It is no disgrace to lose a presidential primary. Many distinguished people have run for president, and the vast majority of them have lost, many of them badly. Howard Baker, Jack Kemp, George H.W. Bush (1980) and Ronald Reagan (1976) all lost a run for the presidency; some never made it. Sometimes a candidate is not ready, and sometimes the electorate is not ready to hear the message (e.g., Reagan in ’76). But it is quite another thing to lose because you, throughout your life, have been hated if not uniformly, then widely and passionately.
Other than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), we are hard-pressed to recall a presidential candidate who so utterly failed to develop trust, respect and friendships in his adult life. Richard Nixon was hated by Democrats but had developed ties and certainly gained the respect of Republicans from his time in the House, the Senate and the vice presidency. Certainly no presidential candidate before Cruz reveled in the message “Everyone hates me!”
If Cruz does not make it to the presidency, he will no doubt blame the “establishment.” But whether he recognizes it or not, his wife and political advisers surely understand that alumni, roommates, law clerks, former staffers in the George W. Bush campaign and White House (and the president himself), members of Congress and others who have known Cruz — lots and lots of people — consider him socially awkward, nasty, dishonest, a blatant apple-polisher and all-around creepy guy. You can write off a few of these critics as jealous of his success, or liberal antagonists, but all of them? There is something badly amiss here. Cruz, who so obviously lacks emotional intelligence, cannot recognize it, but those closest to him surely must see that something is awry.
The shame of all this is that Cruz is smart and articulate, albeit not persuasive outside his core base. From all accounts, he was an effective lawyer. But “smart” does not amount to “successful.” It’s a waste of a sharp mind when someone becomes their own worst enemy, an impediment to their own success. Perhaps Cruz’s family and closest advisers should consider an intervention of sorts to remind him that politics is a team sport.
Politics is about building alliances and trust, having your team’s back and refusing to grandstand to your side’s detriment. It’s also an additive exercise. Drawing bold lines is fine, but you lose unless you can bring people over to your side. Simply inveighing against others will not do it, nor will playing the persecuted victim.
And finally, a few words about ambition are in order. All politicians are ambitious, or they would not go into a highly competitive endeavor that brings with it power, popularity and sometimes (after one decamps to K Street) wealth. That said, if all you have is ambition, the burning desire to climb over others, it becomes evident to voters and colleagues alike. You know the type — the guy always looking over your shoulder to scan for a more important person in the room to engage; the fellow convinced whatever job he has is not big enough for him; and the person so intellectually dishonest, he is willing to rewrite history, deny his own statements and look you in the eye to say “Black is white” and “Up is down.” (Even when apologizing to Dr. Ben Carson for his team spreading a rumor on caucus night that Carson was dropping out, Cruz felt compelled to lie, claiming CNN initially reported Carson was dropping out. CNN blasted back: “What Senator Cruz said tonight in the debate is categorically false. CNN never corrected its reporting because CNN never had anything to correct. The Cruz campaign’s actions the night of the Iowa caucuses had nothing to do with CNN’s reporting. The fact that Senator Cruz continues to knowingly mislead the voters about this is astonishing.”) These behaviors do not sit well with people, who soon catch on that you are using them for selfish ends. Superiors see you are an annoying kiss-up, and other see you as desperate or phony.
Cruz’s shortcomings make it hard to build a winning coalition — or to function in the Senate. The great irony is his ambition may be the biggest barrier to obtain what he thirsts for and has schemed so long to obtain.