Ted Cruz Will Die So That You May Live
He humiliated Walker into silence and denied him any semi-consensus that could have kept his polls aloft and justified donors funding his campaign’s high burn rate. He humiliated and confused Bush, until Bush’s team could think of nothing better than sitting back and waiting for Trump’s numbers to fall. He humiliated Rubio and robbed him of the aura of inevitability he desperately needed to mask just how lazy and insubstantial he was.
Everyone else was a joke. Gilmore, Pataki, Graham? Whatever. Rick Perry put on some glasses. Rick Santorum flirted with Trumpist populism, but all his solutions were doctrinaire conservatism. Mike Huckabee’s campaign seemed focused on reassuring voters scared that chicken sandwiches might get made by “a homo.” Rand Paul’s dad gave him a Libertarian movement, and he abandoned it to halfheartedly woo movement conservatives.
Bobby Jindal tried to play the highly educated candidate role and came out playing the Rob Schneider role in a fart comedy. Carly Fiorina was only auditioning for VP or a cabinet gig. Nobody wanted to give Chris Christie checks when he was potentially about to be wrapped in a quilt of federal indictments, so Trump took the only thing of his that had any value: being a bully. And Ben Carson was a clusterfuck when he was winning and a clusterfuck on the way out the door.
After that long list, you probably forgot about John Kasich, which puts you in excellent company.
Trump cut through this sad remainder-bin collection of the indolent, the unappealing and the relentlessly, programmatically shitheaded like a burning chainsaw going through Country Crock. He recognized a fundamental weakness at the heart of this soft, oily collection of ersatz humanity: They can be undone by basic human contempt.
While Cruz would like everyone to assume he knew this too, that kind of retrospective conclusion is a stretch. Trump won because he basically didn’t give a fuck. Not about verbal pieties, campaign traditions, rudimentary gestures of respect or the orthodoxies of modern conservatism. Nothing. Trump spent so long being a post-human avatar of the Trump™ brand that he neither knew nor cared about being a post-human avatar of conservative candidacy.
But however much Cruz branded himself a renegade, he did care about these things. He spoke in campaignese, used formal titles, lowered his voice gravely when mentioning Ronald Reagan and filtered every idea through electability doublespeak. If you’d put every candidate’s debate statements into a vocal distorter until they sounded alike and deleted all proper names, no average voter could have picked him out from the crowd. There’s a reason why he attacked Rubio so ferociously: Their platforms and biographies were basically identical.
Cruz could never have cleared this field singlehandedly. Without Trump — after doomed and underfunded candidates croaked via inevitability — Cruz would have faced the same liabilities as everyone else. In a conservative climate determined to reject the broken promises of politicians, he still was one. He still sounded like one, just turned up to 11.