With his quixotic bid for the Presidency now official, Ted Cruz has attained semi-divinity within the extreme right wing of American politics. There’s no way he’ll get the nomination, of course. The gatekeepers of the Republican Party will see to that, much as they saw to it that Rick Santorum’s come from behind surge fell limply aside in 2012. But Cruz’s base will make the primary fight nasty. They see themselves as the real bearers of the right-wing standard. And they have God on their side.
Cruz and his base see the rest of the Republican Party as sellouts and political cowards. The term RINO- Republican In Name Only- is used for anyone of the party in the Congress who even feints at a compromise with the President or the Democrats. The base has swallowed whole the racism and paranoia to the point that any compliance with what they perceive as the “one world, non-white government” is literally treason against their view of the United States.
Fifteen years ago, these views were still on the fringes of the Republican Party. George W Bush had just assumed the presidency on the back of a campaign which used softened rhetoric to signal to the Religious Right that he would be their champion in the Oval Office, while broadening his appeal to moderate voters with promises to respect the boundaries between church and state. The idea that Bush could have garnered any support in the broader electorate by playing to the fantasies of the racist and delusional fringes of the American right was not even a twinkle in Karl Rove’s eye. Identifying oneself politically with the overtly racist and paranoid has been a loser’s game in American politics. Until now.
Cruz’s base is a microcosm of the contemporary Republican Party. The underpinning logic of their political position in the age of Obama has been an irrational hatred for everything the President puts forward and attempts. By historical standards, Obama has been well to the right politically of every President of the twentieth century prior to Reagan. The hatred for his policy positions doesn’t come from any realistic assertion that he is on the left wing of American politics, even by today’s metric. It’s not a controversial conclusion that much of the modern American extreme right wing’s dislike for the Obama administration has been motivated by race.
The roots of this racial hatred for the President stretch back to the Civil Rights Movement and the ensuing, predictable, white right-wing backlash in the late 1960s and the 1970s. With improvements to the political position in society and slightly better economic mobility for blacks, whites fled the cities to the suburbs and used legal and illegal means to keep their communities racially “pure.” But the relentless march forward of the Civil Rights Movement and the inability for the old white power structures to sufficiently fight back led to discontent. White supremacy was challenged and the backlash had begun. This white backlash found itself most powerfully expressed by the evangelical Moral Majority, or, as we know them now, the Religious Right.
The Religious Right lends to political racism and bigotry the essential rationalizer of so-called morality. By veiling the hatred and invective that is the province of the right in the sanctimonious rhetoric of the revival tent preacher, the Religious Right movement provides necessary moral cover to positions that are antithetical to a just society. This is not exclusively the domain of the faithful, but in the context of domestic politics, the Religious Right has a monopoly. Beginning with Jerry Falwell’s hysterics over integration, framed as a matter of following “God’s rulings on mixing of the races,” and continuing to today’s attacks on the Obama administration’s Health Care Law as an attempt to enforce “death panels,” the Religious Right has continually fueled the fire of vote-mobilizing hate.
Racism and religious zealotry is only part of the story of Cruz’s base. The other end of the story concerns a vein of paranoia about “communism” and “one-world government.” Cruz alluded to this paranoia in his campaign for the Senate in 2012, when he warned Texans that the UN was coming to destroy their golf courses. The UN was going to do this under the auspices of Agenda 21, a non-binding resolution from 1992 that calls for, in mild language, more equitable economic treatment for the people of the world and work on a global scale to slow climate change. Signed by the first President Bush, it’s an innocuous document with as much power as any non-binding resolution- effectively none- that naturally made the paranoid right go nuts.
The paranoiacs of the right are the heirs of Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society. McCarthy, the anti-Communist Senator from Wisconsin, is known as a historical disgrace for his drunken rambling and wasting of taxpayer money in his blind crusade to expose a nonexistent Communist conspiracy in the government. The John Birch Society, when it isn’t being snickered at as the official headquarters for the most terrified of American cowards, used and uses its newsletter as a breeding ground of lies, paranoia, and virulence.
Today’s paranoid right has the internet to widely disseminate their views. Cruz’s ranting about and using of Agenda 21 was no mistake. Alex Jones, whose infowars site never met a conspiracy theory it wouldn’t publish, and Glenn Beck have perpetuated the mythology of Agenda 21 as a UN plot to erode the sovereignty of the United States and usher in the long feared “one-world government” under the auspices of “environmentalism” and “socialism.” Ted Cruz and others of his right-wing ilk manipulate these fears for votes and political power.
Cruz and his base are still far enough off the mainstream that there’s no realistic chance of a Cruz presidency in the near future. But farther off, it’s hard to know. In 1976, a far-right lunatic named Ronald Reagan made a bid to unseat sitting President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination. He failed that time, and was widely seen as too radical for the country. Four years later, he had defeated Jimmy Carter and was the 40th President of the United States.
Reagan’s rise to power began to drag the center of American politics to the right, so much so that the policy positions of the “left of center” party, the Democrats, are in many cases the positions of Republicans over the past three decades. Ted Cruz’s candidacy, which may just be a flash in the pan, nevertheless may also drag the political center in the United States further to the right and towards a domestic theocratic apartheid system with a paranoid, anti-communist foreign policy.
Cruz’s rise in the Republican Party is the culmination of decades of white grievances. His popularity stems from his ability to embody the most myopic political views possible. He is able to threaten to shut down the government without caring for the broader political impacts on his party. The speeches he gives about opposing tyranny when the state is acting in an authoritarian way contrary to his base’s desires sum up the underlying subtext to their opposition to the Obama presidency. He and his base are the racist, paranoid id of the right.