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Ted Cruz and the True Conservative Fallacy

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As polls show his once steady rise in Iowa turning into a slow plummet, a cream-colored-fungal-growth and Republican presidential candidate named Ted Cruz has begun attacking his main rival, retired Dennis the Menace stunt double Donald Trump, in earnest.

Cruz’s message is simple: Trump is not a true conservative. Ted believes that if he hammers this point home enough times, he’ll take down Trump and reap a majority of the bellowing billionaire’s supporters. He’s wrong.

It’s a rare political miscalculation for the junior Senator from Texas. Cruz rode a wave of upset support to the Senate on a Tea Party primary bid in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. The Texan’s career in politics has not gained him many friends, but he has developed the ability to inspire devotion and support from his base.

Ted’s public life has been all about power at the expense of relationships. His tireless campaigning as a policy adviser for Bush in 2000 netted him a position as associate deputy attorney general. Shortly thereafter he was shuffled into the Federal Trade Commission. It was a placement that was seen as a slight, but necessary because by that point nobody in the Bush White House could stand him.

Cruz left the Bush administration went back to his home state of Texas, serving as Solicitor General in the Rick Perry administration from 2003 until 2008. He then went into private practice and lurked in the background, waiting for his moment. It came four years later.

In 2012, he won the primary for US Senate in an upset, relying on Tea Party backing to steal the nomination from sitting Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. The out of nowhere rise to power would set the tone for his Senate career.

That Senate career has been a carefully planned and meticulously orchestrated piece of theater all leading up to the Republican primary.

Cruz’s grandstanding over cherry-picked political causes led to a partial government shutdown in 2014. He accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of lying to him over a procedural vote, incurring the wrath of his entire caucus.

Again- he hasn’t made many friends.

But again- that’s not what he went there to do. He went there to get attention, and promote himself as a true conservative and maneuver into position for 2016 on that basis.

True conservatism has always prided itself on having strong principles and intellectual backing. The battle for small government and lower taxes, the thinking goes, is what really drives the party.

It’s this ideology that drives Cruz, the Harvard educated lawyer with bedrock right wing values. He likely thought that he could use his homespun delivery of his true conservative ideas to make his way to the nomination, the purist with his ear to the beating heart of Middle America.

Unfortunately for Cruz, he misjudged his party. True conservative principles are not important to the base in this election cycle. And perhaps they never were.

It’s not small government ideology that wins elections for the Republicans, and it hasn’t been for quite some time. No. It’s a different aspect of the American electorate that the GOP is tapping into.

That aspect, of course, is bigotry. Whether it’s 2004 and the specter of gay marriage, or 1968 and the backlash against integration, the GOP has been winning elections on reactionary bigotry for generations.

Donald Trump’s campaign kicked off with a toxic mix of xenophobia and racism. Since then, Trump’s speeches and supporters have only gotten more extreme. Whether it’s banning people from the country due to their religious and ethnic backgrounds or retweeting two white supremacists in a week, he’s been constantly on message.

Polling has reflected that that message is the one that resonates most with the Republican base. Trump has led in the polls by sizable margins for months now, and his lead continues to solidify and even grow as he continues to push his ethno-nationalistic, violent rhetoric to the limit.

The party base doesn’t give a shit about Cruz’s ads touting his conservative credentials. It won’t stop them from supporting Trump- in fact, it reminds them of why they like him. He’s pretty much a one issue guy. Just like they are.

Ted Cruz’s political career has been carefully constructed around his promotion of the perception that he is the true conservative in the GOP field. That was the pitch that would win him the nomination in 2016, and even maybe even the White House.

It’s been bittersweet to watch him be so wrong.

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Eoin Higgins has a master’s degree in history from Fordham University. He lives in New York.

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