Campaigning in Marion, Indiana, Monday, Ted Cruz walked across the street from his rally and tried to engage a group of Donald Trump supporters in a political discussion. It did not go all that well.
In fact, the uncomfortable exchange pretty much epitomized the 2016 GOP presidential primary process, a process that seems more and more certain to deliver the GOP nomination into Trump’s hands.
I give Cruz a lot of credit here, both for initiating the conversation and for trying to keep it on a civil, fact-based plane. But what he got back in return was a rich dose of poetic justice. For a long time now, Republican politicians have been competing with each other on the basis of who could express more contempt for the process, for the establishment, for Washington, for government institutions, for the media. And nobody did it more intently or aggressively than Cruz, to the point that even his GOP colleagues came to despise him.
In the video excerpt above, you see Cruz hoisted on that very same petard. In one sense it’s not a fair fight — a Harvard-trained debating champ taking on an uninformed Trumpist. But in another sense, it is the Trump supporter who has the clear upper hand, because he has rendered himself immune to rationality and facts. He knows what he knows, and nothing else matters.
When Cruz tries to explain his position, he is slapped away by the smiling, smug rejoinder that he’s just “Lyin’ Ted.” “Career politicians have killed America,” someone from the crowd yells out, and the theme is picked up. “You are the problem, politician,” his debating opponent then tells Cruz. “You are the problem.”
That is precisely the attitude that Cruz has spent his career in Washington trying to nurture. And now he finds it being directed at him.
Sensing that he’s getting nowhere, Cruz grows frustrated. “Sir, facts matter!” he says at one point. “The truth matters…. In America, we are a nation that is better than anger and insults and cursing and rage.”
Well, we used to be better than that, and maybe we still are. We’ll see in the general election. But the point is that when you indulge yourself in the politics of anger and resentment, when you take that course to power, as the Republican Party has done, you don’t get to decide how far the fire burns.