Monday, April 25, 2016

Trump, Cruz and the exchange rate for ‘mean’

Ever since his rise from political obscurity in Texas, observers have used words for Ted Cruz like "smart" and "shrewd."

Watching him on the campaign trail, I'm thinking, "Not so much."

Here's how smart Ted Cruz is. His "New York values" snideness in the pre-Iowa debate, which helped him win a whole eight delegates there, won him exactly zero delegates in New York. Indeed, in one precinct he got fewer votes than Ben Carson, now in a witness protection program somewhere.

We hear such words as "shrewd" and "smart" for how Donald Trump has handled all that daddy money of his. Watching him on the campaign trail, I'm thinking, "Not so much."

Someone who is going to spend a whole bunch of that money on becoming president would do a better job of building bridges, instead of walling off people, races, classes -- you know, people he would be elected to serve in the most unlikely event that he were chosen.

Should he get the nomination, Trump will be the least-liked nominee in history. That's a good reason why a lot of Republican leaders are planning to be somewhere other than Cleveland when the GOP awards that honor.

Understand, this nomination stuff is still speculation. Trump could come very close and not get it. Here's one reason he wouldn't: Pure meanness. Trump was so brutal in his treatment of Marco Rubio that the latter says he will withhold all of his delegates through the first ballot. The way things look now, it could be just enough to derail the Trump Train.

As for Cruz, no question, he has turned in a bravura performance getting hard-right tea party types to show up at caucuses and exalt his name.

However, when it comes to appealing to any other demographic — and we know the tea party to be basically a Glenn Beck quilting klatch — he is as unfit to appeal to a national demographic as Curt Schilling is to receive the next ESPY Humanitarian Award.

What is it with people like Cruz and Trump — and their Mother Teresa figure, Sarah Palin — that compels them to insult whole groups, even whole regions, of people? I can tell you it's not the compulsion to lead a nation.

Trump's handlers this week, with a nomination looming on the horizon like the last Stuckey's in this time zone, said he will be refining his demeanor to project a broader, softer, more presidential self.

Um, have they watched any TV news and late-night programming in the last eight months? Did they watch the debates? Did they hear their charge the next day, promising not to bore his audiences?

If there's a Good Donald, he is locked in a dressing room while Bad Donald performs every day, and I mean every day. Such branding would not be more deeply embedded if the GEICO gecko shared a bunk with you.

Meanwhile, you might have heard or noticed that Cruz, too, is also on his own image-burnishing campaign, showing up on late-night TV to show off his humor and humanity.

This is going to be a trick. The man's singular endeavor as a U.S. senator has been to shut down the national parks. He's been called the most hated man in the Senate. In Sen. Lindsey Graham's phrasing: "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you."

A word further on Cruz. It was a stunning achievement when the hard-right life force of the Texas Republican Party elevated him to the Senate over more moderate rivals. However:

As Cruz's appeal has been only to that segment, that white, intensely insular slice of society, and as Texas increasingly is more diverse and less insular, Cruz offers Democrats their greatest opportunity in decades to take a Senate seat and begin the inevitable process of turning it blue.

Smart men seeking to represent many wouldn't be so mean.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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