On Cruz, Trump, Fiorina, Pence, Boehner, Indiana and what might-have-been

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Good morning Austin:

Were it not for Donald Trump, had he never run for president, there is good reason to believe that Ted Cruz would right now be in Houston auditioning candidates for vice president, in between huddling with party heavyweights, picking a convention keynoter – maybe Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, or better yet Glenn Beck – and preparing for the fall campaign against Hillary Clinton.

After his wins in Iowa and South Carolina and his sweep of the South, including winning all 155 delegates from the state of Texas on Super Tuesday, Cruz couldn’t be stopped, despite a briefly vigorous #NeverCruz movement, that warned that a nominating Cruz – `Goldwater without the charm’ – would lead to a catastrophic electoral defeat, loss of the Senate and maybe even the House.

But, alas, Trump, taunted for years by those who said he would always threaten to run but never run, put his mouth where his mouth is, and, the rest is on its way to being history.

Cruz could still pull of an upset win in the Indiana primary, disrupt Trump’s momentum, and revive the possibility that the Cleveland convention will be what every red-blooded reporter hopes it will – open, contested, nasty, brutish and long.

But, more likely, Cruz will lose on Tuesday,  and that, for all practical purposes, will be that.

Even if that happens, it will have been a stunning run by Cruz and his campaign, who survived and even thrived, sporadically, despite the wholesale loss of his home region, his base   – the South beyond Texas. That’s pretty amazing and testament to his and his campaign’s tactical skills, and his donors’ and grassroots activists’ passionate commitment.

And, in four years Cruz, not yet 50, will be the Republican best-positioned to say I-told-you-so if Trump wins the nomination and goes on to a landslide defeat – the obvious front-runner for the 2020 nomination.

All in all, not bad.

Not bad at all, except for the tantalizing fact that April opened with a stunning win for Cruz in the Wisconsin primary and for one brief shining moment, it appeared that Cruz might be able to outmaneuver an oafish Trump and seize the nomination.

But Trump righted his ship in New York and the Northeast and, embedded in what was ostensibly the good news for Cruz of last week – Cruz’s early-bird choice of a running mate in Carly Fiorina, his endorsement by Gov. Mike Pence and, best of all, his being denounced by former House Speaker John Boehner as “Lucifer in the flesh – were what may in retrospect be seen as the seeds of his own destruction.

The hurried announcement of Cruz’s choice of Fiorina still ranked her among the better Republican vice president choices of the last half century – better than Spiro Agnew for sure, not as good as Bob Dole or George H. W. Bush, but a notch above Dan Quayle, two notches above Sarah Palin, and of the guy in between – Dick Cheney – well, for better or worse, Carly Fiorina is no Dick Cheney.

As President Obama said of Joe Biden at Saturday’s White House Correspondents Dinner, “I want to thank him for his friendship, for his counsel, for always giving it to me straight, for not shooting anybody in the face.”

But, Cruz’s choice of Fiorina was also a sign of weakness because it revealed that Cruz was unable to enlist someone of greater political heft. Fiorina merely reiterated Cruz’s strengths and weaknesses as a candidate both in terms of ideology and personality. Business experience sounds good, except her experience involved massive layoffs, shipping jobs overseas and getting sacked, making her little more than a Trump – or Clinton – pinata.

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The endorsement by Pence should have been a coup but, if it was, it was a bloodless one. If Pence isn’t for Cruz over Trump, then who is?

But Pence prefaced his announcement that he would be voting for Cruz – a Class C endorsement at best – by praising Trump.

I particularly want to commend Donald Trump, who I think has given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans with a lack of progress in Washington D.C.
And I’m also particularly grateful that Donald Trump has taken a strong stance for Hoosier jobs.

That’s the kind of claptrap encomium Cruz used to heap on Trump until he became his mortal enemy and a threat to all that is decent and right.

(From Cruz talking about Trump on Hannity last July -“He’s bold and brash, and he’s willing to speak the truth. And he’s taking on the Washington cartel … I appreciate Donald focusing on illegal immigration. I’ve been proud to defend him for focusing on illegal immigration.”)

Cruz defending Trump on Hannity 7/22/16

Cruz defending Trump on Hannity 7/22/16

And only after praising Trump did Pence cough up his Cruz endorsement:

I’m not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary.

