With his win in Wisconsin, Ted Cruz (R-Uncanny Valley) has emerged as the GOP’s “anybody” to their “anybody but Trump” sloganeering — and whatever chill passed over the Hillary campaign headquarters with Bernie Sanders’s win in Wisconsin has by now been replaced by a warm glow of anticipation. That reaction is not unfounded; while Cruz does marginally better against Clinton than Trump in nationwide head-to-head matchups, those aren’t how we pick a president. No, what’s exciting to Democrats about the prospect of going up against Cruz isn’t just that Cruz is just as beatable as Trump — it’s that his nomination spells doom for the Republican Party just as clearly.
Stylistically, Trump and Cruz are avatars of thuggishness on one hand and revenge of the nerd on the other. But neither of them represents the future of the GOP — rather, they’re its end.
Trump’s unleavened megalomania and lack of self-awareness can cast him as a buffoon, and Cruz’s sphincter-freezing strangeness prompts nervous laughter, but neither of them are jokes. They are caricatural answers to the cosmic riddle the GOP posed to itself when the 1968 election inaugurated the “Southern Strategy” of playing to whites resentful over the progress of the Civil Rights Movement: How long can you pander to grievance before it crystallizes into rage? Or, put in more purely cynical electoral terms: At what point does winning office via white men’s votes come at the cost of losing everyone else’s?
The GOP has long been aware of this ticking dermographic time bomb at the heart of its platform (n.b.: its “autopsy” of the 2012 election). Trump threatens to set the charge off in this very cycle, turning “the Latino vote into the African-American vote,” as one political consultant put it to me — meaning, making Latino voters as distant a reach for Republicans as black voters are now. (A fun game: Assuming that Trump continues to have 80% disapproval, or worse, among Latinos, calculate how much of the white vote he’d have to get to win in a general election. Remember: Mitt “self-deport” Romney wasn’t explicitly nationalist and came away with just 27 percent.)
Cruz as nominee does nothing to defuse that problem; he just hands the party a longer fuse. Cruz might avoid the absolute abandonment of the GOP by Latinos and women in 2016; he could get more than 20 percent of the Latino vote, let’s say, but he can’t stop the bleeding. The Latino presence in most of the early primaries felt strongest on the ballot itself, and not among voters — Cruz and Marco Rubio made up a good chunk of the candidates, while Latino voters comprised less than 1 percent of the turnout in states not named Texas or Florida. What’s more, Cruz has done nothing to expand the party’s appeal into any other demographic. The number of young people voting in the Republican primary continues to be about half of what the Democrats bring in, even though the GOP is turning out record numbers of voters overall. The raw vote totals are even more devastating: Since Iowa, 1.5 million voters under 30 have cast ballots for Sanders — more than have voted for the remaining three GOP candidates combined.
His partisans crow that Cruz wins among that handful of voters — and in some cases, he does — but it’s difficult to imagine a robust “youth for Cruz” movement coalescing at this stage of the race. His invocations of popular culture come across with the menace of a stranger hinting he knows your address and then sniffing your hair. His policy stances (more on that in a moment) are diametrically opposed to the sensibilities of anyone under the age of “has a gay friend.” He is not so much “dad trying to dance” as the dad who hovers, making sure no one is dancing too close. When political parties attempt to capitalize on the potential reach of younger candidates, the standard joke is to dismiss them as “an old person’s idea of a young person.” Cruz, though only a year older than Rubio, isn’t even that. He’s an old person’s idea of an old person.
As for Cruz and women, when one of the arguments that your supporters make is that women find you unappealing, that’s not a good sign! He obviously carries the same anti-choice, anti–equal pay legislative bad juju that any Republican does. And though Trump would seem to have set the comparison bar low, with “does not condone violence against women,” Cruz doesn’t quite clear even that paltry hurdle – he’s one of the 22 senators who voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.
On immigration, willingness to wage war, abortion, the environment, the Affordable Care Act, gun rights, LGBT issues, and more, Cruz and Trump agree more than they disagree. And, contra the maddeningly sweeping promise to “make America great again,” on some key social issues, Cruz’s supporters offer visions of ominous, apocalyptic specificity — his father and wife both believe that Cruz’s election is part of the inevitable unfolding of the end times playbook (which also includes the stoning of gay people). So pardon me if I don’t buy that nominating Cruz will be anything other than the end of the Republican Party as well.
We’ve gotten this far without even discussing Cruz’s unsettling personal affect, an intangible negative that may defy attempts at measurement but seems to provoke near-universal distaste among those not already sympathetic to the conservative cause. (Am I being sexist if I ask — would it kill him to smile less?)
Lindsey Graham famously framed the question of “Trump or Cruz?” as deciding between death by gun or poison. Having endorsed Cruz, Graham hasn’t himself said what method Cruz represents. To my mind, Cruz is poison — a less messy, perhaps less painful method, but the ending for the GOP the same. Either way, it’s suicide.