Last night, former Speaker of the House John Boehner captured the nation’s attention by calling presidential aspirant Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh” in an appearance at Stanford University.
Having established his Satanic theme, Boehner continued. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”
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Any other politician would have winced at the characterization, especially coming from a fellow Republican. But given his long-term success at extracting vitriol and bile by the barrel from those who should be his ideological comrades, we can only assume that Cruz craves the hatred and condemnation, and regards Boehner’s Lucifer comment as an endorsement.
Ordinarily, decorum prevents politicians from making overt comments like this—even about the members of the opposing party. But Cruz has a way of producing the uncensored, blunt and ugly from his fellow party-members. This week, Complex collected some of the choice rips dealt to him by other Republicans. “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you,” Sen. Lindsay Graham said in February. “Nobody likes him,” Bob Dole said in January. “Classless, tasteless and counterproductive,” Rep. Tom Cole late last year. “I just don’t like the guy,” said former President George W. Bush in October.
“I hate Ted Cruz,” Rep. Peter King, who isn’t exactly likable himself, recently. “I’ll take cyanide if he ever got the nomination.”
Of course, Cruz isn’t the first prick to inhabit politics. Lyndon Johnson, for example, famously humiliating secretaries, senators and aides by summoning them into the bathroom for conversations while he was seated on the presidential throne. Richard Nixon could be nasty, too, but he resented the hatred his actions elicited. All would agree that Donald Trump is a wicked man, but he has his sensitive side, too, as proved by his emotional reaction to charges that he’s short-fingered.
If not the first prick, what is Cruz? He’s the first American politician who strives to be despised. If waterboarded, Johnson, Nixon and Trump would confess that they prefer love to hatred. Not Cruz, whose premeditated rudeness, self-righteousness, backstabbing and name-calling have inspired a dozen recent pieces exploring the question of why Washington hates Ted Cruz (Atlantic, New Republic, Mother Jones, New York, Vanity Fair, Vice, The Week, et al.). He wants to be hated. He draws strength from the attention it delivers and he has sought the hatred of others since high school (“He was not well liked,” said former high school classmate Laura Calaway). His pursuit of other’s hatred continued through college (“Ted’s style was sneering, smirking, condescending, jabbing his finger in your face,” said former college classmate Geoffrey Cohen) and has extended into his political career, where last year he gained notoriety (and more hatred) calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor.
Search history for Cruz’s antecedent and you’ll come up empty. Scan the pages of literature. Scroll your Rolodex. Canvass the jails and prisons. Nothing. Perhaps only in the annals of psychiatry can you find anybody in possession of a masochistic narcissist profile like Cruz’s. But those people are crazy. Cruz is not crazy. He might actually be a member of an advanced but not yet recognized species that has determined that spending effort on getting people to like you is a mug’s game. From the view from inside Cruz’s skull, once you get people to like you, your job has only begun. Additional acts of kindness, consideration and fairness must be extended or your likability will fade into the background. But hatred is a much more efficient use of emotional energy. Often, a single dose of malice can seal the impression among most people that you’re a terminal prick. By acquiring as his enemies the Washington political establishment, Cruz figures he can inherit their enemies, and the 2016 campaign has proved him right. Nobody until Cruz had the stomach to build his political foundation on a bedrock of loathing.
This is essentially the view of the Atlantic’s Molly Ball, who in January wrote that Cruz deliberately offends and insults his Republican colleagues so as to appear to his tea party allies as the only authentic conservative in the arena. Politicians have long campaigned for the White House by running against Washington, D.C. George Wallace was the first, doing it in the 1960 and ’70s. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama followed the Wallace example, although each crafted his own technique. But these candidates were only play-acting their hatred of Washington, eager to join the governing class in the event they won the presidential derby. What makes Cruz’s jihad against Washington appear sincere is his willingness to fight a two-theater war—one against the Democrats and the other against his own party—to the death if necessary. His hatred is pure and honest.
Did Cruz decide to play the hateful political villain, or was it thrust upon him? I defy you to look at him and not associate his squinty-eyed, , whiny-mouthed demonic visage with the great villains of film noir history. If looks are destiny, perhaps the answer to why Cruz works so hard to be hated can be contained in a snapshot: It’s the path of least resistance. But even film noir villains have deep soul-searching stretches in which they question their own badness. If Cruz has submitted to even a soul-searching once-over, I’d be surprised. Instead, he wears the hatred of his peers like a badge of honor, the way Lucifer and his fallen angels wore their Lord’s scorn.
If success is the measure, who can argue against the Cruz method? By antagonizing everybody in sight—by suppressing the standard-issue feelings of desiring love—he has taken his candidacy to unexpected heights. And he appears to be on the cusp of proving that hateful guys finish second.
“The only thing less popular on Capitol Hill than Cruz is a cash bar,” wrote Glenn Thrush late last year. Would you buy him (Cruz, not Thrush) a drink? Send your answer via email to . My email alerts think it’s a shame that Roy Cohn can’t play Ted Cruz in the movie version of his life. My feed’s favorite film noir is Out of the Past. My RSS feed was killed by a hateful villain.
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