Ted Cruz, a traitor to his class

An incisive point from Rich Lowry about the identity politics driving the left’s unusual contempt for Cruz. It’s not so much that they consider him a traitor to his race, as they do most conservatives who are black or Latino, as to his ruling-class pedigree.

A national debate champion educated by Princeton and Harvard Law — and leading the charge against ObamaCare. He’s the John Walker Lindh of the Ivy League.

The party’s highest-profile Texans, George W. Bush and Rick Perry, tended to match inarticulateness with cowboy swagger and lend themselves to mockery as intellectual lightweights. Bush went to Yale and Harvard Business School, yet no one naturally thinks of him as an Ivy Leaguer. The two Lone Star State governors played into the left’s stereotypes so nicely that if they didn’t exist, Gail Collins would have had to make them up.

Cruz is different — a Princeton and Harvard man who not only matriculated at those fine institutions but excelled at them. Champion debater at Princeton. Magna cum laude graduate at Harvard. Supreme Court clerkship, on the way to Texas solicitor general and dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cruz is from the intellectual elite, but not of it, a tea party conservative whose politics are considered gauche at best at the storied universities where he studied. He is, to borrow the words of the 2009 H.W. Brands biography of FDR, a traitor to his class.

The first paragraph there is key. I think the irritation at Cruz is less about him showing disloyalty to the norms of the intellectual class than confounding their narrative about their opponents. They can tolerate the idea of an intelligent Republican if that Republican is moderate and well-heeled. There’s no special disdain, for instance, for Mitt Romney or George H.W. Bush; their supposed conservatism can be dismissed by liberals as either politically opportunistic or a function of wealth. Cruz’s sin is that, by all accounts, he is ideological and always has been. He’s a true believer, and smart people aren’t supposed to believe in something like that. More than that, he’s a populist, which is inexcusable to lefty intellectuals who see grassroots righties as a horde of ignorant reactionaries. It’s one thing to praise Hayek at an AEI forum, it’s another to play pied piper to America’s Greatest Threat.

How to explain Ted Cruz, then? In two ways. One: Liberal messaging on conservatives is that they’re necessarily stupid, crazy, or evil. If you can’t get Cruz on either of the first two counts, you’re naturally going to lean heavily on the third. Simple as that. Two: Deny that he’s as much of a true believer as he seems, despite anecdotes from his college classmates about how strongly conservative he was even in his Princeton days, and dismiss him as a panderer. Lowry himself notes an example of that from Dana Milbank, basically accusing Cruz of being a secret moderate who’s only pretending to be a tea partier because that’s his path to a higher profile within the party. He’s an Ivy Leaguer after all — deeply ambitious, supposedly to the point of lying about his beliefs to further his career. That’s going to be the liberal CW on him as we get closer to 2016, I think, because it serves their agenda twice over. It casts Cruz as an especially ruthless pol, potentially willing to say or do anything to get the dreaded hoi polloi to help him grasp power, and — to bring this back around to the identity politics point — it frames him as fundamentally inauthentic. If they’re not going to call him a fake Latino because of his conservatism, they can call him a fake conservative because of his education. He simply can’t be who he says he is. He just can’t be.

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