In this nauseating season of presidential primaries, one finds oneself straining to find comparisons to do justice to the pit of vipers aspiring to the ultimate prize. Though I started out thinking that any one of the dozen or so Republican idiots on stage would be better than Donald Trump, I have since changed my mind. With only Trump and the unctuous Ted Cruz left in contention for the nomination, I have been forced to conclude that even Trump would be better than Cruz—though it should be said that for the life of me, I cannot figure out how any reasonable person could choose either one. Nonetheless, if it’s between the Drumpf and ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ I would prefer that Trump be the Republican nominee—even considering that the other “hold-your-nose” candidate on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, also appears to be a shoe-in. Which makes one wonder: what has happened to so degrade American democracy that we are left with the choice between Trump or Cruz and Hillary?
But I digress. What I really wanted to do was register my increasing astonishment that anyone could possibly choose Ted Cruz as a potential ‘leader of the free world’ (and I have a good friend who seems to be opting for precisely that). That’s because Cruz really is one of the most despicable candidates—using only the assessments of his Republican colleagues in the Congress—ever to get this close to the top. He reminds me of a sewer rat that has somehow slithered out of his dark den and, by sheer persistence and pretension (slicking back his foul hair and uncrossing his beady eyes), managed to persuade many Republican primary voters that he would be the best alternative to Trump. Even if we discount what former speaker of the house John Boehner called him (“Lucifer in the flesh”) as a bit hyperbolic, Ted Cruz still remains the Uriah Heep of modern politics.
For those who may have forgotten, Uriah Heep is one of Charles Dickens’ most memorable and loathsome characters. He appears in David Copperfield, and though he ends up getting his just deserts (sentenced to prison for committing fraud on the Bank of England), for a time he manages to convince many people in the novel of his “‘umbleness,” his sincerity, and even his honesty. Dickens describes his face as “cadaverous,” something that would fit Ted Cruz perfectly (isn’t there something about his eyes that chills the soul?) And though Heep protests constantly about his humility, though he advances with Mr. Wickfield because of his determination and willingness to work zealously—even teaching himself law at night—he shows his true colors by resorting to blackmail to finally gain control of Wickfield’s business. He is, in short, motivated almost exclusively by greed, selfishness and self-aggrandizement.
From everything we have read about Ted Cruz, he is quite similar. The man seems to have no working morals—except for those he pretends to revere as a fundamentalist Christian conservative. When he saw that there was a chance to elevate his stature in the Senate by threatening to shut down the government to defund Obamacare, he simply ignored the damage it would do to his own party and to his own colleagues in favor of his personal agenda. Everyone knew, and he allegedly knew as well, that his plan to threaten Democrats and Obama himself with a government shutdown if they refused to cancel the health care law was doomed to fail from the outset. And yet he persisted in holding the government hostage for sixteen days, until finally his colleagues, sensing that they were going to suffer an even bigger loss in public support than they did the last time they threw this sort of tantrum, caved in and overruled him. In response to which Cruz publicly berated them all as wimps (in contrast to himself, of course). This is one of the reasons Speaker Boehner called him “Lucifer in the flesh.” It is why New York Congressman Peter King vowed he would “take cyanide” if Cruz gets the nomination. King was eloquent about why he “hates” Cruz:
“If you come up with a strategy that’s going to shut down the government of the United States and you have no way of winning, you’re either a fraud or you’re totally incompetent, so he can have his choice as to what he is,” he frostily told Piers Morgan. At other times, he (King) has said, “He’s a false leader; he’s led people down a false path here,” and “Ted Cruz has decided to be the center of his own universe, to live in his own world.”
And finally, King told Wolf Blitzer when Cruz announced his campaign for president in 2015: “He’s shown no qualifications, no legislation passed, no leadership, and he has no real experience…So to me, he’s just a guy with a big mouth and no results.”
In sum, Ted Cruz, apparently driven by a father’s (himself a fundamentalist preacher) indoctrination that he would be great, will coldly betray anyone and any group in order to advance what he considers to be his destiny. Calling him a reptile is to insult a whole species (even Satanists have repudiated the association with Cruz, arguing that calling him Satan is an insult to them as well.) Calling him anything is an insult to whatever one calls him. Uriah Heep, Flem Snopes (the scabrous arriviste from Faulkner’s novels), snake, rodent—none really does justice to the living, breathing pus bag that is Ted Cruz. I had a friend once who coined the most vivid epithet I’ve ever heard to describe people such as Cruz, when he described one of our fellow editors at Harcourt Brace as having “halitosis of the soul.” That would seem to be the type that Cruz epitomizes—even granting that it’s a type more common among hypocrite politicians than any other ‘profession.’ It is a type that seems impervious to rebuke or criticism or insult. It is a type of human being—if one can really call such types ‘human’—that is so besotted with its own slime that it hardly knows it is being spat upon.
And yet: this is the naked opportunist who is willing to cashier his whole party to be president of the United States, and who is actually succeeding in getting former enemies like Sen. Lindsay Graham to support him, so desperate are they to stop Donald Trump. The entire nauseating spectacle is enough to make one forget politics and all concern with politics forever. Except for the fact that the outcome of this presidential contest will matter so deeply to so many people, to so much of the planet. How can it possibly be ignored?
This is really the larger question that Ted Cruz raises. Politics is said to be the “art of the possible.” But when democratic politics throws up from its depths such loathsome creatures as Ted Cruz, and offers them for our consideration, it forces us to wonder whether another system—no matter how corrupt—could possibly be worse. History is full of examples of idiot kings, of vicious opportunists who have used their power to devastate countless nations. If his past is any indication, Ted Cruz bids fair—if he should ever get such power—to stand with the worst of them. So what does that say about democracy? What does that say about the voice of the people—millions of whom are even now lining up to support him? It is terrifying to contemplate.