You’re evaluating candidates for an open job in your company, and you come across one who makes a big impression.
He’s clearly brilliant — maybe smarter than any of the others. He’s a whirlwind of energy. And man oh man, can he give a presentation. On any subject, he’s informed, inflamed, precise.
But then you talk with people who’ve worked with him at various stages of his career. They dislike him.
No, scratch that.
They loathe him.
They grant him all of the virtues that you’ve observed but tell you that he’s the antithesis of a team player. His thirst for the spotlight is unquenchable. His arrogance is unalloyed. He actually takes pride in being abrasive, as if a person’s tally of detractors measures his fearlessness, not his obnoxiousness.
Do you hire this applicant?
And that’s why voters should be wary — very wary — of Ted Cruz.
He’s surging. I warned you about this. In a poll of Republicans in Iowa last week, he was in a statistical tie with Donald Trump for the lead.
More and more Republican insiders talk about a battle between Cruz and Marco Rubio for the nomination, or about a three-way, if you will, among Cruz, Rubio and Trump.
And in the voices of these insiders I hear horror, because Trump and Cruz are nasty pieces of work.
Cruz will work overtime in the months ahead to persuade you otherwise. The religious right already adores him, but to go the distance, he needs more support from other, less conservative Republicans, and he knows it. Expect orchestrated glimpses of a high-minded Cruz, less skunk than statesman, his sneer ceding territory to a smile.
You saw this in recent debates. He chided moderators for mean-spirited questions. He bemoaned the pitting of one Republican against another. The audacity of those complaints was awe-inspiring: Cruz rose to national prominence with gratuitous, overwrought tirades against fellow party members and with a complete lack of deference to elders in the Senate, which he entered in January 2013, at age 42.
He likened Senate Republicans who recognized the impossibility of defunding Obamacare to Nazi appeasers. They took note.
“As Cruz gains, GOP senators rally for Rubio” said the headline of a story this week in Politico, which explained: “The idea of Cruz as the nominee is enough to send shudders down the spines of most Senate Republicans.” Support for Rubio is the flower of anyone-but-Cruz dread.
Anyone but Cruz: That’s the leitmotif of his life, stretching back to college at Princeton. His freshman roommate, Craig Mazin, told Patricia Murphy of The Daily Beast: “I would rather have anybody else be the president of the United States. Anyone. I would rather pick somebody from the phone book.”
It’s not easy to come across on-the-record quotes like that, and Mazin’s words suggest a disdain that transcends ideology. They bear heeding.
So does Cruz’s experience in the policy shop of George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. After Bush took office, other full-time advisers got plum jobs in the White House. Cruz was sent packing to the Siberia of the Federal Trade Commission.
Political strategist Matthew Dowd, who worked for Bush back then, tweeted that “if truth serum was given to the staff of the 2000 Bush campaign,” an enormous percentage of them “would vote for Trump over Cruz.”
Another Bush 2000 alumnus said to me: “Why do people take such an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? It just saves time.”
His three signature moments in the Senate have been a florid smearing of Chuck Hagel with no achievable purpose other than attention for Ted Cruz, a flamboyant rebellion against Obamacare with no achievable purpose other than attention for Ted Cruz, and a fiery protest of federal funding for Planned Parenthood with no achievable purpose other than attention for Ted Cruz. Notice any pattern?
Asked about Cruz at a fundraiser last spring, John Boehner responded by raising a lone finger — the middle one.
More recently, Senate Republicans denied Cruz a procedural courtesy that’s typically pro forma.
“That is different than anything I’ve ever seen in my years here,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told The Washington Post.
Many politicians rankle peers. Many have detractors. Cruz generates antipathy of an entirely different magnitude. It’s so pronounced and so pervasive that he’s been forced to acknowledge it, and he spins it as the price invariably paid by an outsider who challenges the status quo, clings to principle and never backs down.
No, it’s the fruit of a combative style and consuming solipsism that would make him an insufferable, unendurable president. And if there’s any sense left in this election and mercy in this world, it will undo him soon enough.
Frank Bruni, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times since June 2011, joined the New York Times in 1995. Over his years, he has worn a wide variety of hats, including chief restaurant critic and Rome bureau chief.