Ted Cruz’s memoir, A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America, sold 11,854 copies in its first week—more than 18 of the 20 titles on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. But the Times has declined to include A Time for Truth in its list, citing evidence of “strategic bulk purchases” intended to manipulate sales. Apparently the gray lady has an algorithm for that, and they’re standing by it, even as the Cruz campaign cries foul. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal and Publisher’s Weekly have included the book on their own lists—the latter, as the Washington Post notes, “in fourth place between books from former Playboy bunny Holly Madison and enthusiastic facial-expression-maker Aziz Ansari.”
First of all, I think we can agree that “A Time for Truth” is an awesome title, suggesting as it does a special occasion. The publisher’s blurb on Amazon is similarly pleasing. It begins by noting that “liberals love to hate Ted Cruz” and goes on to describe him as “the most Googled man in Washington.” Clearly, the people marketing this book understand the secret to Cruz’s success.
Second, I’m a little worried about the publishing industry. It’s alarming that 12,000 books nationwide will land you in fourth on the bestseller list. For comparison, Kendrick Lamar’s hotly anticipated bummer To Pimp a Butterfly sold 324,000 physical albums in its first week. Probably their audiences don’t overlap much, but that’s the point. A bestselling album enjoys 27 times the sales of a bestselling book.
Third, and most importantly: please God, provide us with evidence that Cruz and organizations connected to him bought up thousands of copies of his memoir. The Times has thus far refused, presumably because, like Facebook, they want to protect their algorithm from gaming. But their reticence has made room for a powerful counter-narrative: that the Times is too liberal to admit Cruz is a bestselling author.
That’s hogwash, of course—possibly even poppycock. Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and other conservative firebrands regularly appear on the Times bestseller list, as have Cruz equivalents Sarah Palin and Herman Cain.1 But the kind of people who think Ted Cruz should be president are absolutely prepared to believe he is a bestselling author and the liberal media doesn’t want you to know it. The notion that America is in the grips of a conspiracy to hide the number of people who agree with them is central to the conservative critique.
If you accept that idea, this controversy is an extremely sweet deal for Cruz. The Times can’t prove he manipulated his book sales without helping people manipulate its algorithm in the future. The result is a contest of credibility between the paper of record and the long-shot candidate for president—easy to judge for most of us, but equally easy for people who think the New York Times lies about everything.
If you reverse engineer it, it sounds like a masterful strategy. What is one thing that tea party conservatives have in common? Mistrust of the mainstream media, whose figurehead is the Times.2 What could unite angry paranoiacs when they have Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Donald Trump to choose from? A truth-telling contest between one candidate and that ostensibly liberal media. What Cruz has done, probably inadvertently, is make lifestyle conservatives choose between him and the New York Times. It’s a magician’s force.
And he has made me want to read his book, if only to see what sort of kooky shit he says now that it’s finally a time for truth. I would also like to see how he proposes to reignite the promise of America, which really should be merrily ablaze at this point. But mostly I want to be alone with Senator Cruz’s idea of who I want him to be. You can tell a lot about a person by what lies he expects you to believe.
It appears Cruz wants to be a bestselling author, not so much because he wants thousands of people to read what he has to say, but because he wants millions of people to believe thousands of other people did. It’s a peculiar ambition, but Cruz is a peculiar guy. I’m pretty sure I like him better as a manipulator of bestseller lists. I’d rather think of him as a strategist than as a blowhard.