Who is Ted Cruz? It’s remarkable we’re still asking the question after months of intense media scrutiny. That in itself should tell you he’s rather an extraordinary politician, for good or ill.
Here are the agreed-upon facts. Cruz is brilliant and articulate. He is extremely ambitious. He knows conservatism very, very well. He can be prickly and a bit cold. He has a weird-looking nose.
From there, accounts differ. Actually, they differ enormously. Some see Cruz as a true-hearted conservative warrior. Others see him as a Machiavellian schemer with a dagger under his cloak.
Here’s the truth, then. He’s Severus Snape. Right down to the awkward nose.
Lion Ted Cruz
Snape is a fascinating member of the “Harry Potter” cast. We know without a doubt that he’s important; clearly he will play a key role of some kind in the final resolution. J.K. Rowling keeps us constantly guessing, however, about what that role will be. Cruz is very much like this. He’s clearly a major player on the conservative field, still assessing his hand and calculating his moves. But will Cruz emerge in the end as the hero, or the anti-hero? It’s exceedingly difficult to tell.
Both figures have a kind of maddening mystery to them. Snape is imposing, ingenious, calculating, and cloaked. He has tremendous gravitas and enormous discipline, which combine to make him a powerful presence at Hogwarts. Rowling makes him a master of “occlumency,” an art by which a wizard seals his mind against other sorcerers who might wish to read his thoughts. The point is clear enough: Snape is an absolutely closed book.
Cruz, likewise, undeniably affects a kind of greatness. He almost never comes across as peevish or trivial, but like Snape, he is a closed book, ruthlessly disciplined but clearly calculating. Some find his Man of Principle demeanor inspiring, while others find it grating or disturbing. It’s especially problematic when it bleeds over into his political choices—a man who believes he can do no wrong is apt to make mistakes. Even when wrong though, he is clearly a force, and even those who condemn his tactics generally concede he is decidedly not a liberal.
Man of Mystery
When Rowling was still working on the Harry Potter series, people would passionately defend their detailed theories about Snape’s final role in the story. I’m reminded of those debates now when listening to hilariously hyperbolic accounts of Cruz’s plans, right down to very fine details of his emotions and moral state. Everybody wants to crack that mysterious book of scrolls.
I don’t know Cruz personally, but smart people I’m normally inclined to trust have given me astonishingly divergent accounts of the man. The bad news for Cruz is that inconsistency really doesn’t inspire trust. It doesn’t matter that this is reputational and not personal inconsistency. Clearly somebody’s read him very wrong, but I’m not sure who that is, so I remain wary. Ingenious, calculating, cloaked men sometimes turn out to be bad.
Cruz’s flirtations with populism always seemed reckless to me, and events have validated that assessment rather well. I also never bought the argument that Cruz’s Senate colleagues didn’t like him just because he was practically perfect in every way. It’s true that perfect people can be galling. I’m pretty sure, though, that Cruz is not the perfect man, even overlooking the nose.
Still, I did finish the Harry Potter series, so I know cold, calculating men can also be judged unfairly. (Remember in book one, when our three little heroes were busy stalking Snape and making his life miserable as he was quietly trying to save them from the newly reawakened Voldemort?) It could be that Cruz really is a good man and a committed conservative who just happens to be a bit too ambitious for his own good. That ambition, combined with his intelligence and discipline, might give him a Machiavellian reputation that is less-than-fully deserved. Such reputations can be hard to shake, especially for those who are naturally of a reserved temperament.
Conservatism at the Crossroads
Whatever the future of conservatism, it feels almost foreordained that Cruz will be in the thick of it. Of course, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Whether you regarded it as calculating or principled, it took some incredible moxie to stand up at the Republican National Convention and tell conservatives across the nation to vote their consciences. Of course the speech was yet another Cruz-ian calculation, but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant or brave. After so much skulking and mealy-mouthed apologizing, it was amazing to see a politician seizing that shining moment, speaking refulgent truth to corrupt and craven power. A politician with the stones to do that could have true greatness in his future.
After reading countless profiles on Cruz and listening to countless debates, I have concluded that nobody really knows. Even his friends don’t know. Even Cruz himself probably isn’t sure whether he truly has that capacity for excellence, although he obviously wants it. As with the Harry Potter books, we’ll just have to wait for the next installment. (Remember how that seemed to take forever?)
This much at least might give us hope: Cruz is clearly reading the writing on the wall, and the writing he sees reads “Trumpism will fail.” He probably knows Humpty Dumpty won’t quite go back together, at least not in quite the same shape. If he expected the status quo (or something like it) to reassert itself, he would have followed House Speaker Paul Ryan in offering an obviously painful endorsement of Trump. Instead he took a more daring route, planting his flag for a post-Trumpian conservatism.
As usual, he wants to lead the charge. Some of us still mistrust him, and not without reason. It’s still good to see that someone as brainy as Cruz glimpses brighter horizons ahead.