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Cowboy boots and machine gun bacon: meet Ted Cruz

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US Senator John McCain has dubbed him a “wacko bird”. Former speaker of the House Of Representatives John Boehner thinks he’s “a jackass”. George W Bush said, “I just don’t like the guy.” And Donald Trump – someone who knows something about being an acquired taste – has dubbed him a “maniac”. It definitely sounds like Ted Cruz is unpopular. But actually, the reverse is true. His presidential bid is going well. Scarily well.

You’d be forgiven for not being clued up on Cruz, as his meteoric rise to power has been so sudden. Cruz has wooed the rich city guys, the religious right-wing voters, made a staggering amount of enemies and become a top contender in the Republican presidential race. It’s a power-grab straight out of Game Of Thrones. As a result, observers are having to address the notion: what if Cruz actually wins? The thought is more than a little unsettling – this is a man who cooks his bacon by wrapping it around the barrel of a gun and firing a few shots. A man who is, to put it lightly, loathed in Washington DC. And yet he’s polling ridiculously well. So, how did a Cuban-American senator who was born in Canada become such a strong contender for the White House?

The story goes that his father, Rafael Edward Cruz, fled Cuba with just $100 sewn into his underwear. He had fought in the Cuban revolution alongside Fidel Castro (“I didn’t know [he] was a communist,” he later claimed) and, aged 17, was captured and tortured in prison.

He arrived in the US and learned English by watching films and attending a university in Texas. He became an Evangelical Christian, telling his son, “God has destined you for greatness.” Thanks to his father’s religious influence, a group of prominent pastors in Iowa went on to bless and anoint Cruz, claiming he is akin to a “king” who God has chosen to usher in the kingdom of Christ.

After training as a lawyer, Cruz went on to join George W Bush’s campaign team as a policy advisor. In his book A Time For Truth, Cruz admits he would often “overstep the bounds of my appointed role”, which was simply to transport documents to a district court: “I was too cocky for my own good.” 

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Cruz campaigning in Iowa in January

But he was ambitious, and climbed the ladder ruthlessly. Despite his memories of a “crucial” role in getting Bush into the White House, his peers don’t tell the same story. In fact, one lawyer, Daryl Bristow, told The New York Times that when he covered the election he “would not have known” Cruz was even there.

He stayed with Bush for two years, in the unsexy position of Director Of Policy Planning at the Federal Trade Commission, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he decided to try for a US Senate seat. Utah senator-elect Mike Lee said he saw a “kindred spirit” in Cruz and helped him make it happen. Cruz recalls Lee saying he would move “heaven and Earth” to get the Senate to back Cruz, though he’s been curiously quiet when endorsing his presidential bid.

Chicanery

“Something that sets Ted Cruz apart is how much everyone in Washington hates him,” says Jamie Lovegrove, a journalist at the Texas Tribune. “In the short time he has been a US senator, he’s alienated almost everyone in Congress.”

So who would like Cruz? “If you’re an evangelical Christian and/or feel like the US is under threat from undocumented Hispanic immigrants, Syrian refugees and a pro-abortion/ pro-marriage equality federal government that wants to take away your God-given right to own an assault rifle, you probably love him,” explains Houston-based journalist Tom Dart, who has written about Cruz for the US Guardian. “The rest of the population? Not so much.”

Something that sets Ted Cruz apart is how much everyone in Washington hates him

Even the people close to him seem to loathe him. His Princeton roommate, the screenwriter and director Craig Mazin, has been pretty vocal about his behaviour on Twitter. “Ah, Ted Cruz hard at work, showing us his non-New York values. Deception, chicanery, self-interest at any cost,” reads one. “It’s not ‘astonishing’ that Ted keeps lying. It’s what he does. To everyone. In fact, it’s ALL he does”. Naturally, they found an audience, and Mazin’s tweets have gone viral.

Unusually, Cruz wears his unpopularity as a badge of honour. When he was branded a ‘wacko bird’, one supporter in Texas made him a cap with the insult written on it, adorned with Daffy Duck. Lovegrove says that in the current political climate, being disliked in DC is an effective strategy.

“There is such a strong anti-establishment sentiment in conservative circles,” Lovegrove explains. “Cruz is proud of his reputation. His whole brand when he got elected to the Senate was that he was going to disrupt everything.”

“Cruz would love people to believe he’s a modern-day version of his conservative hero, Ronald Reagan,” adds Dart. “But Reagan was charismatic, popular with colleagues and politically moderate by comparison.”

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Cruz debating with fellow Republican candidate Donald Trump

Pride & prejudices

“He’s extremely calculating, always has a strategy,” says Lovegrove. “And even though there have been times where he comes across as a loose cannon, he knows exactly what he’s doing at all times.”

You can see this ethos everywhere, from his sartorial choices (Cruz often wears a pair of ostrich leather cowboy boots nicknamed his “argument boots”) and the aforementioned bacon-cooking technique.

Cruz plays by his own rules, not the rules; he’s been dogged with claims of manipulation, strategic deception and cheating.

Last year, The New York Times omitted A Time For Truth from its bestsellers list, saying the book’s high sales had been down to “strategic bulk purchases” – something that’s been denied. And, when it comes to votes, Cruz has been accused of the kind of underhand tactics that would make Frank Underwood proud. Rumours that fellow candidate Ben Carson was going to quit the race just before Iowa caucus voting opened were leaked by Cruz’s staff. It was reported that Cruz’s team members left ‘breaking news’ messages with Carson supporters, encouraging them to vote for Cruz rather than ‘wasting’ a vote. Carson has repeatedly asserted that he was never going to quit the race. 

Cruz would love people to believe he's a modern-day version of his conservative hero, Ronald Reagan. But Reagan was charismatic, popular with colleagues and politically moderate by comparison

This was all later passed off as a bumbling misreading of tweets (Cruz said he got the news from a CNN reporter on Twitter). So where you have unpredictable, comedy-haired Trump on one side, and the calculating Cruz on the other, who do you choose? Dart suggests it’s a case of six and two threes.

“Some of their policy positions aren’t dissimilar, but Trump’s spiel is that he’s a dealmaker, while Cruz promises to take a wrecking-ball to the Washington establishment,” he says. “Is there much difference if your house gets destroyed by a hurricane or a tornado?”

[Images: Eyevine, PA]

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