Having been stung the last two presidential election cycles by nominees who, relatively early in the process, looked to be second place finishers, the GOP brain trust, one readily understands, is hoping that 2016 offers game-changer possibilities for their party. A full three years before that battle will have been joined, supposedly informed opinion on the collective GOP wisdom has been that the party will be looking to the hard right for its choice. In which scenario the name of Tea Party darling Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has been front and center among the prospects for a Republican turnaround. How much, if any, that devil-may-care utterance Cruz made a few days ago will come back to bite him in his quest to be the Republicans’ white knight, time will tell.
In 2008, as the public became more and more aware of the epic proportions of a developing economic crisis, John McCain seemed totally the misfit as would-be man in charge – a position he only made worse with the selection of Sarah Palin as running mate. Mitt Romney’s shameless pandering in 2012, including the claim at one point that he was “severely conservative”, exposed him as a man obviously lacking conviction, who was for a while let back into the contest only because of Obama’s lackluster performance in their first debate. As for 2016, there’s been no reaction so far from GOP heavy hitters to star prospect Ted Cruz’s obscene, outlandish statement that the U.S. Senate should have “one hundred more” like Jesse Helms.
Cruz letting loose this adoration of a despicable racist is one thing. But are we to conclude that the GOP is so starved for presidential stock that calling out the senator for a blast so offensive is a leap party leaders can’t bring themselves to make? This is not 1980. As we’ve several times referenced here, that’s when Ronald Reagan ‘s remark, while debating Jimmy Carter, that he was never aware of any discrimination in this country, went largely unchallenged, both by the political establishment and in the media. We would hardly expect Cruz’s hate-speak to dissolve, innocuously, into obscurity. It should be good for at least the notoriety of the infamous “47 percent” diss that proved to be campaign quicksand for a blooper-prone Romney.
Cruz can take a bow for one thing: that, unlike Romney who didn’t think his “47 percent” slam of folk well down-scale from himself was being recorded for posterity, Cruz apparently had no misgivings about celebrating Jesse Helms in full public view. In 21st century America, let’s face it, it takes a goodly measure of effrontery, as a high-profile public official, to rhapsodize about the likes of Helms. The latter being, as best we can tell, an individual who until his dying day remained an unreconstructed segregationist. Cruz didn’t leave it to any surrogates among like-minded slobs in his cheering section to do the dirty work. He was proud to stand and deliver his paean to this throwback to the South’s dark ages of dehumanizing fellow Americans, and he thought no apology necessary for fantasizing about how sweet it would be to have a Senate in which Jesse Helms clones dominated the joint!
By now, there shouldn’t be, among us, too many people still befuddled about where, in totality, Tea Party folk are coming from. By now we should be hip that the catchy sound bites about slashing government spending (to untenable levels), the demonizing of labor unions and all the rest that’s advertised are hardly the full picture. Bear in mind that the Tea Party phenomenon made its big splash in the summer of 2009, in what was ostensibly a backlash to President Obama’s health care initiative. Blended in with opposition to health care, such as it was, and probably in large part driving it was a vitriolic outpouring directed at a person of color who dared to upset the status quo and become president.
Implausible though it is under objective scrutiny, the small government, no taxes construct that has been advanced as the Tea Party brand conceivably provides the attraction for some adherents. But excluding the element of racism from the group’s raison d’etre is a flawed read. Opposition to the president from ultra-right clusters like the Tea Party on the very Syria issue, as we commented last week, evidences the racist imperative. Picture George W. Bush or Reagan requesting the same air strikes authorization as did Obama. How the warrior fringe on the right would respond – barking loudmouths with a platform and clueless minions – is an easy call.
If we didn’t know it before, we do now. That’s Cruz’s world. The world of the guy many commentators contend is the man to beat for the 2016 Republican nomination. If his fawning devotion to Jesse Helms was the opening salvo, we should reasonably expect that there’s more where that came from. The Republican establishment is already being characterized as a bunch of old white men out of step with where this nation has gotten to. A few years hence, they say, Cruz will have a hard time getting elected even in Texas, if this Helms-loving portrait of himself is what he insists on selling.
But long before that sea change in Texas, he may rue the day he opted to be such a truth-teller about how wedded he is to this country’s reactionary past.