Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Listen: if you think this is bad, imagine if Ted Cruz were president.

I'm not trying to downplay the suffering people have already (less than two weeks in!) endured under President Trump, but seriously: imagine if Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) were president.

If you remember, Cruz had a really obvious strategy in the primary: he was going to draft off Trump.  Trump would gather a hardcore group of supporters who loved him for being outrageous and crude, and Cruz would keep his head down, refuse to criticize Trump, and eventually scoop up all of those supporters once Trump inevitably melted down.  He wasn't the only one to do that... eight other Republicans had the same plan.  As a result, Trump looked dominant among them, freely attacking them while they smiled and tried to roll with it.  And, of course, Trump's solid base of 30% among the primary voters never deserted him, making him the leader in a field so crowded that everyone else got 5-10%.  Eventually, it was too late.  Trump was the nominee.

Now was Cruz's chance.  Memorably, he went onstage at the Republican National Convention and made a speech about conservatism, but without ever endorsing Trump.  It was a clear snub, and showed that Cruz was gambling on leading a principled opposition.

Cruz would be the hero -- he would stand for conservatism in opposition to a man he'd labeled a "con artist," "narcissist," "pathological liar," and "serial philanderer."  He wouldn't bend the knee... he would bet on Trump self-destructing and losing the election.  He would be brave.

Then he caved.  Big donor Rebekah Mercer and his own base demanded it, and Ted Cruz, senator from Texas, won 2016's Marco Rubio "Profiles in Cowardice" Award (so to speak).

But imagine if it were different.

If Trump had done something so abhorrent that even his own base deserted him at the mid-point, Cruz would have profited from his unprincipled refusal to criticize his rival.  He would have snatched up all of those juicy supporters and delegates, and he'd be the nominee.  And then it's not a far leap to imagine him becoming president, although his winning coalition would certainly look rather different.

So imagine a President Ted Cruz.

President Ted Cruz's Muslim ban would have been carefully composed by experts and reviewed by everyone important.  He would have gotten input -- and therefore buy-in -- by major departments and key Congressional figures.  Trump's own Secretary of Defense learned about the ban from the news, and the only people in Congress who knew about it were staffers sworn to secrecy from their own bosses.  Legal visa holders and green card holders would have been given a month-long warning before they were barred, if at all.  Iraqi and Afghani interpreters would have been not only exempted, but given special priority for expedited visas.  No one would have been detained at airports, certainly not the elderly or children, and there would be few (if any) protests.

Rather than insulting his own party and the opposition and any protesters, President Cruz would have issued anodyne statements about respecting democracy and the right to free speech.  He would have spoken about uniting everyone in vague terms, and would have blithely ignored anything having to do with crowds, ratings, or the popular vote, instead gliding -- oily and untroubled -- into a series of well-crafted and well-staged signing events with Congress.

Cruz would consolidate power.  He'd focus on the midterm elections to cement his party's undemocratic gerrymandering advantage.  He'd subvert his enemies -- but quietly.  Donald Trump is the brute who huffs rot and bile and lumbers at you with a club of bigotry, but Ted Cruz would be the quiet-footed assassin, smiling and smiling and yet a villain, who put a knife in democracy while it slept.

Because, you see: Ted Cruz is competent and intelligent.

If liberty, compassion, and human rights are going to come under attack by a massed army of the ignorant, radical, desperate, and alt-right, then I want their general to be someone so bumbling and offensive that he cannot maintain their strength or solidarity.  I want someone who is so terrible at his job he's incapable of doing America any harm -- whose orders get overturned and whose ideas for legislation are impossible.

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