Ted Cruz has formally entered the 2016 presidential race, announcing his candidacy this morning at Liberty University. And what better analogue for his brand of conservatism than a college founded by a televangelist? As the Telegraph reminds us, Liberty University teaches that the Earth is 6000 years old and notes the “strong possibility that horses, zebras and donkeys are all descended from an original pair of horses that were on Noah’s Ark.” That’s only a possibility, though; we shouldn’t assume anything until we can do more research. Cruz is a Baptist, but he didn’t go to Liberty University. He went to Princeton. That, dear reader, is the senator from Texas in a nutshell.
Luckily for us, the religious nature of Liberty University is not even the most robust part of this metaphor. Better to note that the chancellor of Liberty is now Jerry Falwell Jr., the founder’s son. Nothing says academic meritocracy like handing down control of your university to your first male heir.
While we’re deploying sarcasms, nothing says scrupulous commitment to quality education like a school with 13,000 students on campus and more than 100,000 online. That second number makes Liberty the largest non-profit college in America. It also makes it the largest single recipient of federal student aid dollars. Note that when Combat! blog last checked in on Liberty, in 2011, their online enrollment was a mere 53,000. In a five year period that saw its campus population increase about 9%, Liberty’s body of internet students doubled.
To recap: Cruz announced his candidacy at a college that teaches children’s Bible stories as science, mostly online, under the direction of a chancellor who inherited the job from his millionaire TV preacher dad. Not unlike the senator from Texas, these people are against federal spending but derive most of their income from it.
At the risk of editorializing, I dare say that both Cruz and Liberty are in the business of monetizing a fake value system. In the same way that it was impossible to watch Jerry Falwell, Sr. preach without wondering if he believed it or had just found a way to make credulous TV owners send him checks, it’s impossible to watch Cruz do things like filibuster a bill that has already reached the Senate floor and then vote for it without wondering if he is pandering.
Surely, Ted Cruz is too smart to believe what Ted Cruz says. This Princeton- and Harvard-educated lawyer who argued before the Supreme Court doesn’t really think that zebras and donkeys diverged from the two horses that made it onto Noah’s ark, right? When he tells an audience of Christian college students that “there are some people who wonder if faith is real,” that gobbledygook sentence cannot correspond to a concrete idea in his brain. Can it?
The simplest explanation is usually correct, and I think Cruz’s political career is simply explained by his pandering to the ultra-conservative base. They’re not enough to make him President, but they are sufficiently tenacious and influential in the GOP to guarantee him an income for life. As Democratic candidate Steve Elmendorf put it to the Times:
The question for Republicans is: Can an unlikable candidate who holds positions unappealing for the general election be viable?
As with so many other rhetorical questions, Cruz probably knows the answer to that one. An earlier draft of the Times story on his announcement described his attempt to position himself as “the most courageous conservative,” which made for a more fun post. I had a whole series of acts of courageous conservatism: Ted Cruz takes food stamps away from a bear, Ted Cruz jumps a motorcycle over an American flag and onto the Iranian one, Ted Cruz karaokes “Total Eclipse of the Heart” with Anne Coulter, et cetera. But now we’re back to the same unanswerable question that comes up every time Cruz makes a big announcement: does he believe himself?
Everything I know about the psychology of the individual and the interpretation of human facial expressions says no. Cruz’s candidacy is a testament to Lincoln’s claim that you can fool some of the people all the time. The junior senator from Texas is seeking the nomination of a party that has lately produced plenty of demagogues and few leaders. He won’t get it, but he will probably expand his audience. Congratulations to Ted Cruz, the next Fox News commentator of the United States.