Flash-bang grenades: On Ted Cruz’s incendiary political rhetoric.

Poster by SABO

 

Good Friday Austin:

The TIME 100 is supposed to be a list of the 100 most influential people of 2018.

Each of the hundred gets a little write-up by some other pretty influential person.

And so our own Texas Sen. Ted Cruz did the blurb for President Trump.

Here is what Cruz wrote:

President Trump is a flash-bang grenade thrown into Washington by the forgotten men and women of America. The fact that his first year as Commander in Chief disoriented and distressed members of the media and political establishment is not a bug but a feature.

The same cultural safe spaces that blinkered coastal elites to candidate Trump’s popularity have rendered them blind to President Trump’s achievements on behalf of ordinary Americans. While pundits obsessed over tweets, he worked with Congress to cut taxes for struggling families. While wealthy celebrities announced that they would flee the country, he fought to bring back jobs and industries to our shores. While talking heads predicted Armageddon, President Trump’s strong stand against North Korea put Kim Jong Un back on his heels.

President Trump is doing what he was elected to do: disrupt the status quo. That scares the heck out of those who have controlled Washington for decades, but for millions of Americans, their confusion is great fun to watch.

Cruz is a U.S. Senator from Texas

Well, what could be greater fun than watching the merry mayhem that ensues when a a flash-bang grenade is tossed by some forgotten men and women into a crowd of media and political types in Washington.

Am I right?

Actually, I will confess that, up until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t know what a flash-bang grenade was.

Then I spent some time working on a story on the 25th anniversary of the Branch Davidian siege in Waco that ended the lives of 82 Branch Davidians – including many children – and four agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

At a 1995 Congressional hearing, Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who represented David Koresh, the Branch Davidian leader who died amid he fire that consumed Mount Carmel, their communal residence, 25 years ago Thursday, testified that, “I did see some grenades that the ATF had thrown in.”

Chuck Schumer, then a congressman, was outraged by that insinuation.

“What do you mean thrown in?” he asked DeGuerin.

DeGuerin: The ATF threw in grenades in their dynamic entry.

Schumer: They didn’t throw in any grenades as I understand it. They were flash-bangs.

DeGuerin: Did you ever see what a flash-bang can do to somebody? They’re grenades. There’s an explosive charge in it. It’s very dangerous. It can blow your hand off. It can blow your face off. It can kill.

The next day, Schumer returned to the question of flash-bang grenades.

Schumer: And coup de grâce, Mr. DeGeurin says that flash-bangers can kill, injure, maim. Anyone who knows anything knows they can’t.

Thus spake the munitions expert from Brooklyn, though a subsequent witness, ATF Special Agent Jim Cavanaugh, said that, per DeGeurin, flash-bang grenades can be very dangerous.

If this goes off in your hand, they will call you stumpy.

And, form Pro Publica:

Hotter Than Lava
Every day, cops toss dangerous military-style flashbang grenades during raids, with little oversight and horrifying results.
by Julia Angwin and Abbie Nehring, ProPublicaJanuary 12, 2015

Cruz’s encomium to Trump won predictable criticism for all too obvious reasons.

Including from his Democratic rival:

O’Rourke said he would vote to impeach Trump as a member of the House, but couldn’t say whether he would vote to convict if he were a member of the Senate, which would hold a trial if the House were to, in effect, indict the president for high crimes and misdemenanors.

But, that said, Ted Cruz has has said worse things about Donald Trump than Beto O’Rourke ever has. Way worse. Way, way worse.

From May 2016.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This morning, Donald Trump went on national television and attacked my father.

Donald Trump alleges that my dad was involved in assassinating JFK. Now, let’s be clear. This is nuts. This is not a reasonable position. This is just kooky. And while I’m at it, I guess I should go ahead and admit, yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis, and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard.

