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May 04th 2016 print

Michael Warren Davis

Man, Superman and Donald Trump

As of the Indiana primary and Ted Cruz's bruised exit, the vulgarian protectionist is the last Republican standing and all but certain to carry his party's banner into November. If Hillary Clinton thinks it will be a cakewalk, she hasn't paid attention to the man who makes his own rules

trump eyesWhenever someone asked for my opinion on Ted Cruz, I couldn’t help but start on a litany of negatives. “Well, his voice is really annoying. So is his nose. Or maybe it’s his cheeks? I can’t really tell. Something about his general face region just seems a bit off. He was a great debater in high school, but doesn’t really seem to have evolved much on that front since. His father, and radio talker Glenn Beck too, said he was appointed by God to be the next president, which is weird. Even his kids don’t want to hug him. And he eats boogers.”

A few hours later: “Then again, I agree with basically everything he says.”

You could probably leave it there. On paper, Ted Cruz is everything the “Outsider” movement could have asked for in a candidate. He’s a strict constitutionalist, a social ultra-conservative, an immigration hardliner, a foreign policy moderate, and he’s the leader of the conservative anti-establishment faction in the senate. True, he’s not a protectionist; but I don’t think the Outsiderists went into this contest as protectionists, either. The chicken came before the egg in this particular instance: they became anti-free trade because Trump is anti-free trade. Had Cruz gotten the momentum instead of Trump, the North America Free Trade Agreement would not have come up once in the entire primary season.

But he didn’t get the momentum. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that he comes off as hobbledehoy-ish. We say of George W. Bush, “He’s the kind of guy you’d have a beer with.” That was his charm, and it helped Republicans overlook his lackluster ideological credentials. (He’s conservative, William F. Buckley wrote, but he’s not a conservative.) Cruz is the opposite. His ideological credentials are impeccable, but he seems like the kind of guy who was carded at the bar well into his thirties. “I’ll have one alcoholic beverage, please, my good publican.”

“Is personality really enough to sink a presidential candidacy?” you ask. This time around, yes it is. Look, Mitt Romney is a conservative. I don’t care what his critics on the right say. His record wasn’t as spotless as Cruz’s – but, then, we haven’t seen a Reaganite purist perform so well in the primary since, well, Reagan. Romney’s great failure was his awkward personality. I cut him some slack on that front; if you’ve ever met a Mormon, you know they’re such decent, wholesome people that it’s amazing they all haven’t been weeded out by natural selection. (It probably has to do with their truly awe-inspiring birthrate.) They don’t have the cutthroat instinct it takes to do well in national politics, and when they fake it, it’s clumsy and generally backfires.

So the conventional wisdom is that Mitt’s campaign was sunk because he didn’t go after Obama hard enough, which is just a Mormon thing. And when he lost an easy campaign against Barry O, it seemed to confirm the grassroots’ suspicion about “establishment” politicians: they’re more interested in holding their seat than fighting for conservative values.

What the base was looking for more than anything, then, was a fighter. Again, at the start of the primary season, we would’ve undoubtedly assumed this was Cruz. He’s like the Che Guevara of the GOP. But then Trump rode in on nuclear warhead, like Major Kong, and promised to level politics as we know it — make that knew it before the Donald. At first Cruz was sympathetic to Trump. Indeed, it looked for a while like he was running for V-P more than P. But he was caught up in the blast just as surely as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. How Trump himself survived is a question political scientists will be puzzling over for the next century.

So all of Cruz’s theories about an ideologically hardcore vanguard, delegate-stacking, and the unprecedented appointment of a running-mate halfway through the contest (someone pointed out that Carly Fiorina is the first person to lose the same presidential primary – twice) were for naught. If Jeb Bush was the slow-and-steady tortoise, Ted Cruz was the swift-footed hare (minus the ADHD). And if Ted Cruz was the hare, Trump was Elmer Fudd, who turned up with a shotgun and pumped-off rounds rapid fire. Unlike Elmer, he bagged what he was aiming at at, one rival at a time. Winners don’t need to explain their methods or apologise for them. They just win. They’re like Nietzschian Übermenschen – beyond good and evil.

That sort of willpower is, apparently, what the grassroots craved. Which absolutely no one could’ve predicted: as the National Review pointed out, we overestimated the conservatism of the base. Remember how the activists savaged Romney because he was briefly pro-choice? Trump was pro-choice for far longer. Yet Ann Coulter, a darling of grassroots conservatives and first-hour Trumpist, Tweeted, “I don’t care if [DJT] wants to perform abortions in White House”. Then you have his previous thoughts on immigration (he called Mitt’s policy “mean-spirited” in 2012) or single-payer healthcare (in January: “I want people taken care of. I have a heart”), etc. etc.

All of that purism was out the window. I’m sure, if given the choice between identical Donalds, with one espousing Trumpism and the other Cruzism, the base would’ve jumped at the latter. Alas, there’s only one Donald, and the Republican convention is now a one-horse town. So now we bid adios to Rafael Edward Cruz and wish him all the best of luck in this post-apocalyptic wasteland.

In closing, let me just say: I for one welcome our new cannibal overlord.

Michael Warren Davis will be covering the US presidential race for Quadrant.