The chaos has subsided and the news vans have driven away, so it’s time to sit down and ask the important questions about Iowa. For example, where is that? Do I even know anyone from there? Have I ever thought about that state before in my entire life? What does narrative mean and why do people keep saying it? Is saying “media narrative” some shorthand for appearing politically savvy on a computer and why is that worth doing when I’m underwater financially?
All of these are important questions, and the media would do well to address them, but they ignore the elephant in the room. Namely, who the hell is Ted Cruz? He won the Iowa caucus, which makes him the designated Hypothetical Republican President for a few minutes, so it is officially irresponsible to ignore him. We must ask this question.
If you’re anything like me, it’s a question you’ve been neglecting. You blamed Donald Trump and his bullhorn, but that’s not really why you neglected it. You neglected it because, come on, look at this guy. Who is this guy? He looks like the least trustworthy person at a midsized Baptist church in 1997, a guy who eventually runs up to my dad in the parking lot and offers him a leftover Winchell’s cinnamon roll before nervously asking him to join this new church in that strip mall with the antique store that’s never open and the really sketchy coffee place because he got in a fight with the pastor. He looks like a weird Bible salesman who kills a guy by the truck scales in a Billy Bob Thornton movie. Everything I’ve ever learned about personality and behavior tells me he just can’t be on the level.
Ted Cruz is everybody who listens to Glenn Beck and laughs at his jokes. He’s everybody who calls into Sean Hannity and breathes too heavy into the receiver and says “you’re a great American” without bursting into flames. He’s every southern car salesman with a prop copy of A Purpose Driven Life on his desk and every community college adjunct professor who ever went to jail for something so complicated and technical that you’d need a drunk attorney and a sober accountant to explain it. So how does a man who codes so negatively get 29% of any vote at all, never mind the first big vote of the season?
Now, granted, I’m just a country boy, I ain’t do much studying up on politics, just don’t know what all them damn fancy words mean, but maybe he did it through extremely sophisticated sinister bullshit.
Basically, he used extremely studied, extremely-political-science-major-who-swears-he-figured-out-a-way-to game-the-final-but-won’t-tell-you-how, extremely college targeted campaigning. It was aggressive and stat driven and, look, it’s not cheating, it’s just deeply cold-blooded and cynical. The guy’s running a “Billy Beane from Moneyball if Moneyball was written by Mike Judge and starred Stephen Root” white collar racket and hooray, he pulled it off once.
That only works to a point. First impressions still matter in this game. There is no metric by which Ted Cruz is presidential. The only path to victory for a guy like Ted Cruz is through glitches in the electoral college only Cold War-era computer programmers and three borderline dead Ivy League professors with Henry Kissinger’s cell phone number know about. If Ted Cruz won the general election, his Iowa strategy suggests it’d be the most demoralizing win in modern presidential politics, like an A.I. beating you at Scrabble using words that haven’t been spoken since the 1920s.
Just imagine how creepy a win with Cruz’s methods would be. He’d win with an earth-shattering low cut of the popular vote. He’d win with 48 million votes because of some electoral college technicality in Nevada. He’d make bizarre computer-dictated moves like spending a month in Hawaii and never visiting the South. He’d be the first president to ever get assassinated for cheating.
He’s not cheating, of course, he’s just violating the spirit of presidential campaigning. He’s running a “the manual says I’m not cheating, and your mom says you can’t punch me again if I’m not cheating” strategy, and it’s just aggravating and phony as hell. The man’s got one lousy facial expression, and it’s “sorry, you have to auction off Park Place if you can’t afford it, and you can’t give a property to Jill to cover the balance, check the book.” It’s a “I bought all the slum properties and built hotels on them and snaked Marvin Gardens out from under you and there’s nothing you can do about it” face.
It’s the same face as that guy who won Press Your Luck by cracking the game’s internal mechanism, and it’s the same damn strategy. But Ted Cruz would be wise to learn a lesson from that guy. After he won the game, he converted all his money into one dollar bills for a radio contest and it got stolen in a burglary, then he tried to get in on an illegal lottery racket and spent the rest of his life on the run from the SEC and the IRS and the FBI and he died alone of throat cancer in Florida. What was the lesson? Hold on, let me think. You know, Bill Murray was supposed to be in a movie about that g – oh, right. Don’t get greedy, damn it.