You know, Donald’s source for this is “The National Enquirer.” “The National Enquirer” is tabloid trash. But it’s run by his good friend David Pecker, the CEO, who has endorsed Donald Trump. And so “The National Enquirer” has become his hit piece that he uses to smear anybody and everybody.

And this is not the first time Donald Trump has used David Pecker’s “National Enquirer” to go after my family. It was also “The National Enquirer” that went after my wife, Heidi, that just spread lies, blatant lies.

But I guess Donald was dismayed, because it was a couple of weeks ago “The Enquirer” wrote this idiotic story about JFK. And Donald was dismayed that the folks in the media weren’t repeating this latest idiocy, so he figured he would have to do it himself. He would have to go on national television and accuse my dad of that.

Listen, my father is has been my hero my whole life. My dad was imprisoned and tortured in Cuba. And when he came to America, he had nothing. He had $100 in his underwear. He washed dishes making 50 cents an hour. You know, he is exactly the kind of person Donald Trump looks down on.

I’m going to do something I haven’t done for the entire campaign. For those of you all who have traveled with me all across the country, I’m going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump.

This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.

He accuses everybody on that debate stage of lying. And it’s simply a mindless yell. Whatever he does, he accuses everyone else of doing. The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist, a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.

Donald Trump is such a narcissist that Barack Obama looks at him and goes, dude, what’s your problem? Everything in Donald’s world is about Donald. And he combines being a pathological liar — and I say pathological because I actually think Donald, if you hooked him up to a lie detector test, he could say one thing in the morning, one thing at noon, and one thing in the evening, all contradictory, and he would pass the lie detector test each time.

Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute, he believes it. But the man is utterly amoral.

CRUZ: Let me finish this, please.

The man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him. It’s why he went after Heidi directly and smeared my wife, attacked her. Apparently, she’s not pretty enough for Donald Trump. I may be biased, but I think, if he’s making that allegation, he is also legally blind.

But Donald is a bully. You know, we just visited with fifth-graders. Every one of us knew bullies in elementary school. Bullies don’t come from strength. Bullies come from weakness. Bullies come from a deep, yawning cavern of insecurity. There’s a reason Donald builds giant buildings and puts his name on them everywhere he goes.

And I will say there are millions of people in this country who are angry. They’re angry at Washington. They’re angry at politicians who have lied to them. I understand that anger. I share that anger. And Donald is cynically exploiting that anger. And he is lying to his supporters.

Donald will betray his supporters on every issue. If you care about immigration, Donald is laughing at you. And he’s telling the moneyed elites he doesn’t believe what he’s saying, he’s not going to build a wall. That’s what he told “The New York Times.”

He will betray you on every issue across the board. And his strategy of being a bully in particular is directed as women. Donald has a real problem with women. People who are insecure, people who are insecure about who they are — Donald is terrified by strong women.

He lashes out at them. Remember, this is the same Donald Trump who last week here in Indiana proudly touted the endorsement from Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist who served three years in prison here in Indiana for raping a 17-year-old girl. And in Donald’s world, he said Mike Tyson was a tough guy.

I don’t think rapists are tough guys. I spent a lot of years in law enforcement dealing with rapists. Rapists are weak. They’re cowards and they’re bullies. And anyone that thinks they’re a tough guy, that reveals everything about Donald Trump’s character.

Donald Trump said Bill Clinton was targeted by unattractive women. You know what? I have been blessed to be surrounded by strong women my entire life.

Today’s voting day here in Indiana. The president of the United States has a bully pulpit unlike anybody else. The president of the United States affects our culture. I ask the people of Indiana, think about the next five years if this man were to become president.

Think about the next five years, the boasting, the pathological lying, the picking up “The National Enquirer” and accusing people of killing JFK, the bullying. Think about your kids coming back and emulating this.

For people in Indiana who long for a day when we were nice to each other, when we treated people with respect, when we didn’t engage in sleaze and lies — and I would note one of the lies he engages in, listen, Donald Trump is a serial philanderer, and he boasts about it. This is not a secret. He’s proud of being a serial philanderer.

