It’s not really about Cruz as Goldwater, or Cruz as Nixon. It’s more about Cruz and Trump in a unique symbiosis. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump really are birds of a feather, and they are both fighting the same battle, for the same team. Attacking one to lift up the other is like digging a sandcastle moat to reduce the ocean. The two men both need and understand each other.
In college, Cruz briefly flirted with becoming an aspiring actor, but ultimately became a lawyer, then pursued politics as the expression of his desire to restore Constitutional liberty to the country. Trump was an ambitious real estate developer with a penchant for acting on the public stage, who later became a television personality. The two men understand each other at a very basic level, and there’s more to Cruz’s backslapping of Trump than mere political strategy. They realize they’re fighting for the same thing, but most of the GOP field misses that point.
Trump has built upon a public persona on display since 1978. The private Donald is, by all accounts, a different person, although constantly in possession of the attributes he displays when the TV lights come on. It’s like meeting Bruce Banner and hearing the secret of how he keeps the Hulk from randomly emerging: “I’m always angry.” Trump is always on, just suppressing The Donald when he’s not needed.
Cruz is like Sturgill Simpson’s song, “Turtles All The Way Down.” He’s a study in infinite regression of principle and application, whose politics adapt only to further the primary goal. If you were to slice the senator along a random axis, you’d find the Constitution, Jesus, and liberty tattooed all along the cross section. And digging beneath Trump’s business shell, you’d find a Constitutionalist, a liberty-supporter, but one who’s willing to compromise either to get a deal done.
Trump’s talking points are hand-written with a Sharpie pen on sheets of white copy paper, taken from his coat as he approaches the podium at a rally, and rarely glanced at as he delivers 90-minute stream of consciousness spiels that come off like a Jerry Seinfeld comedy set, but not nearly as polished or practiced. Cruz hates podiums.
Cruz rarely deviates from the script. He rails against the “Washington cartel,” assails the Obama administration and vows to shut down government agencies. His stump speech has, naturally, shifted a bit as the race has gone on and news events have occurred — he is now adding some new language, including the term “undocumented Democrats” as he looks to draft behind Donald Trump — but the bones are the same and he sticks to them. Cruz seems more comfortable delivering his speech lately, more sure of himself after nearly 10 months on the campaign trail. His backers value the fact that he’s preternaturally on message, believing that the chance of him torpedoing his candidacy with a verbal gaffe is low.
In December, Cruz started showing a well-produced video to rally attendees, a practice that Trump has adopted just days ago. They watch each other closely.
Where they differ in style, here’s where Trump and Cruz intersect—if not overlap.
Both Trump and Cruz see government as a tool society uses, not an end to itself to shape society in its image. Isn’t that the core difference between the “establishment” and those upon whom we bestow the seal of big-“C” approval? Vying for the soul of the conservative movement, Cruz has no choice but to outflank Trump on the right, or at least stand with him, even if in reality neither man would be able to clean up the carcasses from the Oval Office. The singular complaint I’ve always had against Trump is that he’d be a terrible president, precisely because he actually believes he can fix it all.
(It’s not defeatism to admit one president can’t fix everything. Reagan tried but couldn’t fix immigration, and 30 years later, it’s still not fixed. Carter and Obama, on the other hand, really believed they could make the country work the way they wanted.)
Cruz and Trump don’t necessarily oppose the principles of certain Washington insiders; they oppose the fact that Washington insiders, as a class by themselves, wield outsize influence in the shaping of national policy. Cruz really believes in the promise of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” that the regular guy can effect change. Trump sees that too, albeit with a bit less faith in the regular guy to regulate his own affairs.
Cruz is disliked by his peers because he rejects Republicans who promise “better government” while delivering simply more government, even if those same Republicans can help Cruz’s agenda. Trump, using fourth grade vocabulary, debunks the premise entirely: there’s no such thing as “better government” if the same incompetent people are running it. It’s not the “establishment” that Cruz hates, it’s the double-dealing impostors who claim one thing and deliver another (which raises the question: is there even a difference anymore?).
Cruz is not a compromiser, but Trump is much more skilled in social engineering. If he hasn’t read Edward Bernays’ seminal work, “Crystallizing Public Opinion,” he could probably write it. In this, Trump is much more effective in getting his way. He reads the crowd like Obama reads a forgiving putting green, stakes out a position, summons supporters, then builds consensus. Cruz isn’t particularly concerned with consensus, only with being right, while Trump isn’t at all concerned with being right, because he’ll make himself right by acclamation. They both get that about each other.
At this particular point in history, the two men need each other. Cruz would never have the slightest shot at the nomination (this cycle) if it weren’t for Trump plowing the field for him. And Trump would be subject to a withering attack from principled conservatives, likely propelling Christie or Rubio into first place if Cruz’s meticulously-run data-based ground game were not there.
Cruz often tells crowds that he’s a “data guy” who likes numbers.
As it turns out, data is a key component to his campaign, which is employing a sophisticated analytics system it thinks will help him win. A poker and chess player, he also likes strategy. His answers to questions about his campaign sometimes sound like a political strategy sessions complete with talk of delegate counts as a way to prove that he can win.
But more than simple necessity, the senator and the businessman grasp that they are on the same side. It’s unlikely they will self-annihilate, making room for the more centrist-leaning lane in the race. Instead of the convention being a bitter battle between moderates and conservatives like 1964, the battle in 2016 will be between two anti-Washington candidates, who really agree more than they disagree.