Thursday, November 12, 2015

Jeff Greenfield: Ted Cruz is playing chess, the others are playing checkers

Jeff Greenfield is really one of my favorite political commentators, despite his liberal leanings.  He is just a complete political junkie who has a great sense of history and so brings some wonderful perspective that is usually absent from other commentators.  Anyway, here is what he says about Ted Cruz:

“I understand that when the mainstream media covers immigration, it doesn’t often see it as an economic issue,” he began. “But, I can tell you for millions—of Americans at home watching this, it is a very personal economic issue. And, I will say the politics of it will be very, very different if a bunch of lawyers or bankers were crossing the Rio Grande. Or if a bunch of people with journalism degrees were coming over and driving down the wages in the press. Then, we would see stories about the economic calamity that is befalling our nation. And, I will say for those of us who believe people ought to come to this country legally, and we should enforce the law, we’re tired of being told it’s anti-immigrant. It’s offensive.”

“I am the son of an immigrant who came legally from Cuba … to seek the American dream. And, we can embrace legal immigration while believing in the rule of law … is not compassionate to say we're not going to enforce the laws. … And we’re going to drive down the wages for millions of hardworking men and women.”

In that single answer, Cruz managed to include the always-popular swipe at the media, slam the elites despised by left (bankers) and right (journalists), and link his hard-line stance on immigration not to a nativist impulse, but to a desire to protect the less skilled, less affluent workers whose wages are threatened by cheap labor. In a single answer, he struck populist, “Constitutionalist,” and compassionate notes, all premised on the belief—the make-or-break belief of his campaign—that the Republican base is now in substantial opposition to the Chamber of Commerce-Capitol Hill Republican Party that has chosen every nominee since Barry Goldwater half a century ago.

On a series of other questions, Cruz returned again and again to an assault on privileged economic elites—not the stuff of which usual Republican talking points are made. He argued that the defense budget increases could be paid for by cutting “corporate welfare, like sugar subsidies.” (Sugar subsidies, not so incidentally, are a particularly treasured herd of sacred cows in Florida, whence Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio happen to hail.) He broadened that theme when asked if he would bail out big banks in the event of a future financial crisis.


What Cruz is demonstrating, as Gingrich did, is the ability to weave any answer to any topic into a broader argument that resonates with the Tea Party and evangelical wings of the Republican Party, and that embodies the sense of resentment and disaffection that has propelled Donald Trump into a status almost no political observer imagined. It is of a piece with Cruz's fundamental campaign approach, which fuses highly specific, almost wonky-sounding policy points and broader populist themes that resonate with even the most policy-averse corners of the Republican electorate.

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