Finally, it’s out there. In a surprisingly anodyne video message with such controversial statements as, “I believe in America,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz confirmed what anyone with two brain cells figured out in 2012: he is seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2016. Patriots rejoiced, establishmentarians groaned, snarky people snarked (full disclosure: I have a long history of snarking about and at Cruz).
There were some excellent critiques of Cruz right out of the gate, as well as some that were less-than-excellent. As is typical for politicians who subsist on a cult of personality, the merest criticism of the man engendered a full-throated and lengthy defense from his supporters.
Did you know Ted Cruz is very smart?
Did you know Ted Cruz has principles?
Did you know it doesn’t matter whether Cruz has any actual legislative accomplishments, because “something—something—GOP establishment?”
It comes down to this: Cruz is about as qualified to run for president as Barack Obama was.
I’m not just trolling you, I promise.
When I floated this idea on Twitter, dismissals ranged from curt to brusque, and all the way up to vociferous. Many would prefer not to consider it, and that I would perhaps die in a fire. Yet I remain convinced that comparing the two men is both a valid and potentially useful exercise.
The mind naturally turns toward similarities and points of comparison between the two, as it would for any candidate. Having seen just how dramatically Obama made a hash of things, one could be forgiven for questioning whether a man with similar qualifications might not exhibit the same level of incompetence should he attain the office.
There are some surprising similarities between the two men. Here are nine of them:
1. Both Were First-Term Senators
First and most obvious is that both men were first-term senators when they launched their bids. Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004; Cruz in 2012. Neither had any significant legislative achievements during their tenure. Supporters of Cruz would say this is a result of the perfidy of GOP leadership, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped Marco Rubio from having a productive career. Both men began running for president almost immediately after hanging curtains in their Senate offices.
2. Both Men are Minorities
Obama is the first black president—you may have heard about this. Cruz is Cuban-American. Well, Cuban-American/Canadian, depending on who you ask. At any rate, neither man checks “Caucasian” on the census form, so far as I am aware. Their familial backgrounds appeal to their respective bases. In Obama’s case, his father was a self-destructive economic reformer in Africa and his mother’s career gave her son an… unusual upbringing. Cruz’s father fled persecution in Communist Cuba, first to Communist Canada (where Cruz was born, but more on that in a moment) before settling in Communist Austin, Texas (later they moved to Houston).
3. Both Men Have ‘Eligibility Issues’
As it turns out, both men are also alike in that a fanatical wing of swamp-dwelling cranks are convinced they’re ineligible for the office because they’re foreigners. No amount of rational explanation will convince these critics otherwise, and no amount of scorn or contempt seems liable to shut them up. While this is actually reason to sympathize with both men, it is still an interesting peek into how they might deal with political dead-enders and conspiracists (contrast with Ron Paul and his son, who seem to be a little too cozy with the type). That Cruz did not renounce his dual-citizenship with Canada until 2014 is just fuel for the crazy-fire.
4. Both Are Harvard Law Graduates
Obama was the president of the Harvard Law Review and a generally well-liked young fellow. Cruz, who arrived the year after Obama graduated in 1992, was not either of those things. However, he was a principal editor of the Law Review and is remembered by alumnae for other reasons. Neither man’s intelligence is questioned by any serious critic. When discussing similarities between the two, remember that intelligence has always been a key part of the sales pitch for both.
5. Both Were Law Professors
Obama is rather famously a former constitutional law professor who possesses the slimmest possible understanding of (or respect for) the Constitution. The president taught the subject from 1992-2004 at the University of Chicago Law School, so it’s no surprise he has been so effective at subverting it.
Cruz was an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, where he taught Supreme Court litigation—something he’s actually good at.
6. Both Were State-Level Officials
While Obama won three elections to become a state senator for Chicago before his national career took off, Cruz was appointed Solicitor General of Texas by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Here is where Cruz outshines Obama. His career as a litigator was a targeted use of his talents, especially on several landmark cases that went to the Supreme Court. He has argued in front of that body more times than anyone in Congress. Of his nine oral arguments before SCOTUS, he won five cases and lost four.
7. Both Are Populists
Pass the Affordable Care Act; repeal Obamacare. These are two sides of the same populist coin and are central to both men’s political identities. In fact, they’ve both built their careers out of it. Obviously, Obama drew first blood here with his ruinous dog turd of a signature legislative achievement. Among its many, many unintended negative consequences, we see now that it also gave Cruz a path to the presidency.
8. Both Are Simply Adored by Their Party’s Base
To their most ardent supporters, neither man can do wrong. “Saturday Night Live” runs a skit wherein black commenters attempt to identify what could possibly make them stop supporting Obama (nothing, as it turns out). This effect carries over to white Democrats as well, and an argument could be made that the adulation prevented Obama from making some necessary course corrections (especially in his foreign policy).
Cruz, who will never have non-hostile sketch comedy written about him, rarely misses an opportunity to tell his base precisely what they want to hear, regardless of an ability to carry through with his promises. No matter how many times it becomes apparent he has no way to deliver on his rhetoric, they never abandon him.
9. Both Are Divisive and Intensely Disliked by an Opposing Faction
Both men have found themselves in the position of being loved in some quarters, but entirely despised in others.
Some of it is political: Obama swung the country too far Left, too fast, and involved too many end-runs around the Constitution. Meanwhile, Cruz made few friends among his colleagues by repeatedly dicking them over during his short time in the Senate, and the electorate may be just as hostile to a Cruzian swing to the Right (and the attendant “threat” to entitlements).
Some of it is wholly irrational: Obama’s arrogant, disdainful attitude sets teeth on edge. Cruz’s doughy nerdface and annoying voice activate that lizard part of the brain that says, “This kid should give me his lunch money.”
For all his (many, many) faults Obama actually has some personal appeal that Cruz manifestly lacks. An unfair but essential point for electoral politics, where so much rests on the intangibles: there is a segment of the population that will never, ever like either man.
The difference? Obama got to that point after six years of being president, and Cruz starts there.