As the 2016 primary season continues, the notion that Ted Cruz might be the Republican Party’s last best chance to save itself from Donald Trump’s takeover is a spectacle all by itself. Cruz, the most mistrusted and reviled Republican senator, a serial liar who led the 2013 government shutdown and called Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a fraud on the Senate floor, is now the party’s great savior?
It may be that Republicans would prefer the right-wing devil they know rather than the one they do not. Their fears of Trump resemble wide swings of a pendulum. On some issues it’s his ugly, bigoted and juvenile rhetoric and strongman posturing that repulses. On the other extreme lurks a sneaking suspicion among GOP luminaries that he might be too liberal and malleable, not just unpredictable, for conservatives to stomach.
Trump is the more offensive presidential candidate, but Cruz is far more dangerous. As Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist, wrote in December, “If Ted Cruz is the Republican Party’s cure for Donald Trump, the antidote may be worse than the poison.”
That verdict is not unique. Cruz is not just a serial exaggerator and liar. He’s a conniving, uncompromising, power-hungry demagogue whose antics and beliefs would be right at home in the crusades of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s America, many campaign fact-checking websites, longtime politicos and pundits have warily noted.
That’s why former president Jimmy Carter recently told the British House of Lords, “I think I would choose Trump… which may surprise some of you, but the reason is Trump has proven already that he’s completely malleable. I don’t think he has any fixed opinions that he would really go to the White House and fight for.”
Indeed, there’s much more to this than merely pointing out that Cruz is more extremist than Trump. Trump may pledge to order U.S. troops to torture any suspected enemy and break international laws of war, but Cruz implied he’d use nuclear arms to make the Middle East’s desert sands “glow in the dark.” Trump said he would defund Planned Parenthood as long as it provides abortions, though he notes it provides other valuable women’s health care. Cruz not only wants to defund and shut down Planned Parenthood, he wants to prosecute the organization. That’s what he said last summer after doctored videos appeared making allegations that Planned Parenthood was selling aborted baby parts. A Texas Court found this claim such a lie it indicted the videomakers on criminal charges.
The reasons Cruz is a bigger liar than Trump start with a basic fact noted by Robert Reich in January: “He’s more fanatical.”
“Trump is a bully and bigot but doesn’t hew to any sharp ideological line,” Reich wrote. “Cruz is a fierce ideologue: He denies the existence of man-made climate change, rejects same-sex marriage, wants to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, believes the Second Amendment guarantees everyone a right to guns, doesn’t believe in a constitutional divide between church and state, favors the death penalty, opposes international agreements, embraces a confrontational foreign policy, rejects immigration reform, demands the repeal of 'every blessed word of Obamacare,' and takes a strict 'originalist' view of the meaning of the Constitution.”
Cruz not only believes that and more, he eagerly embraces whatever rhetorical or political tactic he can to try to impose an ultra-right-wing social agenda and equally right-wing pro-corporate agenda on others. Trump says whatever seems to pop into his mind at the moment. Cruz, in contrast, has been a skilled debater since college and intuitively twists and exaggerates facts or spouts inflammatory lies, all in the service of promoting himself and his beliefs.
There are almost too many examples to categorize and count. After a mass shooting and killings at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in November, by a man who reportedly told police he was motivated by the faked video, Cruztold reporters before the Iowa caucuses the murderer was a “transgendered leftist activist.” In this same category of toxically mistaken beliefs, Cruz told the Conservative Political Action Conference that Democrats threatened the Catholic Church to “change your religious beliefs or we’ll use our power in the federal government to shut down your charities and your hospitals.” Politifactcalled this remark “both incorrect and ridiculous.”
As the Nation noted, “Cruz said ISIS is ‘right now crucifying Christians in Iraq, literally nailing Christians to trees.’ It wasn’t, and Cruz wasn’t able to offer any evidence. Cruz described a "strong bipartisan majority" in the House that voted to repeal Obamacare; two Democrats had joined the Republicans. He bluntly claimed that “the jurisdictions with the strictest gun control laws, almost without exception… have the highest crime rates and the highest murder rates.” This isnot true.
These examples were from the early days of his presidential bid. Since then, as Politifact.com has documented, it’s only gotten worse. Politifact shows he’s a serial distorter of anything inflamatory, such as Trump’s political contributions to Hillary Clinton’s past campaigns; Arizona’s social welfare cuts as a purported result of tougher immigration enforcement; Trump on supposedly supporting socialized health care; Cruz saying it’s a tradition that Supreme Court nominees don’t get confirmed in presidential years; exaggerating how much incomes rose under Ronald Reagan; or saying Obama’s 2013 immigration bill would ease up on background checks.
