Rick Perry's awkward 2011 slog around the GOP presidential primary circuit felt kind of like putting a once-powerful horse out to pasture. A formidable politician, Perry led from the Texas governor's mansion for more than a decade using his power of appointment to leave a lasting conservative mark on things large and small before jumping into the fickle world of presidential politics.
Then things got weird. In his reported pain pill-fueled push for the GOP nomination for president, Perry at turns forgot what state he was in, oops-ed his way through a nationally-televised debate, and merrily sang "I've Been Working on the Railroad" to keep himself
occupied entertained. At least he got a consolation prize: fresh off the heels of an embarrassing campaign, in Perry's final 2013 ride through the capitol he oversaw a session that even further legislated every uterus in Texas.
But Rick "felony-indictment" Perry is old news. Sure, he's put on his smart-guy glasses, formed a political action committee and set off to join the pack of hopefuls delivering far-right speeches to far-right crowds in early primary states. But more punchline than viable candidate, Perry's inevitable run is sure to be a way-more-depressing repeat of his last go at the GOP presidential nomination.
That Ted Cruz, though. He's the guy to watch. To the surprise of no one, Texas' firebrand freshman GOP senator announced his presidential campaign yesterday at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, saying he hopes to channel support from the "silent plurality," ostensibly the die-hard evangelical crowd that thinks gay-luvin' America is just as doomed as Cruz does.
None of this is to say that we're actually that worried about what a Ted Cruz presidency would look like at this point -- there are plenty of reasons to think Cruz is still the longest of long shots. No, what we're more concerned with right now is what kind of entertainment Cruz's stroll around the campaign circuit might bring.
And on that front, ladies and gents, things look promising.
Ted Cruz: performance artist The theatrics of a Ted Cruz speech are quite stunning. More confrontational than conversational, Cruz really only has one character up his sleeve -- that of the revivalist preacher bringing his message of doom, gloom and repentance to the American public.
Unlike Rick Perry, Cruz appears to have no trouble riffing extemporaneously. But like any good college debater, Cruz diatribes are anchored by a few choice zingers: "Abolish the IRS," put all IRS agents on the southern border, or "repeal every blasted word of Obamacare."
Sure, these lines kill in front of audiences stacked with the type of Tea Party faithful that made Cruz the unlikely underdog winner in 2012. But the freshman senator appears to have trouble reading a crowd, as evidenced by this video first flagged by Bloomberg:
Hopefully we can look forward to more examples of Ted Cruz awkwardly finding his footing as he tries to dial it back from 11.
Or maybe he'll just continue to tell little girls their "world is on fire."
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Ted Cruz, bad at the Internet The night before his announcement speech, Ted Cruz signaled his presidential run via Twitter. You'd think that might be sign the presidential contender understands the ever increasing and important role the Internet plays in politics and society.
Maybe not. This is the guy who famously called net neutrality, the not-so-radical notion that Internet service providers should treat all data the same, "Obamacare for the Internet." Cruz also forgot to snag a very important URL (TedCruz.com leads to a website blaring the message: "SUPPORT PRESIDENT OBAMA. IMMIGRATION REFORM NOW!") before launching his bid for president, and, in rolling out his new website to gather campaign donations, Cruz's team forgot one minor thing: to ensure the website where supporters would be asked to punch in credit card information was secure.
As Vox explains, there were big problems with the way Cruz's website implemented SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, an encryption technology that safeguards the privacy of information that users transmit over the Internet. In addition to other problems, the SSL certificate for TedCruz.org (a digital document proves you're visiting the real TedCruz.org, rather than an imposter site) for some strange reason listed "nigerian-prince.com" as another valid address for the website (the problem has since been fixed, Vox reports).
A tenuous grasp of the truth Despite an upcoming book literally titled "A Time For Truth," the majority of Ted Cruz's public statements fall somewhere between mostly-false and "pants on fire."
That's according to Cruz's report card over at PolitiFact. Whoppers range from declaring that ISIS is "right now crucifying Christians in Iraq, literally nailing Christians to trees" (no evidence), to claiming a "strong bipartisan majority" in the House "voted to defund Obamacare (as the fact-checkers put it, "Two Democratic votes out of 190 isn't bipartisan").
"Pants on fire" lies range from Cruz telling a CPAC crowd that Democrats threatened to shutter Catholic charities and hospitals if the church didn't change its beliefs (never happened) to claiming Chuck Hagel's nomination for defense secretary was "publicly celebrated by the Iranian government."
That dad, tho... The closest we've seen of family drama from the Rick Perry camp came in 2013, when the former governor tried to mansplain away his wife's comments that, while she doesn't agree with abortion, it is a "woman's right, just like it's a man's right if he wants to have some kind of procedure."
Perry, of course, said his wife just misspoke and stuck "the wrong word in the wrong place." That kind of "shh, honey" behavior is way more disturbing and depressing than humorous. Thankfully, Ted Cruz has got some weapons-grade crazy hanging from his family tree.
Cruz's father, Rafael Cruz, has a compelling back story: he grew up in Cuba and joined the revolution to overthrow Batista as a teenager before fleeing and eventually ending up in the United States. But it's what's come out of Pastor Cruz's mouth in recent years that's raised eyebrows. From spouting anti-UN conspiracy theories (the international body apparently wants to "restrict parental rights," ban guns, and "impose a dictatorship upon us") to claiming that atheism leads to sexual abuse, the elder Cruz has become a prolific speaker on the Tea Party circuit as of late. And whoa has it been weird.
As if to belabor the point, Buzzfeed compiled a handy list of "The 68 Most Controversial Things Ted Cruz's Dad Has Ever Said." Expect that list to grow as Ted Cruz, and his father, face the relentless glare of the national political spotlight in the months to come.
A true prophet for the cause For all the cynical pageantry that has come to define Ted Cruz's short political life (like reciting "Green Eggs and Ham" on the Senate floor an apparent effort to trigger a government shutdown over Obamacare), another very important thing seems to separate Cruz from Perry: intelligence quotient.
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No matter what you think of his hard-right politics or his idiosyncratic and sometimes awkward political style, Cruz is no dummy. In a 2013 New Yorker profile, famed legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, who taught Cruz at Harvard Law, called him "completely brilliant." Despite his anti-establishment bluster, Cruz's pedigree puts him squarely in the elite category: an Ivy League-educated lawyer who clerked with a U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, a former adviser on a successful presidential campaign, and a bulldog solicitor general for the Texas Attorney General's Office.
Perry was, and will continue to be, easily dismissed with a roll of the eyes. But Cruz won't flub his way through a debate or forget what cabinet agency he wants to shutter. He's not a wackadoo Libertarian, nor does he carry the irrelevancy of Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee. (Perhaps that's why, so soon out the gate, progressive and liberal publications have already spilled barrels of digital ink explaining how terrifying a Cruz presidency really might be.)
Instead, Cruz, the debater, is perfectly positioned to argue and articulate the most hard-edged stances of the rightward drifting GOP: why comprehensive immigration will always be a nonstarter, why environmental protection and globe-warming emissions reductions are foolish, and what, exactly, is the alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
To be sure, Cruz's run could be very enlightening -- alarming to some who think he could actually be sworn in as president come 2017; amusing to those who know there's little chance that might happen.