Richard Dreyfuss, Glenn Beck, Ted Cruz, and Lady Gaga in IowaJanuary 31, 2016
Glenn Beck, the right-wing television host who spent the early years of the Obama Administration peddling conspiracy theories about the President on Fox News, was walking through the lobby of the Gateway Hotel, in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday, when he saw someone who looked familiar.
Man, that guy looks like Richard Dreyfuss, Beck thought. In fact, it was. Beck was there to introduce a Republican candidate at a rally in the hotel’s main ballroom. Dreyfuss was in Iowa as a sort of political tourist checking out candidates. The two men started to talk about Dwight Eisenhower, who they agreed was the last honest President. The encounter was still on Beck’s mind when he took the stage to warm up the crowd. “We had the most amazing conversation,” Beck recalled. He said he had a similarly friendly chat with a guy in an elevator who was wearing a Jeb Bush button.
Beck suggested he’s had something of a political conversion. He said he told the stories about his civil encounters with Dreyfuss and the Bush supporter because he believed American politics had become too poisoned and polarized, and that the country needed a candidate to bring people together. “I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of fighting my neighbor,” Beck said. “I am tired of being at each other’s throats. I’m tired of the name-calling. I’m tired of ‘you’re my enemy if you vote for somebody else.’ That’s not true. We’re all Americans, all of us, and it’s time to remember that the President of the United States is not ‘my guy.’ He’s ‘our guy.’ No matter who wins, we must have a President that is not a divider. We will not last another four years with this division. We must have a uniter.”
Beck’s recommendation for the candidate who can unite Americans? Ted Cruz.
This is not a skill that Cruz is typically known for, unless you count his ability to unite all of his Republican Senate colleagues against him. The Cruz campaign’s strategy for the general election, in fact, is about exacerbating the polarization in America and turning out more of the Republican base, rather than trying to court moderates. As Eliana Johnson, of National Review, recently reported, Cruz believes “an ideologue is the party’s only hope of winning in 2016,” because recent Republican nominees—namely John McCain, in 2008, and Mitt Romney, in 2012—“demoralized conservatives and kept them away from the polls.”
When the candidate came onstage, he quickly disabused the crowd of Beck’s arguments that Cruz was running on a message of inclusion. In offering thanks for the introduction, Cruz reminded the crowd that Beck was crucial in educating people about “the root threat of progressivism that is undermining the foundational principles of this country” and also “the threat of radical-Islamic terrorism.” He didn’t seem to make much of a distinction between the two.
Cruz then told a story about a little old man who walked up to the White House gate on January 20th and asked a Marine, “Is Barack Obama here?” (Cruz is confused about White House security: a Marine does stand guard at the door of the West Wing on the White House grounds, but it’s uniformed Secret Service agents who man the perimeter.)
“I’m sorry, sir,” the Marine tells the old man. “Barack Obama is no longer President of the United States.” The old man comes back the next two days in a row and asks the same question, until the frustrated Marine tells him the answer is the same. “I know that, I just love hearing you say it,” the old man says.
“See you tomorrow, sir!” the Marine says. It’s not very funny, even if Cruz hadn’t botched the delivery by screaming the punchline. But it’s telling in that it not only taps into the audience’s obvious disdain for Obama but also imagines that even the soldiers sworn to protect the President are anti-Obama ideologues. So much for Beck’s version of an America where the President is “our guy” rather than “his guy.”
Cruz has had momentum in Iowa for several weeks, but it seems to have stalled. A few hours after the Cruz event, a closely watched poll conducted by Ann Selzer, for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg, showed Donald Trump at twenty-eight per cent and Cruz at twenty-three per cent, a notable slide for the senator, who led Trump by three points in the last Selzer poll. The survey suggests that Trump’s devious questioning of Cruz’s eligibility to be President, because of his Canadian birth, may have worked. And if that’s the case, the Texas Senator is in trouble. Cruz’s strategy of consolidating the right wing against a splintered field of center-right candidates is premised on winning in Iowa, which has the most conservative and evangelical Republican electorate of the early primary or caucus states. His appeal is limited in New Hampshire, and if he fails to impress in those two early states he won’t have much of a case to make when the campaign moves to South Carolina.
It appears to be infuriating to Cruz that his message of purist conservatism has thus far been unable to beat Trump’s mixture of celebrity and populism. At his rallies, Cruz sticks to a well-honed stump speech. But on Saturday he added a new line, delivered with a touch of disdain, that took the audience even further from Dwight Eisenhower. “Next cycle,” Cruz said, “I’m told Lady Gaga is going to run.”
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