February 1, 2016

THE MOST REASSURING THINGS HERE ARE THE MOST TROUBLING:

The Field Guide to Ted Cruz (ERICA GRIEDER, 1/29/16, Texas Monthly)

5) He may even be too smart for his own good.

Cruz has long struck people as a conservative whose brilliant legal mind might eventually lead him to the Supreme Court. It's a little unusual to see a highly accomplished nerd inspire such passion in people, but perhaps it's not surprising. Many conservatives resent the casual condescension they routinely perceive from liberals and coastal elites. In Cruz, they have a candidate who gives the lie to such smug assumptions. And so, though Cruz's intelligence may strike his critics as a sign of arrogance, smarminess, or phoniness, it has proven to be a political asset thus far in his own party.

But it creates two complications that are, I think, worth remembering. First: between his intelligence and his verbal agility, Cruz is easily able to elide questions, or to answer them in a lawyerly, nuanced way. Such deftness can be a lifesaver for a politician who's been put on the spot, and Cruz's nuanced arguments are often quite interesting, but such answers can also seem like sophistry, and over time, have fueled suspicions that Cruz is a phony.

Relatedly, like many highly intelligent people, Cruz is vulnerable to being too clever by half. That's the only explanation for his tortuously convoluted response to Marco Rubio's allegation that they had both supported "amnesty" during the 2013 debate over immigration reform. Cruz's retroactive insistence that he was lying about his stated support for a path to legal status doesn't seem to have hurt his standing in the primary, but it was a rare own goal--and a regrettable one, I think. His original position on immigration reform, which is Rubio's current position, was conservative, but nonetheless eminently reasonable. It also would have given him the upper hand if he ends up in a general election, where the Democratic nominee will have to defend not just "amnesty," but Obama's executive orders. Those of us covering him should proceed with the knowledge that Cruz has the capacity to think himself into a pretzel. [...]

8) Cruz is a mainstream conservative from the Texas Republican establishment.

The various misconceptions about what Cruz stands for are, of course, partly his own fault. He often puts himself in situations-the announcement at Liberty University, on stage after an introduction by his ferocious father-that are clearly going to create a certain impression, and that in many cases have been carefully designed to do just that. His background adds to the mystery: He's only been in office for a couple of years, and prior to that, as an appellate lawyer, he worked on behalf of clients, and for the state. Even now, he has not yet had to fully commit himself to any particular faction of the Republican coalition. All told Cruz remains a cipher, wrapped in a veneer of plausible deniability.

Some critics see this as sinister: it allows for the possibility that Cruz's evasion is motivated by the need to conceal his genuinely alarming beliefs from the general public. Others see it as ethically troubling. Even if he has rarely been compelled to pick a side, the fact is that he has often declined to do so-and his record may not include proof of deliberate dishonesty, but it certainly shows a tendency for strategic misdirection.

I share some of these qualms; I would be more critical of how Cruz has engaged with the right wing during the course of his current campaign, frankly, if not for the fact his ability to do so strikes me as the only thing keeping Donald Trump from winning the party's presidential nomination. And the line of questioning is wholly legitimate. The guy might be president. It's not nosy to wonder what his beliefs and positions are.

At the same time, Cruz is running for the Republican presidential nomination, at a moment when the party itself seems to have gone wildly off the raise. So, realistically, we might have to make do with educated inferences. Mine is that Cruz is a mainstream conservative from the modern Texas Republican establishment. Given his background, he has an unusual expertise and commitment to constitutional issues. He has a lot of intellectual and temperamental overlap with longtime attorney general Greg Abbott, who is now the governor of Texas. (National readers who aren't familiar with Abbott might want to take a look at Texas Monthly's profile of Abbott, by my boss Brian Sweany.) But more generally, like most of the Republicans who have held high office in Texas lately, Cruz is fiscally conservative, and focused on fiscal issues; socially conservative, but only once or twice a season; pragmatic rather than ideological; and, as noted earlier, not nearly as radical as his reputation would suggest.

If I hadn't encountered Cruz prior to his presidential campaign, I doubt I'd describe him in those terms. But I have, and so I would. And I am aware that for many readers the suggestion that Cruz is a mainstream Texas conservative is not reassuring either way. So let's proceed to a happier rule.

It's great that he doesn't believe his immigration rhetoric and would return to being pro-amnesty immediately on being elected, but what does it say about him that he's willing to hate-monger strategically?

Posted by at February 1, 2016 3:16 PM

  

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