I want everyone to think about your teenage kids. The president of the United States talks about how great it is to commit adultery, and how proud he is, describes his battles with venereal disease as his own personal Vietnam. That’s a quote, by the way, on the Howard Stern show.

Do you want to spend the next five years with your kids bragging about infidelity? Now, what does he do? He does the same projection. Just like a pathological liar, he accuses everyone of lying. Even though he boasts about his infidelity, he plants in David Pecker’s “National Enquirer” a lie about me and my family, attacking my family. He accuses others of doing what he is doing. I will tell you, as the father of two young girls, the idea of our daughters coming home and repeating any word that man says horrifies me.

That is not who America is. And I would say to the Hoosier State, the entire country’s depending on you. The entire country is looking to you right now. It is only Indiana that can pull us back. It is only the good sense and good judgment of Indiana that can pull us back. We are staring at the abyss.

CRUZ: There is a broader dynamic at work, which is network executives have made a decision to get behind Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes at FOX News have turned FOX News into the Donald Trump network. Rupert Murdoch is used to picking world leaders in Australia and the United Kingdom running tabloids, and we’re seeing it here at home with the consequences for this nation. Media executives are trying to convince Hoosiers, trying to convince Americans the race is decided. You have no choice. You are stuck between Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, either one of which is a horrific choice for this country.

And I will say the cynicism — and Donald is playing on the cynicism. He lets the media echo he cannot be beat. Hoosiers can prove that wrong. The people of Indiana can prove that wrong, and the country is depending on Indiana. If Indiana does not act, this country could well plunge into the abyss. I don’t believe that’s who we are. We are not a proud, boastful, self-centered, mean-spirited, hateful, bullying nation.

If you want to understand Donald Trump, look no further than the interview he did a few months ago in Iowa when he was asked a very simple question — when is the last time you asked god for forgiveness? And Donald Trump said he had never asked God for forgiveness for anything. I want you to think about that. What does that say about a person? I have asked God for forgiveness three times today. Your children, do you want your children coming home and saying, mommy, I don’t need to ask God for forgiveness for anything. Why? Because Donald Trump doesn’t, and he if he doesn’t, and everyone likes him, all the media praises him, I don’t need to either.

I love this nation with all my heart. I love the people of this country. This is not who we are. These are not our values. If anyone has seen the movie “Back to the Future II,” the screenwriter says that he based the character Biff Tannen on Donald Trump. A caricature of a braggadocious, arrogant buffoon who builds giant casinos with giant pictures of him everywhere he looks. We are looking potentially at the Biff Tannen presidency. I don’t think the people of America want that. I don’t think we deserve that. I don’t think Hoosiers want that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, these are some of the strongest words you’ve used against Donald Trump yet. You know I have been with you, I heard you talk about him. Today feels different for you. I’m going to ask you a question and you’re going to say I sound like a broken record —

CRUZ: You sound like a broken record.

CRUZ: Does someone else have a record?

CRUZ: You have asked one already, Hallie.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Will you support him as the nominee. I don’t understand why you won’t answer the question, Senator. If you say he’s a liar — if you say he’s a pathological liar —

CRUZ: Hallie, you have asked one already.

CRUZ: Go ahead, Jessica.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, when you talk about Midwestern values and the common sense and good judgment, if Hoosiers don’t pick you today, does that mean they consider things a different way when the northeast voted and you could say those are Trump’s neighbors?

CRUZ: There is no doubt this Indiana primary has national significance. The media is trying desperately to convince you it’s over, I’ll tell you if Hoosiers come out and vote, if you pick up the phone and you call your friends, you call your neighbors, if Hoosiers come out today and vote and say no, this is not who we are, this is not America, that will change the entire trajectory of this campaign, of this primary. It will pull us back from the cliff. Indiana can do it. Indiana can pull us back, but it takes Hoosiers showing up and voting today. And the country is looking to Indiana. It’s looking to the judgment of the good men and women of this state.

