about. The conservative base wants an “outsider” (whatever that means) and everything Cruz says and does is designed to win this constituency, as this report in Politico more or less confirms.

So it’s not about reducing abortions or affirming conservative values. If Cruz were serious about that, he’d pursue real goals in realistic ways. Instead, he stages one stunt after another knowing it won’t accomplish anything concrete, save for his own promotion. That’s not what a serious politician does. But Cruz isn’t serious, as John Boehner happily noted: He’s a “jackass” and a “false prophet.”

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Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at

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