Cruzified on a Cross of Cold? Polarized Texas, a Fake Populist, & the Winter of Discontent
You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
~William Jennings Bryan, 1896
William Jennings Bryan was a populist. Ted Cruz is not a populist. Populists put people at the center of politics. They do not take a vacation from responsibility or fly to safety on a sun-soaked beach. They do not leave the scene of an accident. Or an apocalypse.
Ted Cruz is also not the face of Texas. Or the nation. Or even the Republican Party of old. Rather, he is the face of a Republican Party remade in Trump’s image. And, like Donald Trump, he is a fake. Read on…
“The Boy Orator of the Platte”
William Jennings Bryan was a Senator from Nebraska when he made the speech for which he was to become famous in American history. He was addressing the Democratic National Convention of 1996 and the issue was the gold standard—whether to keep it, as the bankers and Republican party wanted to do, or jettison it in favor of “bimetallism” (advocacy of free silver as well as gold as a basis for minting money). The speech would secure his nomination as the Democrats’ candidate for president in 1896.
Bryan was, arguably, America’s first populist candidate for president. Bryan ran as a candidate of the people, aka, the workers and farmers who were the main producing class but not the property-owning class. Capitalism, in Bryan’s rendering, was all about ownership. The owner class were profit-driven capitalists—business and banking elites who opposed free silver on grounds that it would devalue the dollar, disrupt trade, and redistribute wealth from the few to the many.
The Rise & Fall of the Fake Populists
Given this early version of populism, it was odd to see Donald Trump described as a populist. In terms of ideas, beliefs, and principles, Trump has little or nothing in common with Bryan’s populism, but as politicians they share at least one key characteristic: a broad appeal to a wide swath of society falling behind. People who feel like they can’t get ahead no matter how hard they work and resent others, especially minorities who not long ago were below them in social status and earning power, and who are moving up.
Trump has not only brought the terms “populist” and “populism” back into the political conversation for the GOP, but he has also give wannabe presidents in the Republican party, guys like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, a strong incentive to play the populist card in the hopes of inheriting Trump’s base. Which makes it all the more incredible that Cruz would have chosen to go on a family vacation to Cancun at a time when the state of Texas is facing a natural disaster of epic proportions!
Let’s not forget that Ted Cruz is one of the 47 Republicans in the U.S. Senate who voted not to convict Donald Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors after the House of Representatives had impeached him a second time. Or that he joined other Republicans in backing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision not to call witnesses and, in effect, not to hold a trial at all after Trump’s first impeachment. Or that Cruz and his Republican colleagues did not stand up to Mitch McConnell when the House impeached Donald Trump the first time.
If he (and they) had done so, the U.S. would have been rid of a president who prioritized his divisive politics over the public health of a society reeling from the worst pandemic in a century. Let’s never forget that nearly half a million Americans have died in a single year.
A Bad Time to Take a Cruz
Clearly, Cruz is a populist in name only. He cares about nobody but himself. He’s the kind of a man who, having made a spectacularly stupid mistake, tries to shift the blame from himself to his daughters!
Ted Cruz is a fawning apologist for the worst president in American history, but that’s not where the story ends. He hopes to inherent Trump’s fake populist mantel. He has shown his true colors. He doesn’t care about the people of Texas who put him in office or about the oath he took “to faithfully discharge the duties” of that office.
Instead of going to Dallas or Denton, to Austin or San Antonia, to Cameron or Cotulla, Ted Cruz went to Cancún. On vacation. He had a police escortat the Houston airport. At a time when millions of people were without heat and water. In the midst of Texas’s worst natural disaster in memory. The moral equivalent of the Alamo for Texans fighting a war on two fronts—a deadly winter storm and a deadly disease.
The New Face of the Republican Party
Ted Cruz is not the face of America and at least for now his unsmiling face is one Texans, many with fresh memories of life without water or heat, can’t stomach. Never mind the whiskers and wiles of a cynical narcissist, what he did was an act of utter stupidity, an amateurish mistake even for a novice in politics.
It is possible Texas voters realize the populist they thought they were electing is a fake. If so, they may in time turf him out. But memories are short and Cruz has plenty of backers with deep pockets.
In the Trump era, which I fear is far from over, Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and Josh Hawley, are the ugly composite face of the Republican party. It’s a face a real populist like William Jennings Bryan would have no trouble recognizing.