Heidi and I and Carly, we have traveled the state showing Hoosiers respect, asking for their support, answering their questions, all the while Donald Trump laughs at the people of this state, laughs, bullies, attacks, insults, I don’t believe that’s America, and it is my hope, it is my prayer, that Hoosiers will come out and vote today in record numbers to say to this who we are. We are a people who believe in goodness. We are a people who believe in manners. We are a people who believe in generosity. We are a people who believe in honesty. We are a people who believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is America. That is the America I love. It’s the America my father fled Cuba to come to. We’re fighting for this nation. We’re fighting for who we are for the very soul and character of this nation, and it is quite literally in the hands Hoosiers across this state.

Well, I guess it all depends on who is on the receiving end of the flash-bang.

What will now be Cruz’s timeless TIME 100 flattery of Trump, certainly is an invitation to this, Friday, from Progress Texas’ Humans Against Ted Cruz project.

But, putting aside Cruz’s fulsome act of forgiveness of his former tormentor, what interested me was his use, in a world beset by terror, of the flash-bang metaphor, and what seems to me to be his consistent, and I think unique at his level, delight in using the most vividly  violent metaphors in his political rhetoric.

As I wrote in March 2015:

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz roused the hundreds of young people who packed the “Big Government Sucks” reception Thursday night at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference with a typically provocative appeal.

“Each of you has an ability to spread a fire; I am asking you to be an arsonist,” Cruz said. “I encourage you to light fire of liberty in other young people, so it burns and rages and spreads from one young person to another. That is how we turn the country around.”

“Now listen,” Cruz said to his young audience, explaining of his choice of imagery. “This may be a particular predilection because I am the son of a Cuban guerrilla.”

“My dad grew up in Cuba,” said Cruz. “When my dad was 14-years old he began fighting in the Cuban revolution, he began fighting alongside Fidel Castro. Now, he didn’t know Castro was a communist. None of the kids knew.”

But, he said, what they did know was that Batista, the Cuban dictator who Castro was seeking to overthrow, was cruel, oppressive and corrupt, and so, at 14, Cruz’s father “began throwing Molotov cocktails.”

On the campaign trail for president Cruz would describe his political allies – like U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, as political “knife fighter.”

When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick endorsed Cruz in October 2015, Cruz praised  Patrick as an ally who would  “crawl through broken glass with a knife between his teeth.”

This year he has described the Democratic base as having such a hate for Trump, “They will crawl over broken glass in November to vote.”

Does painting these kind of word-pictures matter?

From LSU political scientist Nathan Kalmoe:

Fueling the Fire: Violent Metaphors, Trait Aggression, and Support for Political Violence
Article in Political Communication 31(4) · October 2014 

Abstract:

The recent concurrence of violent political rhetoric and violence against political targets in the U.S. and abroad has raised public concern about the effects of language on citizens. Building from theoretical foundations in aggression research, I fielded two nationally representative survey experiments and a third local experiment preceding the 2010 midterm elections to investigate support for violence against political authority. Subjects were randomly assigned to view one of two forms of the same political advertisements. Across all three experiments, mild violent metaphors multiply support for political violence among aggressive citizens, especially among young adults. Aggressive personality traits also predict support for political violence in both national studies. This work identifies dynamic roots of violent political orientations and reveals for the first time surprising interactions between this elite discourse and personality traits in citizens.

Here are some graphics from Kalmoe’s dissertation on the subject.

 

But Kalmoe’s examples of violent language are tepid compared to Cruz’s.

They use the language of war, battle, enemy, crusade.

Cruz uses the far more vivid imagery of flash-bang grenades, molotov cocktails, arson, broken glass and knives.

I’ can’t think of another major American politician who compares.

And, where it may matter is in his contest with O’Rourke, who, rhetorically, comes to the campaign trail in peace.

