Being nice is, for better or worse, not a qualification for the presidency. “Nice” is not a term one often heard associated with Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon, both – in their ways, and with obvious limits – highly effective presidents.
But I don’t remember reading quotes about either Nixon or Johnson from those close to them describing them as unqualified for the presidency on account of being just too mean, too arrogant and too self-centered.
After all, most nice people are not nearly so in love with the sound of their own voices as most politicians are; most of us don’t crave the adoration most politicians do; and frankly, being nice is often not consistent with the willingness to use people and then jettison them when they become a liability, which has become a hallmark of modern politics.
So why all the attention to Ted Cruz’s meanness?
Because if you believe his old “friends” and his colleagues and the reporters who cover him, Ted Cruz is not just your run-of-the-mill arrogant and self-centered politician. According to them, he is in a class by himself.
His college roommate told The New York Times that he would rather pick a random name out of the phone directory than vote for Cruz for president. Matt Dowd, who was one of George Bush’s top aides, said that an “enormous percentage” of his Bush 2000 colleagues would support Trump over Cruz. My favorite quote, from another Bush 2000 aide, also to the New York Times: “Why do people take such an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? It just saves time.”
The point is that Ted Cruz is not just another full-of-himself politician. None of these quotes are from Democrats. To be this hated by your own party is something different altogether. As Politico recently reported, Cruz’s rise is driving desperate Republicans, especially senators, into the camp of Marco Rubio, who shares many of the same views as Cruz, but is, quite simply, not hated by his co-workers.
What many Republicans who know him are asking is not whether Cruz would make a good president [they think that’s an easy one] but whether the American people will ever see the side of him that they dislike.
The short answer, in this age in which anyone with a phone is a videographer, is: How could they not?
There are many, many things wrong with modern presidential politics, with the dominance of money and negativity at the top of the list. When it comes to having either more money or less money, every political operative on the planet will tell you that having money to spend is better than not having it. And I can promise you that not only will the candidates be bashing each other, in paid media as well as speeches, but they also will have “independent” billionaires delivering even tougher messages [think “swiftboating”].
But oftentimes, the most important moments in political campaigns are the ones that aren’t bought by anyone. It may be a key moment in a televised debate watched by millions, or a fuzzy video of a candidate who makes the mistake of thinking his remarks are “off the record” [no such thing], or words captured on a hot microphone [a mistake no one should make, but candidates do anyway].
At some point, amidst all the noise and ruckus created by the candidates and the media and the PACs and super PACs, there are moments of insight into character and competence that, in retrospect, define the candidate and determine the result. And those moments count, because Americans want a president they like.
If Ted Cruz is half as hateable as his present and former colleagues have reported then sooner rather than later we will know that side as well.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer