Past, present or future?

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GOP Can Stop Being Nice to Ted Cruz

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Ted Cruz’s presidential campaigning consists mainly of saying outrageous things in hopes he can separate himself as a True Conservative while all around him are Republicans In Name Only. “Today’s Democratic Party has decided there is no room for Christians in today’s Democratic Party,” he claimed again over the weekend, while repeating Jonah Goldberg’s “liberal fascism” slur against Democrats.

Conservatives running against Cruz have a choice, since they can't ignore him forever. They can try to top his applause lines, and in so doing teach conservative voters that conservative “thought” is only demagogy.  

Or they can make it clear there’s a difference between real conservative politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater and provocateurs such as Newt Gingrich. Reagan was as prone to exaggeration and fact-fudging as any politician and was more than willing to use those skills against Democrats (many of whom called him a fascist). But Reagan didn't say flat out that Jimmy Carter or top people in his administration were deliberately trying to help America's enemies, nor did he challenge a rival's religion.

It isn't as if Cruz is the only one trying to push the Republican Party in a conservative direction. There is practically no difference in positions on policies between Cruz and the bulk of the party. It's all about being outrageous and destructive.  

Cruz won't win the Republican nomination, but he is going to be a prominent candidate, quite possibly deep into the primaries. If his tactics aren’t repudiated, they will be mimicked by other candidates who want to compete with him for the slice of the electorate susceptible to demagogy. 

No one checked Gingrich, so the party got Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin and Louie Gohmert and Cruz. And the result will be that more conservative voters will expect harsher oratory and outright lies from their candidates. 

  1. Reagan has been justly accused of using racial symbolism, but it was George H.W. Bush's campaign that ran the infamous Willie Horton ads. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net