Cruz's bitter end

If you listened much to Senator Ted Cruz over these last furious months, you would have heard him talk frequently about "the abyss", as in what the US was teetering on the edge of. If you listened to him over these last furious hours, you would have heard him mention the "yawning cavern of insecurity" that motivates Mr Donald Trump and other bullies.

Mr Cruz should take up spelunking. He's obviously fascinated by unfathomable depths, and with his loss in Indiana on Tuesday, his candidacy for the US presidency is finished, giving him a whole lot of extra time. A new hobby is definitely in order.

As we bid Mr Cruz adieu, we should give him his due: He took a mien and manner spectacularly ill-suited to the art of seducing voters about as far as it could go. He outlasted the likes of his fellow Republicans Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. He outperformed Mr Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mr Mike Huckabee in 2008.

Like him, Mr Santorum and Mr Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and built from there, courting the religious right with fervour. But they lacked the intensity of Mr Cruz's professed disdain for Washington, which was his other big sales pitch, made at its moment of maximum potency. He peddled extravagant piety and extreme contempt in equal measure.

If that sounds paradoxical, it is, and tension ultimately did him in.

He spoke out of both sides of his scowl, itching to be the voice of the common man but equally eager to demonstrate what a highfalutin, Harvard-trained intellect he possessed. He wed a populist message to a plummy vocabulary. And while the line separating smart and smart aleck isn't all that thin or blurry, he never could stay on the winning side of it. He wore cowboy boots, but his favourites are made of ostrich skin.

Two peacocks in a pod, he and Mr Trump, and what ghastly plumage they showed on Tuesday. Mr Trump somehow saw fit to bring up a National Enquirer story linking Mr Cruz's father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Mr Cruz exploded, branding Mr Trump a "pathological liar" and "serial philanderer". He also brought up an interview from many years ago in which Mr Trump told TV and radio personality Howard Stern that his effort to steer clear of sexually transmitted diseases was his "personal Vietnam".


Mr Cruz on Tuesday, after conceding defeat in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. On the campaign trail, he wed a populist message to a plummy vocabulary. And while the line separating smart and smart aleck isn't all that thin or blurry, he never could stay on the winning side of it. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Where was this rant six months ago, when the Republican field was crowded and Mr Cruz played footsie with Mr Trump? Back then, he was wagering that Mr Trump would fade, and he wanted to be in a friendly position to inherit the billionaire's supporters. But by Tuesday, Mr Trump was the main obstacle between Mr Cruz and their party's presidential nomination, and Mr Cruz has just one true compass: his own advancement.

The nakedness of his vanity and transparency of his ambition were always his biggest problem. He routinely excoriated other politicians for self-centredness while repeatedly hogging centre stage, his remarks interminable - after his Iowa victory, for example, or when he presumptuously introduced Ms Carly Fiorina as his running mate - and his pauses so theatrically drawn out that you could watch the entirety of The Revenant during some of them.

The nakedness of his vanity and transparency of his ambition were always his biggest problem. He routinely excoriated other politicians for self-centredness while repeatedly hogging centre stage.

He trashed "the establishment" and wore its rejection of him as a badge of honour only until it stopped rejecting him and its help was his best hope to wrest the nomination from Mr Trump. At that point, he did dizzy cartwheels over every prominent endorsement that came his way.

He took great pride in an adversarial relationship with the media, decreeing us irrelevant, until he went in hunt of a fresh excuse for losing to Mr Trump and decided over the last few days that it was all our fault. We didn't matter and then we did, depending on which estimation flattered him.

He purported to be more high-minded than his peers but pettily mocked Mrs Michelle Obama for urging schoolchildren to eat leafy greens. When his wife is first lady, he pledged, "French fries are coming back to the cafeteria". Mrs Heidi Cruz is not going to be first lady, so she'll need some other platform for the promotion of calorie bombs and second chins.

And where in her husband was the humility that a Christian faith as frequently proclaimed as his should encompass? It wasn't evident when he stormed into the Senate in early 2013, an upstart intent on upstaging the veterans.

There were flickers of it on Tuesday night, as he conceded defeat not just in Indiana but in the presidential contest, announcing that he was suspending his campaign "with a heavy heart". He articulated gratitude to those Americans - no small number of them - who had buoyed him.

He went overboard in his praise of Ms Fiorina, merely reminding us all of what an odd and oddly timed alliance theirs was. "An incredible, phenomenal running mate," he called her, as if they'd been on some epic journey. It was less than a week long. How many phenomena could she accomplish in that time?

He left out Mr Trump. There were no congratulations, no hints of whether he'd publicly back Mr Trump in the months to come. There was nothing to purge the memory of what he'd said earlier, when he described Mr Trump as "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country has ever seen".

Yes, we have, and so has he, every day, in the mirror.

That's why he'll undoubtedly be back to try for the presidency again. But this bid is moribund. It's time for Mr Cruz to rest in peevishness.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2016, with the headline 'Cruz's bitter end'. Print Edition | Subscribe