Cruz is as polarizing a figure as there is in American politics. He knows that, and I assume, he believes, in its ability to rouse the base, this is the way for him to go.

From Jeff Roe on March 17 in the New York Times.

President Trump may not be on the ballot in November, but the election will be a referendum on him, as 2010 was on President Barack Obama and 2006 was on President George W. Bush. We will lose seats. The only question is this: Will these losses be catastrophic or manageable?

That will be determined by a very specific choice: Will the party retreat from its leader or fix bayonets and storm to the front with him?

No one fought Mr. Trump harder and longer than I did, as the campaign manager for Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign for the Republican nomination. I know the maddening brilliance of Mr. Trump. I also know history doesn’t favor the president’s party in midterm elections. With the election of a Democrat in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania — a district Mr. Trump carried by 20 percentage points, but which also has tens of thousands more registered Democrats than Republicans — it has become media gospel that the president is toxic and that Republican candidates will have to distance themselves from him. That narrative is wrong.

xxxxxx

While some Republican candidates, in swing seats, may benefit from creating distance from Mr. Trump, a strategic retreat will work only in rare instances. The myth that midterms are decided by swing voters ignores the prevailing reality that large midterm electoral shifts are driven by shifts in base motivation.

xxxxx

It is undoubtedly difficult to differentiate Trump policies from the Trump persona, because the Trump persona dominates news coverage. But Republican candidates for Congress have to try. Tactically, that means being laser-focused on generating local news coverage of policy accomplishments, even when the national cable news fixates on the latest Trump outrage.

And guess what? Despite breathless coverage of the daily outrage generator in the White House, the economy is improving. The tax cuts will, and in fact already are, spurring growth, freeing capital for investment, creating jobs and returning overseas profits to our shores. There is a message to sell. So sell it.

I would go further and argue that it is the Trump persona so vilified in the media that has in fact made bolder, more sweeping reforms possible than would have been conceivable under almost any other Republican who might have been elected.

Would a President Jeb Bush have signed a strong executive order on religious liberty, or would a President Marco Rubio have started construction of a wall? Would President John Kasich have had the intestinal fortitude to execute such a huge reorganization of the Environmental Protection Agency, dismantling the liberal bureaucracy that with its deeply embedded biases harms our economy? Would President Mitt Romney have pushed through such a major tax overhaul? No way. What makes Mr. Trump different is that he just doesn’t care what the bed-wetting caucus says about his policies.

(I think bed-wetting caucus counts as fighting words.)

Meanwhile, Cruz’s contribution last year to last year’s TIME100 was his blurb on “warrior and patriot” Rebekah Mercer:

Rebekah Mercer is a warrior and a patriot. She is the daughter of a brilliant mathematician and tremendously successful investor, and blessed with her own deep intelligence and intuitive insight, and it would have been simple for her to have settled into a life of comfort and ease. But Bekah cares too much about freedom and our nation to do so.

Instead, she and her father, Bob, have invested generously in helping fuel a political revolution. Their approach is multi­faceted. From think tanks to public-policy organizations to online media to path-breaking data analytics, Bekah has helped transform the world of politics. She understands the populist frustration with the bipartisan corruption in Washington, and she is one of the strongest champions of draining the swamp.

And she has helped fund upstart campaigns and underdog candidates, including my own Senate and presidential campaigns. When Donald Trump won the nomination, Bekah played a pivotal role in helping assemble the team and strategy that shocked the world in November.

From Maggie Haberman in the New York Times in July 2016.

In an extraordinary public rebuke, two influential donors who were among the biggest supporters of Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign excoriated Mr. Cruz on Saturday for his decision not to endorse Donald J. Trump at the Republican National Convention.

The remarks from Robert Mercer of Long Island and his daughter Rebekah Mercer suggest widening fallout over Mr. Cruz’s convention speech, in which he did not endorse his former rival and, instead, suggested that Republicans should “vote your conscience” for candidates “up and down the ticket.”

