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Ted Cruz Won’t be Able to Usurp Trump So Easily

As the Donald Trump era draws to an acrimonious conclusion, Emma Burnell considers if the Texas Senator will be able to capture the Republican crown in his wake

Texas Senator Ted Cruz at CPAC2017. Photo: Michael Vadon/Wikimedia Commons

Ted Cruz Won’t be Able to Usurp Trump So Easily

As the Donald Trump era draws to an acrimonious conclusion, Emma Burnell considers if the Texas Senator will be able to capture the Republican crown in his wake

In the last proper episode of the long-running American soap opera Dallas, arch bad guy JR Ewing is shown what the world would look like if he didn’t exist. Unlike its inspiration, It’s a Wonderful Life, his closest family and friends are happier, more successful and better off without him.

I was reminded of this childhood TV moment when thinking about Donald Trump and his role in global public life over the past decade. I frankly fail to see how anyone wouldn’t be better off if he had just made money instead of headlines – neither the people who have been hurt by his Government; nor even his fervent supporters, some of whom now face jail for allowing that support to fester into insurrection and violence.

But, in many ways, the group that has been most damaged by Trump is the Republican Party itself – and none more so than high-ranking Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Cruz cuts a fairly pathetic figure. His sideshow antics belie the fact that he has long since given up any hope of being a positive force on the world and now simply instead seeks power at any cost.

Cruz has been on a journey since he stood against Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary – but he doesn’t seem to have travelled very far.

During their vicious primary battle, Cruz attempted to gain support as the respectable face of Trumpism – someone with the same sordid views about guns, abortion and immigration, but who wouldn’t cause an existential crisis in the Republican Party.

Matching Trump’s rhetoric about President Barack Obama, Cruz labelled the two-term Democrat as a “leading sponsor of state terrorism”. The Texan’s pitch was arguably Trump without the chaos. He might as well have offered to be P.T. Barnum without the circus. The chaos – the circus – is the whole point.

Trump responded in a way that shocked then, but now barely registers on the political Richter scale. He went on the attack and he went in low, labelling his challenger “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, calling his wife ugly and accusing his father of having connections to the killer of President John F. Kennedy.

Trump plundered depths that Cruz was unwilling and incapable of matching. He therefore remained Trump-lite – a weak alternative to the cocktail of alt-right extremism that had hooked the Republican Party.

Cock Fight

I don’t subscribe to traditional notions of masculinity, strength and patriarchy and am neither Ted Cruz nor Donald Trump’s intended audience.

Yet, even to me, Cruz’s tactics are counter-intuitive. He is manoeuvring to be the next Republican presidential candidate, but his approach has been to hop on the Trump bandwagon – as one of the President’s most vocal proponents of election fraud conspiracy theories. Becoming a sock-puppet for Trump, after facing personal insults from the real estate mogul in 2016, seems unlikely to appeal to a body of people who seek macho leadership.

What’s more, whereas Trump has marketed himself successfully as an outsider – the articulation of a ‘left-behind’ generation of white men who fear their superiority is being challenged – Cruz is merely a political schemer.

He has worked in politics on and off since joining George W. Bush’s campaign in 1999. He is a creature of Washington – or “the swamp” as Trump has nicknamed it. Trump’s voters appear to detest the Wall Street values and foreign wars that Bush openly stood for. Cruz will not have the ability to whine in their name.

Cruz’s most off-beam calculation, however, is assuming that the next Republican candidate will be able to retain Trump’s coalition of voters. These are not Republican base voters – they are Trump loyalists. When the most fervent and the most unhinged of them marched on the Capitol on 6 January, there were no Republican elephants on those flags, just Trump’s slogans and Confederate symbols.

They are part of a personality cult and, as such, are not easily transferable to any generic candidate with an ‘R’ next to their name. They will follow their leader – Donald J. Trump – not the leader of the party they happened to vote for last time. Indeed, there are already rumours swirling that Trump is looking to start a new party for them to flock to.

Even if Trump can be prevented from – or persuaded against  – standing in 2024, he will be the kingmaker for this crowd, and their numbers could easily sway the Republican primary.

Trump is not going to rush to judgement or relinquish the spotlight easily. He will toy with all future contenders – probably including a number of his own children – just as he toyed with contestants on The Apprentice.

This means four more years of supplication for Cruz and four more years of playing to someone else’s crowd rather than building his own, with absolutely no guarantee that in the end Trump won’t turn around and stiff him (the parable of the scorpion and the frog springs to mind).

All along, Trump has proved that he only has loyalty to himself – a form of ruthless self-adulation that has left the Republican Party in the thrall of the Orange King.

Cruz is a fervent Christian, but it seems unlikely that there will be a political resurrection for Lyin’ Ted.

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