Opinion writer

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in Concord, N.H. (Cheryl Senter/Associated Press)

Trying to sashay up to the religious right in Iowa, where he is losing altitude, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has taken to accusing Donald Trump of “embodying New York values.” What the heck does that mean? Cruz insists that voters know exactly what he means, but as a purveyor of nonsensical phrases (“Washington cartel“), he should explain what he means.

Does he mean educated at elite schools? Cruz himself has degrees from Princeton and Harvard.

Does he mean New Yorkers embrace diversity and tolerance, making their city the quintessential home of immigrants? Trump used to rave about legal immigration. Now he says he is against it, even when it comes to people with special skills and talents our economy dearly needs.

Does he mean crass, materialistic, etc.? He might. And yet Cruz butters up New York donors in private, sounding different in tone on abortion than he does in Iowa. Maybe he shouldn’t take donations from such people.

Does he mean Trump has had multiple marriages? It is interesting this card hasn’t been played much in places such as Iowa, but if Cruz is going to go down that road — I don’t think it’s out-of-bounds necessarily, although it didn’t carry much weight with New Gingrich’s opponents — he should say so. In the 21st century (the 20th as well) divorce has lost its stigma, but Cruz should spell it out if he is accusing Trump of something worse regarding his relations with women. Cruz is trying to have it both ways as he throws darts at Trump but avoids specificity and direct confrontation (kind of like ringing the doorbell and running). Many voters won’t consider that a demonstration of strength should Cruz choose to go that route.

There is something else at play here other than Cruz’s sneaky insinuations. It has become standard operation practice among right-wing Republicans to declare that big cities and even entire states are not “real America.” Cruz says New York values aren’t Iowa values. Or something.

This is hogwash and is indicative of these pols’ inability to reach outside their deep-red comfort zone. Cruz presumably is going to campaign for votes in some big cities (Cleveland, Philadelphia, etc.). It’s not wise to write off these voters either in the primary or general election. (Is there such a thing as St. Louis values?) Dismissing their cities as foreign, lacking values and an anathema to “real” America will not sit well with many of these voters.

This kind of attitude conveys to voters outside the right-wing base every GOP stereotype — provincial, bigoted, exclusionary. And in Cruz’s case it is simply a lazy argument from someone who awkwardly tries to connect with regular people. (Possibly only Hillary Clinton has had a tougher time mastering social interaction.)

Cruz isn’t very good at making friends in the political context (ask any senator), in part because he promotes himself by running down others, by inferring he’s ideologically pristine and impugning others’ motives. We have a president who is condescending and divisive. We don’t need another.