In other words, he’s voting for Cruz, but if Trump flattens Cruz and marches on to the nomination, it’s all good.

But, it’s the Boehner episode that is the richest and the most telling.

Last week, while speaking at Stanford University, the Stanford Record reported that Boehner, asked about Cruz, replied, “Lucifer in the flesh. I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

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Why would Boehner  say such awful things?

From Fred Barbash at the Washington Post: Bad blood: John Boehner and his tormentor Ted Cruz

The date was Oct. 14, 2013, two weeks into a government shutdown engineered by Republicans in the House of Representatives who were trying once again to kill Obamacare. Scheduled for the next day was a vote backed by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his lieutenants that would have reopened the government and avoided the likely disaster of the U.S. government defaulting on its debt.

The setting was a low-budget eatery on Capitol Hill called the “Tortilla Coast,” not known for its ambiance, as The Washington Post’s Amy Argetsinger described it, but for its “utter lack of ambiance, its “windows bedecked with decals promising ‘MARGARITAS’ and ‘BBQ RIBS.’” It’s the kind of place you go, its manager said, “if you don’t want to look like you’re showing off.”

In a windowless basement garret called the Rio Room, 14 to 20 of the House’s most conservative Republicans gathered around a table presided over by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), still basking in the acclaim from the right for his all-night marathon of a speech weeks earlier designed to thwart any compromise. While Cruz’s exact words that day at Tortilla Coast were not reported, there was no doubt his mission was to stiffen the spine of the no-compromise bloc in the House just as he had galvanized the “hell no” caucus through the summer, traveling the country with an anti-Obamacare “town hall,” and in his faux-filibuster, so-called because it did not delay any vote.

And he did, with a lot of help from the conservative Heritage Foundation. The next day, realizing he didn’t have the votes, Boehner and the rest of the House Republican leadership withdrew their proposal.

It was a deep humiliation for Boehner and his leadership team and a final demonstration that he had become a leader without followers. It crippled an already wounded speaker.

There’s more to their bad blood, but that’s enough to get the idea.

And yet, here is Ted Cruz’s response to being called a satanic SOB by Boehner.

The truth of the matter is I don’t know the man. I’ve met John Boehner two or three times in my life. If I have said 50 words in my life to John Boehner, I would be surprised. And every one of them has consisted of pleasantries, ‘Good to see you Mr Speaker’. I’ve never had any substantive conversation with John Boehner in any respect.

And also:

This is something that’s not publicly known. During the government shutdown, I reached out to John Boehner, and I offered for [Utah Sen.] Mike Lee and me to come over and work with the speaker and actually get something done to stop the disaster that is Obamacare.

John Boehner’s response was, “I have no interest in talking to you. What could possibly be accomplished by talking. No I will not meet.”

So when he says I’m the worst guy he’s ever worked with, he’s never worked with me.

And:

When John Boehner calls me Lucifer, he is directing it at you. What Boehner is angry at is me standing with the American people.

This is, I suspects, why colleagues don’t like Cruz.

Here is he being called out by Boehner, and in rapid succession he replies that he doesn’t even know Boehner, that he extended his hand and Boehner rebuffed him, and that Boehner hates him because he stands with the American people and Boehner doesn’t.

It all ignores the context that in a truly unprecedented fashion, Cruz was working from the Senate to subvert Boehner’s leadership in the House.

Meanwhile, only a couple of days after Cruz was praising Trump on Hannity last July for standing up to the Washington cartel, Cruz called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor.

From Mike DeBonis in the Washington Post. on July 24, 2015.

Firebrand Republican senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz on Friday rushed across a line rarely crossed on the Senate floor: He accused the leader of his party, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of lying to his colleagues.

“What we just saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over and over again, was a simple lie,” Cruz said Friday morning. “We know now that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment, that he is willing to say things that he knows are false. That has consequences for how this body operates.”

Cruz’s remarks laid bare, in the most august of settings, simmering tensions between the activist wing of the Republican Party and the mainstream party establishment.

Prompting Cruz’s outburst: McConnell’s move to set up amendment votes on a must-pass transportation bill. After senators voted to consider the bill, McConnell (R-Ky.) set up votes on two controversial measures — a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States — and did it in such a way that will make it difficult for other amendments to be considered.

