So, reading David Brooks when he is critical of the GOP is sometimes like watching a movie trailer for a bad comedy. You’re nodding along, laughing, things are going great, the narrator is saying something like “They were a perfect match, and had planned the perfect life, until…” and you hear the cheesy record scratch. Then there is, I don’t know, some kind of obnoxious kid or mean aunt or something. Maybe a really big rambunctions dog who raps. It’s not important. The important thing is that you are suddenly reminded that what you were vaguely enjoying is actually terrible.
That can sum up Brooks’s latest column about what an unbearable load Ted Cruz is. He starts with a story I had never heard, about how Cruz went to the Supreme Court to try to keep someone in jail for 16 years for stealing a calculator (he should have gotten a max of two, apparently)*. It is a perfect illustration of his unbending brutality and lack of anything relatable to human compassion. There’s even a few really good lines, like when he speaks of Cruz’s always-apocolyptic rhetoric, saying “As is the wont of inauthentic speakers, everythings is described as a maximalist existential threat.”
There are a couple of weird stumbling blocks presaging the record scratch, though. He says that previously, GOPers trying to get the evangelical vote had to couch their rhetoric in compassion toward the poor, like G.W. Bush, Huckabee, and Santorum have done. There is a bit of truth in this- certainly GW ran on that- but while Santorum talks about raising up the working class, he is less forthright about the actual poor, and Huckabee (at least since he lost in 2008) talks about them the same way any other Repbulican does: as a parasitic class who refuses to work. But Brooks’s point is sort of taken; they usually pretend that God loves all his children, whereas Cruz doesn’t.
All that is more or less fine, though. Brooks discusses why Cruz’s apocolyptic tirades are nonsense, talking about how we’re actually in pretty good shape as a country, even if he disagrees with some of what Obama has done. That’s good and healthy discourse, rooted in reality. So why is Cruz’s message resonating with evangelicals? Cue rapping dog.
Ted Cruz didn’t come up with this hard, combative and gladiatorial campaign approach in isolation. He’s always demonstrated a tendency to bend his position — whether immigration or trade — to what suits him politically. This approach works because in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges court decision on same-sex marriage, many evangelicals feel they are being turned into pariahs in their own nation.
Yup. Evangelicals are responding to this vision of doom with enemies all around because of a Supreme Court decision from last year. Before Obergefell, they wouldn’t have had a moment for Ted Cruz and his rhetoric, which is equal parts aggression and victimization.
This, ultimately, is the problem with Brooks. He doesn’t see that this toxic stew is the result of at least 40 years of anti-government rhetoric, of party leaders saying anything from Washington is bad, of treating any non-right-wing belief as not just incorrect, but anethema to decency and patriotism. Iraq War protestors were traitors. John Boehner was a liberal stooge. This started well before gay marriage was even a possibility. Hell, this started before being out and gay was a realistic possibility in most of the country.
Brooks can’t see that this is his Republican Party. Is part of it a reaction to cultural change? Of course. But it’s been the leading lights of the party- politicians, writers, talk radio gabbers, publishers, Fox News celebs, and yes, people like Brooks- who have told them for decades that change is terrible, and it is a liberal plot to destroy your lives.
So no, Ted Cruz didn’t come up with this style in a vacuum. He came up with it because he’s 44 years old, and the world of right-wing apocolyptism is all he knows. I know that on some level Brooks knows better. The only question is if one day he’ll ever admit it to himself.
*Edit: Paul Campos at LGM gets into the actual details of the case, which aren’t as cut-and-dry as Brooks makes them seem, and which paints Cruz in a slightly better light. Or at least not as reprehensible of a light. Doesn’t much change the underlying argument, since this can be replaced by just about anything, but still lazy on Brooks’s behalf, and mine for not doing any followup.