What Ted Cruz Values
The Texan is repelling millions who believe in an America of the future, not the past.
By BRET STEPHENS
Rancho Mirage, Calif.
It’s 70 degrees in this desert oasis, where I’m attending a writers’ festival, and I’m looking up at a vista of snowcapped peaks, cerulean skies and pink clouds that looks like a Bob Ross painting, only happier. But there’s only so much California positivity a man can handle, especially when he doesn’t play golf. That snowbound den of depravity known as Manhattan is calling me home.
With apologies to Billy Joel, I’m in a New York values state of mind.
Maybe I’d be a better person if I got away from the coasts more often, or visited a gun range. Maybe my conservative principles would be less attenuated if I weren’t surrounded, as Ted Cruz put it the other day, by people who “are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage,” and “focus around money and the media.” Maybe I should start listening to country music, the way Mr. Cruz did after he decided, in good Soviet fashion, that his musical taste ought to be dictated by political considerations.
And maybe I wouldn’t be quite so nauseated by the junior senator from Texas if the cynicism with which he mounted his attack last week on “New York values” weren’t so wholly matched by the sinister taint of an ambitious sophist who takes his audience for fools. Ted Cruz is the guy who made Donald Trump look tolerant and statesmanlike. That’s saying something.
Already it has been widely mentioned that Mr. Cruz’s wife, Heidi, is a senior executive with Goldman Sachs which isn’t exactly an Iowa values kind of institution, and that Mr. Cruz’s 2012 run for Senate was financed with the help of $1 million in low-interest loans from Goldman. Also noted is that Mr. Cruz owes his political career to the backing of billionaire Peter Thiel, who is libertarian, gay, and perhaps wondering what he was thinking.
And it goes without saying that most of us would prefer the values of the lowliest New York Fire Department cadet over the cleverest Harvard Law graduate any day we need to get out of trouble that isn’t of our own making.
But the deeper problem with Mr. Cruz’s assault on the Big Apple isn’t his personal hypocrisy, or his two-bit stereotypes, or in biting the hands that fed him. That’s what we expect of politicians; the priced-in rate of running for high office. It’s the full-frontal assault on millions of GOP voters who, on one issue or another, share some of those dreaded New York values. The senator is trying to do to socially moderate Republicans what Democrats did to their own social conservatives when they barred pro-life Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey from speaking at the 1992 Democratic Convention. Yes, kids, there used to be Democrats who didn’t march in lockstep with Emily’s List.
There also used to be a theory of politics that, in two-party systems, it was in both parties’ interests to pitch the broadest possible tent; to have, as the great Si Kenen once put it, “no enemies, only friends and potential friends.”
But that’s not Mr. Cruz’s theory. He believes in the utility of enemies—the media; Washington; his fellow Republican senators; other squishes—because they’re such easy foils and because he’s convinced that polarization works and persecution complexes sell. Who cares about Republican voters in New York (or California, or Massachusetts, or Illinois) when not one of their votes will count in the Electoral College? Why waste time and energy courting the center-right when doing so will earn you the permanent enmity of the permanently angry?
The answer to that one lies in Cuyahoga and Pinellas and Loudoun counties—those purple lands in Ohio, Florida and Virginia where swing voters still decide elections in this country. Mr. Cruz needs to answer how he plans to win 50.1% in those states, not 70% of the Bible Belt. Such an answer is available to a Republican nominee, but only one who doesn’t demean other people’s values even when he doesn’t share them. Mr. Cruz needs to study old Ronald Reagan clips to understand the difference between having strong beliefs and being an insufferable jerk about them.
In the meantime, let’s put in a word for those New Yorkers and their values: the immigrant strivers; the capitalist-philanthropists; the skyscraper builders; the professional classes of lawyers and publishers and doctors and money-managers and (even) journalists; the cops; the opera lovers; the headline writers at the New York Post; the people who believe their true identity lies in the near future not the ancestral past. This is the America of aspiration and competition, of honest self-reinvention, of getting along in crowded places, of letting the smaller differences slide.
Mr. Cruz has the personal biography to have made New York’s story his own. He made other choices. I know plenty of New Yorkers won’t be shy about telling him what he ought to do with himself, and the rest of the Republican Party should take their views—and maybe even their values—to heart.