There’s more, but nobody really remembers what the argument was about, only that Cruz breached a couple of hundred years of protocol, and that, it seemed, was the whole point. Trump had surged to the head of the pack as The Outsider, and Cruz wanted to embellish his Outsider Cred.

In what amounted to Cruz’s campaign book, A Time for Truth, the introduction, entitled Mendacity, is essentially a description of the way the Senate Republican Caucus operates, with Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee as the heroes. Lee is one of only three senators to have endorsed Cruz, along with Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who abhors Cruz but abhors Trump more, and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a more recent arrival than Cruz.

From Jack Shafer at Poltico – Why Ted Cruz Loves to Hated.

If not the first prick, what is Cruz? He’s the first American politician who strives to be despised. If waterboarded, Johnson, Nixon and Trump would confess that they prefer love to hatred. Not Cruz, whose premeditated rudeness, self-righteousness, backstabbing and name-calling have inspired a dozen recent pieces exploring the question of why Washington hates Ted Cruz (Atlantic, New Republic, Mother Jones, New York, Vanity Fair, Vice, The Week, et al.). He wants to be hated. He draws strength from the attention it delivers and he has sought the hatred of others since high school (“He was not well liked,” said former high school classmate Laura Calaway). His pursuit of other’s hatred continued through college (“Ted’s style was sneering, smirking, condescending, jabbing his finger in your face,” said former college classmate Geoffrey Cohen) and has extended into his political career, where last year he gained notoriety (and more hatred) calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor.

Search history for Cruz’s antecedent and you’ll come up empty. Scan the pages of literature. Scroll your Rolodex. Canvass the jails and prisons. Nothing. Perhaps only in the annals of psychiatry can you find anybody in possession of a masochistic narcissist profile like Cruz’s. But those people are crazy. Cruz is not crazy. He might actually be a member of an advanced but not yet recognized species that has determined that spending effort on getting people to like you is a mug’s game. From the view from inside Cruz’s skull, once you get people to like you, your job has only begun. Additional acts of kindness, consideration and fairness must be extended or your likability will fade into the background. But hatred is a much more efficient use of emotional energy. Often, a single dose of malice can seal the impression among most people that you’re a terminal prick. By acquiring as his enemies the Washington political establishment, Cruz figures he can inherit their enemies, and the 2016 campaign has proved him right. Nobody until Cruz had the stomach to build his political foundation on a bedrock of loathing.

This is essentially the view of the Atlantic’s Molly Ball, who in January wrote that Cruz deliberately offends and insults his Republican colleagues so as to appear to his tea party allies as the only authentic conservative in the arena. Politicians have long campaigned for the White House by running against Washington, D.C. George Wallace was the first, doing it in the 1960 and ’70s. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama followed the Wallace example, although each crafted his own technique. But these candidates were only play-acting their hatred of Washington, eager to join the governing class in the event they won the presidential derby. What makes Cruz’s jihad against Washington appear sincere is his willingness to fight a two-theater war—one against the Democrats and the other against his own party—to the death if necessary. His hatred is pure and honest.

Did Cruz decide to play the hateful political villain, or was it thrust upon him? I defy you to look at him and not associate his squinty-eyed, prehensile-nosed, whiny-mouthed demonic visage with the great villains of film noir history. If looks are destiny, perhaps the answer to why Cruz works so hard to be hated can be contained in a snapshot: It’s the path of least resistance. But even film noir villains have deep soul-searching stretches in which they question their own badness. If Cruz has submitted to even a soul-searching once-over, I’d be surprised. Instead, he wears the hatred of his peers like a badge of honor, the way Lucifer and his fallen angels wore their Lord’s scorn.

The point of all this is that if Trump had not run and Cruz had been able to sweep Iowa, South Carolina and the South, he might have been able to march o the nomination and no one would have been able to stop him.

But, this grittier trench warfare to stop Trump requires allies and Cruz’s path was built on trashing those potential allies as enemies to him and to the American people.

Today’s last day of barnstorming in Indiana will close with an American Rally in Indianapolis at 7:30 p.m. with special guests Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Glenn Beck and Heidi Cruz.

 

 

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