His outright lies have grown, too. According to Politifact, he lied about Ben Carson leaving the race just days before the Iowa caucus; that Obamacare is the biggest job-killer in the U.S.; that gun control proponents want to confiscate all guns; that Obama hasn’t bombed ISIL’s oil fields because he’s worried about global warming; that most violent criminals are Democrats; that under Obama the median wage for women fell; that Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal lets Iranians self-inspect, and more.
What’s notable is not how much Cruz lies, but how easily lying comes to him. As one Huffington Post columnist noted last September, “Can any other politician lie with the gall, the unflappability, and the effortlessness of Senator Ted Cruz?”
The biggest example from before the current campaign season were his calculated tirades that led to the federal government shutdown in late September 2013, primarily over the opposition to funding Obamacare, which he has called “the epic battle of our generation.” Readers may recall his 21-hour filibuster, in which he read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor and encouraged the House Tea Partiers to join him.
But there was even more intentionally deceitful demogoguery from Cruz, who after the shutdown went to the Vietnam War Memorial and falsely blamedObama for not allowing veterans and their family members to honor that war’s dead—even though it was Cruz's antics that were responsible for closing federal parks. If you watch Cruz flat-out lie in his remarks on the Washington mall, where he speaks with twisted candor and no shame and stands next to Sarah Palin and Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, what you see is a politician who is as disturbing as he is dangerous. In other words, a demagogue.
Retired General Wesley Clark, who has run for president as a hawkish Democrat, told Fox News late last year that that’s exactly what Cruz is. “He’s a Princeton graduate, and a Harvard guy and a 150 IQ so something, he’s supposed to be a brilliant guy, he doesn’t know the first thing about military operations, or more disturbing is he’ll simply says whatever draws an applause, and that’s the definition of a demagogue,” Clark said.
Ruth Marcus, another Washington Post columnist, has also written that Cruz is “more dangerous” than Trump and gave further examples of his demagoguery, comparing his behavior in the Senate to one of the 20th century’s most notorious senators, Republican Joseph McCarthy, whose anti-communist crusade destroyed hundreds of lives.
“Where Trump needs the ego balm of adoring masses, Cruz couldn’t care lesswhat others think of him, except to the extent it might interfere with his ability to achieve his end,” Marcus wrote. “Just ask the Senate colleagues who join in remarkable, scarcely contained bipartisan loathing of the man.”
She continued, “He revealed his true character even earlier in his Senate tenure when he went after former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), President Obama’s nominee for defense secretary. In a manner that evoked the worst of Joseph McCarthy, Cruz smeared Hagel with unsupported insinuations that the nominee received money from foreign governments or extremist groups. There seems to be no argument too low for him to make—for example, his recent,four-Pinocchio claim that 'the overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats.'"
Now He's the Party’s Savior?
The Republican Party’s establishment-led Stop Trump wing is now spending millions on TV ads in a desparate 11th-hour effort to block Trump from winning the next big states to vote for a GOP nominee: Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina. But putting Cruz at the top of their ticket is as dicey as Trump—and more dangerous.
Trump, for all his ugly bluster, says he knows how to negotiate. That means compromise. That’s not the case with Cruz, whose views are far from the U.S. mainstream, believes Obama is the most radical president ever, and even though he was a clerk for a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, has railed against its rulings upholding Obamacare and same-sex marriage as “the very definition of tryanny.”
“Trump, at least, cloaks his unthinkable policies beneath a certain populist appeal,” wrote the Post's Eugene Robinson. “Cruz’s self-assured extremism tells whole classes of voters—independents, minorities, women—to look elsewhere. He would be like Barry Goldwater without the avuncular charm.”
What will unfold in coming days will determine the future of the Republican Party. Either way, Trump or Cruz, does not bode well. Trump may epitomize the worst impulses the GOP has been stalking for years—nativist, racist, vindictive and angry white men who will take others down to build themselves up. But Cruz is a darker character whose uncompromising warmongering, intolerances, vain pieties, chronic lying and eager embrace of scorched-earth tactics is a more toxic and ruinous brew for America.
As the Republican Party’s longstanding power brokers cheer for Trump’s demise and Cruz’s improbable ascent continues, the rest of America should remember that of the two, it’s Cruz, not Trump, who would be more dangerous in the Oval Office.