Op-Ed

Don’t dismiss Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz is being called a Republican Obama, but he has not exactly gotten an Obama-like reception from the mainstream media.

Liberal commentators have, predictably, beclowned themselves in the wake of Cruz’s presidential announcement. Chris Matthews (the guy who “ felt a thrill going up his leg” when Barack Obama spoke during the 2008 campaign) compared Cruz to Sen. Joe McCarthy, even showing pictures of McCarthy and Cruz in the same pose.

Ebony magazine Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux told MSNBC that Cruz likes country music because “nothing says ‘let’s go kill some Muslims’ like country music.” On “Morning Joe,” Donny Deutsch said, “I think he’s scary, I think he’s dangerous, I think he’s slimy.”

What the left does not seem to understand is that all of these attacks help Cruz. As one Cruz associate told me, “America hates Washington. Washington hates Cruz.” Not bad.

It’s not just the liberal commentariat that is attacking Cruz. Here is how the New York Times “reported” Cruz’s announcement on its front page: “Mr. Cruz’s tenure in Washington has been marked by accusations of demagogy. He sometimes deploys the soaring diction of a preacher while staking out uncompromising and rigid conservative positions, often playing the role of political flamethrower.” That’s not an editorial; that’s a news story.

Contrast that with how the Times reported then-Sen. Obama’s presidential announcement in 2007. Obama, the Times declared, was launching “a journey rich with historic possibilities and symbolism . . . Speaking smoothly and comfortably, Mr. Obama offered a generational call to arms, portraying his campaign less as a candidacy and more as a movement.” You can almost hear the strains of “Hail to the Chief” in the background.

NBC News, for its part, called Obama in 2007 “the ‘rock star’ of the Democratic Party.” No rock star analogies for Cruz – even though Cruz got a rock star’s welcome in a stadium before thousands of cheering Liberty University students. (Okay, maybe he’s a Christian rock star).

But the one criticism that does seem to get under Cruz’s skin is the comparison with Obama. “There have been a lot of folks throwing that attack,” Cruz told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. “In his time in the Senate, he was basically a backbencher. . . . In my time in the Senate, there are a lot of faults I’ve had, but nobody would accuse me of being a backbencher.”

Perhaps Cruz should not be so quick to dismiss the analogy. Both men are constitutional lawyers with Harvard degrees and inspiring personal stories, who rose to national prominence on the basis of their immense talent as political orators (though Cruz seems to be far less dependent on a teleprompter than Obama is). Both appeal to the base of their parties — Obama the anti-war left, Cruz the tea party right. Both have challenged their party’s establishment candidates — in Obama’s case, a Clinton; in Cruz’s case, a Bush. And both launched historic candidacies with the promise of presidencies that would break down racial barriers — Obama as the first black president, Cruz the first Hispanic to hold the office. Nothing there at which to take offense.

Unlike Obama in 2007, however, Cruz has taken some friendly fire from his own side. The Wall Street Journal called him “polarizing” and an “opportunist.” Charles Krauthammer noted that Cruz has a “liquid tongue” but few accomplishments, and that “we already tried a first-term senator.” The fact is, Cruz makes some on the right uneasy – not for ideological but for tactical reasons. The government shutdown over Obamacare, which launched Cruz into the conservative stratosphere, was a strategic disaster, and a foreseeable one at that. The rap on Cruz is that he knew the fight was unwinnable, but he did it anyway – because while it hurt the GOP, it helped Ted Cruz.

Cruz has made this uncompromising approach his calling card, appealing to the conservative base as a fighter who does not back down, so these are legitimate questions for debate. But while the left (and some on the right) may hate Cruz, it would be a mistake to underestimate him. He’s whip smart, preternaturally articulate and an accomplished lawyer with a fervent base of supporters. He is a legitimate candidate who resonates with a base that is sick of settling for candidates like Mitt Romney and John McCain.

Those who dismiss Cruz as a “Republican Obama” should not forget what we call Obama today: Mr. President.

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