Campaigns are chaotic. Young staff push ahead with more enthusiasm than experience, candidates fall behind because they can’t tear themselves away from potential voters, and schedules are mere suggestions.
Unless you are Ted Cruz.
The Cruz campaign operates with a frightening level of focus, and a noticeable lack of fun. While he had a few youngsters, his team was older than those I saw with other candidates, and the staff worked with precision and orderliness.
While other campaigns half-heartedly asked people at check-in if they would volunteer, the Cruz team had headsets for volunteers to use with the auto-dialer so they could phone bank while they waited.
The Cruz event I attended took place in the expansive multipurpose room of Turbocam, a “global turbomachinery development and manufacturing company” whose mission is:
To exist a business for the purpose of honoring God, creating wealth for its employees, and supporting Christian service to God and people.
The owner has hosted several political events this season, but his immigrant rags-to-riches story seemed like the perfect frame for the Cruz pitch.
The campaign has a multimedia pre-speech extravaganza. Testimonials from far right grassroots activists and media personalities interspersed with pictures from the campaign trail and moments from the infamous YouTube b-roll built anticipation. One video featured Rand Paul supporters spelling out exactly why they’re now on the Cruz wagon.
Cruz was running late, but the audience was absorbed in the show, so it wasn’t as obvious that he was behind schedule.
One man stood at the side of the crowd, wearing coveralls and a trapper hat, holding the American flag he brought with him. I tried to snap a surreptitious photo, but honestly, I didn’t want to poke the bear. I noticed that the campaign security team kept a close eye on him, moving him away from the door through which Cruz would enter.
Out front, a piece of campaign propaganda or folk art, depending upon your point of view, was mounted to the back of a truck driven by volunteers with their own two cents on how to tackle ISIS:
The Cruz Missile has arrived in Barrington, NH pic.twitter.com/xvCVYkzOmJ
— Ryan Lovelace (@LovelaceRyanD) February 8, 2016
This was a fierce crowd of true believers, with a few primary tourists like me mixed in, and the “mainstream media” who, to hear the way he snapped out those two words, follow Cruz like chemtrails. Several times, he referred to points and stories he claimed they would never cover, which were, predictably, exactly the points and stories they’ve been covering the whole time.
Cruz told the audience that he and Bernie Sanders have a surprising amount in common. They are both focused on income inequality, he explained, but have different solutions for fixing it.
Ted Cruz preaches the prosperity gospel of politics:
What I am campaigning for is all the people trapped away from getting the economic dream. We can get back to the robust economic growth that enables anybody starting with nothing to achieve anything.
Cruz was on. From the moment he walked on stage, he never relaxed, and was always conscious that the cameras were on him. While other candidates use the moments when audiences applauded to relax, scratch a nose, take a sip of water, Ted Cruz always returned to the exact same pose with a fixed, nervous, wan half-smile.
This is a man who will never risk being photographed fellating a corn dog.
Biggest surprise? The line which drew the longest and loudest applause, in a speech that covered shutting down the IRS so that we can all submit our taxes on a postcard (see his website for the white paper and actual sample postcard), was his excoriation of common core.
The questions he took from the audience must have been staged, as all four were total softballs. These are word-for-word transcriptions, by the way, so implied is a huge sic at the end of each of them. First:
Several of your competitors on the debate stage the other night seemed to have no problem with drafting our daughters into the military. Unfortunately, you never got asked that question. President Reagan was not only against drafting women, he was against ending selective service. I was wondering – he never did get around to doing that. I was wondering what your view was on that.
This set up Cruz to repeat his line about not drafting our daughters and putting these “young girls” in harm’s way:
The idea that the federal government would forcibly conscript our daughters and put them in a combat role, put them in a foxhole fighting a jihadist, a 220-pound psychopath trying to kill them in a foxhole, is nuts. And unfortunately, it’s political correctness run amok.
No one pointed out that foxholes aren’t where the action is these days. Nor did anyone call him out on not answering the second part of the question about ending the selective service, missing out on an opportunity to link himself to Reagan. He instead went on to blame political correctness for endangering lives.
Only slightly less ridiculous:
I’m a high school teacher, here in New Hampshire [Cruz interrupts to ask what she teaches – English] … I found that … I remember coming home when I was ten years old, the last day of school, and playing school. It was something I always wanted to do. And now, I feel as though I’m losing hope in my profession, and I think a lot of it is that I’ve noticed that the liberal agenda is so embedded in our education elite. How do you suggest that we push through that, and start actually teaching our kids and not just pushing these liberal agendas and policies that are so, so much a part of our country, you know?
Was that even a question? I mean, there was upspeak at the end indicating inquisitiveness, but it was more like an introduction into a set of talking points and part two of the Rafael Cruz success story. Cruz’s answer went from Common Core (again, to just as positive a response) to block grants to local control to a transphobic rant about a school district trying to force girls to shower with a little boy.
Questions three and four seemed equally scripted to give him the opportunity to highlight specific positions:
The opposition is charging that your tax plan is a VAT, which is not popular with a lot of people in our state. Could you explain the difference between the value added tax and what you’re proposing?
and this, which really summed it all up:
Thank you for coming to New Hampshire. One of the question I have is … one of your competitors, especially from Walker’s Point [a jab at Jeb]says he’s so much in favor, and supports the military. We take into consideration, we recognize what’s happened at Benghazi, what happened at Ft. Hood, quasi-military members with guns to drug dealers … Why are these professional people who are your competitors claiming to trust and support the military? Why can’t they recognize treason against our military when they see it? Why had no one labeled … why is this government treating our military the way they’re treating them, and, disarming their soldiers in combat?
What? What even was that?
Huge cheers from the crowd. They got what this rambling, mumbling man was saying, and gave a hearty cheer to Cruz’s rousing defense of the sanctity of the military industrial complex.
Cruz repeated tired jokes (‘Vote as often as you can—just kidding! We’re not Democrats!’ and ‘A dangling preposition is something up with which I will not put!), distorted statistics, and repeated “facts” that are easily, and have been thoroughly, debunked, all of the while positioning himself as the only candidate with integrity and a backbone.
Did you see the movie Bob Roberts, which that Hollywood liberal Tim Robbins wrote, directed, and starred in? I feel like Robbins was warning us about Ted Cruz. People in the crowd reminded me of Jack Black as a rabid campaign supporter:
Do I think that Ted Cruz will stage a fake assassination attempt to earn votes? No.
Do I think that every single word, every expression, ever pause-and-pose moment of his stump speech is calculated to manipulate a specific subset of rightest-wing voters? Yes.
Cruz understands that he doesn’t need to win all the votes. He just needs to win enough of the votes, and he’s tailored his message to connect with them while making the rest of us think he’s too extreme to worry about.