If you can’t stand the thought of Donald Trump becoming president, the good news is that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) looks poised to upset him in the pivotal Iowa caucuses next month.
The bad news is that if Cruz succeeds and ultimately becomes the Republican nominee, he will prove to be far worse than Trump himself.
For one thing, Cruz has proved himself to be far more ideologically narrow-minded than Trump. For better or worse, Trump has been willing to defy conservative dogma on a number of issues (e.g., social security reform, progressive taxation, the 2003 Iraq War), indicating that at the very least he has a mind of his own. Cruz, on the other hand, has refused to waiver from the tenets of Tea Party doctrine even when the fate of America depended on it. That last statement isn’t an exaggeration, by the way—anyone with a reasonably comprehensive memory can recall his instrumental role in causing a government shutdown at the end of 2013, one that business interests and moderates across the board vehemently opposed.
He has also, incidentally, emerged as the only Republican candidate to unequivocally side with Trump when it comes to all of his bigoted comments about women, Muslims, and Hispanics (despite Trump’s willingness to attack Cruz’s own Cuban heritage). Not only does this mean that Cruz is literally no better than Trump when it comes to the worst things Trump has said, but he has openly and cravenly parroted The Donald in order to benefit from the phenomena that have fueled the billionaire’s campaign. In short, if and when Cruz emerges as the “underdog” alternative who beats Trump at the last minute, this will not be a victory against the forces of darkness that Trump represents—indeed, it will be a confirmation of their ultimate triumph.
What can good people do about this? I suggest three things:
- Hold Cruz as accountable as we did Trump. It will be tempting to celebrate Cruz’s victory on the grounds that at least that dastardly Trump is out of the way, so we’ll need to remember that the problem with Trump was what he said and believed, not merely who he was. If we substitute one Trump for another, that isn’t progress.
- Work to elect the Democratic candidate for the good of the country. This is one of those rare elections in which the partisan rhetoric stating “you must vote X for the good of America” is all too accurate. As with Trump, the election of Cruz to the presidency would signal a reactionary rejection of the progress made for marginalized groups in this country over the past few decades—for African Americans still struggling to attain full civil rights, for Hispanic and Muslim immigrants who come here seeking a better life only to face discrimination, for women fighting patriarchal institutions and members of the LGBT community who need the post-Obergefell precedents to remain in place.
- Learn from what we are witnessing today. When this political madness has ended, we need to make sure that the lessons from this toxic election cycle are permanently embedded into our national consciousness. Trump and Cruz have emerged as frontrunners by playing off of the American electorate’s basest prejudices, and this ordeal will have amounted to nothing if we simply wipe the slate clean and refuse to learn from these mistakes in the future.
When I think of the possibility of a Cruz presidency, I recall the recent words of Bob Dole, the former Kansas Senator and 1996 Republican presidential candidate. “[Cruz’s] achievements are shutting down the government twice, and calling the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, a liar on the Senate floor,” Dole told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell earlier this week. “It violates the rules of the Senate. And he doesn’t have a single Senate supporter.” There is a reason why that historically cliquish body refuses to rally around one of its own as he remains within shooting distance of the GOP presidential nomination—and it’s the same reason you should do likewise. This is a man so devoid of loyalty to anyone but himself that, as Dole put it, “he used to make these speeches. ‘Remember President Dole, do you remember President McCain.’ The inference was that we were all a bunch of liberals, and only he is a true conservative. And he uses the word ‘conservative’ more than he ever uses the word ‘Republican.'”
Cruz is no more a good Republican–or a true conservative, for that matter—than Trump. He is in this for himself and only himself, and if he needs to drag America down to sate his ambition, so be it.