One year ago today. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Columnist

The best that can be said of Ted Cruz is not that he is not Donald Trump.

If only.

The trouble with Ted Cruz is that he is like Donald Trump in ways that are actively bad (ideas about how to treat Muslims, for one) and not like Donald Trump in good ways (say, having more charm than a plate of cold liver).

He is not Donald Trump in the sense that he is actually less appealing than Donald Trump. Some people who have met Trump like him. Whereas Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joked“If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

In other words, Cruz is a less electable, less watchable Trump whom most people who have met him despise — but apart from these minor deficiencies, he is the last best hope of the Republican party.

Somehow, he managed to turn the fact that he is anathema to all who meet him to his advantage (“You know who ELSE they reviled and persecuted and muttered all kinds of evil against?”) and since this election rewards purity above all other characteristics except entertainment value, he is now the last man left standing in the race. (John Kasich is still standing too, but off several miles away from the race rambling to himself about “mosaics” and “moments in time.”)

In fact, Graham had to walk back his comments: “When I joked about killing my distinguished colleague, that didn’t mean I was opposed to him becoming president.” 

And on Wednesday, Jeb(!) Bush endorsed Cruz, sending his exclamation point to trot sadly at Cruz’s heels, following its old master with reproachful eyes until he vanished from sight down the tarmac.

This endorsement would run counter to Cruz’s narrative that The Fact That No One Who Has Ever Met Me Can Stand Me Is Just A Sign of My Purity if Jeb could have found a single positive thing to say about Cruz apart from the Winston Churchill formula “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” (“Ted is a consistent, principled conservative who has demonstrated the ability to appeal to voters and win primary contests,” Bush said in a statement. Consistent! Just like my neighbor who plays the ukulele after midnight.)

I suppose with Cruz you can feel sure that people won’t vote for him just for the entertainment value, because — what entertainment value? Part of Trump’s obscure charm is the fact that you never know what is going to come out of his mouth, and he certainly gives off the impression that he doesn’t know either. With Cruz, on the contrary, you have the sense that every off-the-cuff remark is something he has been rehearsing carefully in the mirror for the last 40 years. Perhaps over-rehearsing. Cruz is the guy in the yearbook voted Most Likely To Cackle and Murmur “Everything Is Proceeding As I Have Foreseen.”

The Trump campaign is a dumpster fire from which you can’t tear your eyes away. The Cruz campaign lacks that charisma.

But it’s not like Cruz is a more rational, statesmanlike voice. Bush said he would “overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity” of Trump but — how? I guess he hasn’t talked about his hand size?

This is Ted Cruz we’re talking about, the Ted Cruz who upset a small child at one of his rallies by saying that the world was on fire. (“The world is on fire?” “Yes. The world is on fire.”)

This is Ted “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark but we’re going to find out” Cruz.

Ted Cruz is a less personable Donald Trump who will definitely carpet bomb things, as opposed to Trump who only might say he will carpet bomb things if he did not understand the question. Trump does not want people to die in the street. Cruz thinks this is soft.

The best that can be said about Trump is that maybe he does not mean any of the insane things that he is saying. That has never been said of Cruz.

Trump wants to stop Muslims from coming to the country. (Note: It is insane that this is a normal sentence that we are typing in America in 2016. I feel like a thoroughly boiled frog.) Cruz just wants police to be empowered to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” (Thank goodness we’re getting away from the divisiveness and vulgarity that have plagued the race.)

But is this endorsing the frying pan to avoid the fire, or the fire to avoid the frying pan?