5 May 2016

Ted Cruz: the presidential candidate who made children cry


It was unexpected when it came. On Tuesday evening Ted Cruz dropped out of the Republican race and marked the occasion by elbowing his wife Heidi in the face.

It was a clumsy end to what had been a clumsy campaign. The chief architect of Ted’s fall had always been Ted himself. Despite being trained by the best law professors at Harvard and Princeton, Cruz seemed at times to struggle putting one foot in front of the other. Donald Trump was meant to be the goon the pundits said would fail. Yet he at least looked at home with his own body. He could deliver a joke and smile in a way that resembled sincerity. Whilst the media obsessed over his rhetoric, his half-baked plans, and his ochre-coloured ego, The Donald was busy shaking hands, cracking wise, and projecting himself as an affable but worldly rogue. Cruz’s smiles, meanwhile, were grimaces affixed to sneers and his voice more suited to lectures than levity.

It was unsurprising, with hindsight, to see Cruz fail; only surprising that the media never really spotted his goofiness at the time. There was a point at the beginning when Cruz looked like the ideal fit for those Republicans who felt a compelling urge to vote for a political outsider. He was the contrarian senator who had made enemies in D.C. He was from Texas and strong on all the issues that make American patriots tremble below their Bible belts. He was the perfect vessel for the grass roots conservative rebellion.

And then he began to campaign…

On the campaign trail, Ted managed to turn many good ideas bad in the space of their execution. The tone was set at an early meeting when he declared with the conviction of a preacher that ‘the whole world’s on fire!’

From the audience squeaked the voice of a child. ‘The world’s on fire?’

Quick as a callous spark, Cruz turned to the child and applied the same level of charm that Republican voters would soon learn to fear. ‘The world is on fire!’ he said. ‘Yes! Your world is on fire!’

Such heart! Little wonder that the man with the profound understanding of child psychology would soon become known as the slightly creepy guy who liked to make kids cry.

Future historians will look back and construct elaborate theses about the failures of conservatives in the current American election. Yet here and now, we have a chance to at least acknowledge that the Republican race came down to trivialities that somehow conveyed a deeper truth about the candidates. A ridiculous yet somehow prescient meme began to spread the rumour that the guy who looked like ‘Grandpa’ in The Munsters was also the Zodiac Killer. It was a contemptible smear that somehow had people whispering ‘but you know…’ every time they heard it. Cruz’s own children spurned his attention on camera and he was seen to spurn theirs when his daughter asked him to wear a hat the shape of a wedge of cheese. In that moment, you could sense the road forking before him. Would he wear the hat, please his daughter, but look ridiculous in the press? Would he wear the hat, please his daughter, and resemble a good father who would do anything to make a child smile? Ted, perhaps wisely, chose not to wear the cheese hat yet it ensured that the characterisation was rooted more deeply in the public’s imagination. Here was a guy who has a copy of the US Constitution swinging where his heart used to be.

The closer he got to the race’s end, the more desperate Cruz became and his gaffes all the more striking. When he attempted to kiss his wife recently, he managed to miss her lips. Hard to explain given her lips were the same place they’d always been but perhaps understandable if you consider all the cameras waiting for him to make a slip. It was, however, another of those moments that simply underlined the goofiness of the klutz in the pin-striped cowboy boots. Just these past week he attempted to channel the spirit of Gene Hackman in a stunt recreating a scene from the film Hoosiers. With a stooge called Bruce perched atop a ladder, Cruz asked how high the basketball rim from the floor. ‘Ten feet!’ came Bruce’s reply, setting the boss up for an easy dunk only for Cruz to flub the moment and call the hoop a ‘ring’. The nation didn’t stop laughing for days.

Less understandable was how he sometimes simply misjudged the tone of the debate. He tried to silence a young protestor at one of his rallies by announcing that, in his house, an insolent child would be ‘spanked’. He complained loudly about Donald Trump supporting the rights of the transgender community in the matter of North Carolina’s hugely unpopular bathroom law. He even faced up to Trump supporters this week thinking they might welcome debate. They didn’t and the video became another of the many internet hits that Cruz now leaves behind.

Yet perhaps nothing conveys Cruz’s failure more than the premature announcement of Carly Fiorina as his running mate. Choosing a candidate before the nomination was won was an odd move, clearly designed to grab the news agenda but merely highlighted how much the agenda was leaving him behind. A sensible choice would have been finding somebody whose personal chemistry would remedy his own. Cruz is cold, analytical, and dour and only somebody as clumsy as Cruz would choose somebody equally cold, analytical, and dour. That he could not see his own faults in Fiorina was itself a blunder. The result was a double act that took to the campaign trail like some WWF tag team that wear black spandex and enjoy throwing eggs at the crowd.

When it came, the end came quickly. Heidi Cruz didn’t have chance to duck. Even Carly Fiorina looked like Cruz’s announcement crept up and hit her from behind. One moment she was assuring the crowd that the fight would continue. The next moment she was staggering around as though manoeuvring herself to fall off the stage (again). If her fight does continue, we can be sure it won’t be with Cruz.

The talk now is about 2020 and Cruz’s future as a Republican heavyweight. In victory, Trump described Cruz as a ‘tough, smart competitor’ but that judgement had no more footing in reality than Trump’s plans for a wall. Cruz was neither tough nor smart in the past year. Instead there were the many reasons he ended up announcing the suspension of his campaign to a lifeless and evidently small crowd in Indiana. Those same reasons will be around in four more years if Cruz does decide to subject his children to more cheese hats. His problems were neither problems of organisation nor problems of funding. They were not even problems with timing. Jeb Bush could justifiably argue that 2016 was a bad year for establishment candidates and real politicians fighting an election on the issues. Despite the evidence of the last year, this was the time for a man like Cruz. But ‘like Cruz’. Just not Cruz. The problems he faced were and remain peculiar to Cruz himself. Ted Cruz lost because of Ted Cruz.

David Waywell writes and cartoons at The Spine.