“Last summer and again this year, Senator Ted Cruz pledged to support the candidacy of the nominee of the Republican Party, whomever that nominee might be,” the Mercers, who rarely comment in the news media, said in the statement to The New York Times. “We are profoundly disappointed that on Wednesday night he chose to disregard this pledge.”

The statement continued: “The Democratic Party will soon choose as their nominee a candidate who would repeal both the First and Second Amendments of the Bill of Rights, a nominee who would remake the Supreme Court in her own image. We need ‘all hands on deck’ to ensure that Mr. Trump prevails.”

“Unfortunately,” the statement added, “Senator Cruz has chosen to remain in his bunk below, a decision both regrettable and revealing.”

The Mercers invested at least $11 million in Keep the Promise I, one of a group of interlocked “super PACs” that supported Mr. Cruz in his presidential run. During the contentious primary race, Mr. Cruz had early praise for Mr. Trump on the belief that his candidacy would eventually fade and that Mr. Trump’s voters would move over to the senator’s camp.

Instead, Mr. Trump’s candidacy endured and the race between the men grew increasingly rancorous.

Mr. Cruz is up for re-election in 2018 and is said to be looking at a second campaign for president in 2020, should Mr. Trump lose in November. But, in both cases, he will need his donor base to stay with him.

After Mr. Cruz’s speech at the convention in Cleveland, Sheldon G. Adelson, the casino magnate who was an early admirer of Mr. Cruz in the primaries, blocked him from his suite. (A friend of Mr. Adelson’s, claiming to represent him, insisted after the fact that he was not trying to disrespect the senator.)

The next morning, Mr. Cruz was booed by members of the Texas delegation at a breakfast.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Cruz, Catherine Frazier, said on Saturday: “Senator Cruz considers Bob and Rebekah to be patriots ad friends. As Senator Cruz urged in Cleveland, Hillary Clinton would be a disaster for America. Republicans need to unite, and the only way to unite is behind shared principles. His speech laid out a path — vigorously defending freedom and the Constitution — for our nominee to unite the party and for Republicans to win up and down the ticket.”

Mr. Mercer in recent weeks has helped fund a new effort for donors who want to defeat Mrs. Clinton, but who do not want to donate to a group that is openly supporting Mr. Trump. That group is being operated by David Bossie, the president of the group Citizens United.

Kellyanne Conway, who was the president of a pro-Cruz super PAC and now is an adviser to Mr. Trump, said the statement reflects the Mercers’ feelings about defeating Mrs. Clinton in the fall and “how grievously piqued they were to watch Ted’s convention stunt on Wednesday night.”

Ms. Conway added, “They supported Ted because they thought he was a man of his word who, like them, would place love of country over personal feelings or political ambition.”

As for Rebekah Mercer’s “path-breaking data analytics,” here from the New York Times on March 17:
How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions

LONDON — As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem.

The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.

So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.

An examination by The New York Times and The Observer of London reveals how Cambridge Analytica’s drive to bring to market a potentially powerful new weapon put the firm — and wealthy conservative investors seeking to reshape politics — under scrutiny from investigators and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

xxxxxx

In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing intertwined investigations by Parliament and government regulators into allegations that it performed illegal work on the “Brexit” campaign. The country has strict privacy laws, and its information commissioner announced on Saturday that she was looking into whether the Facebook data was “illegally acquired and used.”

In the United States, Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, a board member, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Nix received warnings from their lawyer that it was illegal to employ foreigners in political campaigns, according to company documents and former employees.

From the Texas Tribune on March 20:

“Cambridge Analytica was an outside vendor that the campaign hired to assist in data analysis and online advertising, and they worked for the campaign, pursuant to contract,” Cruz told The Texas Tribune. “Cambridge Analytica represented to the campaign that all data in their possession were legally obtained and that they were in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, and the campaign relied on those representations.”