Ted Cruz, junior senator from Texas, works hard to cultivate a populist persona. The Republican presidential contender is a tea party darling, a vocal evangelical and, apparently, a pretty good duck hunter. Just listen to what “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson says to Cruz in a new campaign video: “The reason we’re going to vote for you — all of us — is because you’re one of us, my man.”
But a story on the front page of Thursday’s New York Times opens the door for Cruz’s GOP rivals to portray him as something else: an elitist who actually isn’t “one of us” at all.
The Times reports that Cruz failed to disclose a loan from Goldman Sachs, where his wife is a managing director, in campaign finance reports during his Senate run in 2012. Cruz did disclose the loan later, in a Senate ethics report, but it was not visible at the time of his insurgent bid to defeat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the establishment favorite, in a Republican primary.
From the Times:
There would have been nothing improper about Mr. Cruz obtaining bank loans for his campaign, as long as they were disclosed. But such a disclosure might have conveyed the wrong impression for his candidacy.
Mr. Cruz, a conservative former Texas solicitor general, was campaigning as a populist firebrand who criticized Wall Street bailouts and the influence of big banks in Washington. It is a theme he has carried into his bid for the Republican nomination for president.
Shortly after the Times report was published online Wednesday night, Cruz dismissed the omission as a “technical and inadvertent filing error” at a campaign stop in South Carolina, where GOP presidential candidates will debate Thursday evening.
It might well have been an honest mistake, and — on its own — the Goldman Sachs loan isn’t enough to shatter Cruz’s image. Yet the Times story adds a new subplot to a budding narrative, advanced most loudly by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump: Cruz represents “the other.”
In this case, “the other” is a brand of East Coast, Ivy League, big-bank elitism that many conservatives despise. Cruz earned his undergraduate degree at Princeton, where he was a debate champion (how esoteric!), and — like President Obama and Mitt Romney — got his law degree at Harvard. He married an investment banking executive.
That’s hardly a resume to be ashamed of, but it isn’t one that plays particularly well with the conservative base at the moment. Cruz has managed to avoid the elitist label thus far — perhaps, in part, because an attack on his Goldman Sachs connection could have been viewed as an out-of-bounds shot at his spouse — but the Times report puts it in the field of fair play now.
Already, Trump has been working to counter the belief among folks like Robertson that Cruz is one of them. On the campaign trail, the real estate magnate has repeatedly questioned whether Cruz is even eligible to be president because of his Canadian birth. Trump has also told voters that “not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay? Just remember that.”
To review: Cruz isn’t really an American, isn’t really an evangelical, and now we know he’s an elitist. It all fits into one big effort to “otherize” the man who appears to be Trump’s biggest obstacle on the way to the Republican nomination.
Cruz is starting to fight back and is even doing a bit of otherizing, too. He said on the Howie Carr radio show Wednesday that “Donald comes from New York, and he embodies New York values.”
Get the message, conservatives? Trump isn’t one of you, either.
Cruz probably has little choice but to push back, but wars of words with Trump tend to go poorly for those who wage them. And now, with this New York Times report, Trump has a new weapon at his disposal.