SAN DIEGO – Does the world of commentary really need another column bashing Ted Cruz for having the audacity to hope that he could be president?
I’ll pass. As you may have noticed, the mainstream media are like birds on a wire. Reporters, pundits, and producers – especially those in Washington and New York – tend to cover the same stories, interview the same folks, and advance the same views.
From much of the media coverage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, you’d think the law is simply about allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians.
That could have been part of the intent. Apparently, some of the Hoosiers behind the new law have also crusaded against gay marriage.
Never miss a local story.
Still, I’ve known, interviewed, and written about Gov. Mike Pence – the law’s chief defender – for almost 10 years, since he was in Congress. And he is smart, inclusive and fair-minded. Pence said Tuesday he wants Indiana lawmakers to clarify that the law “does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples.”
Glad to hear it. But why wasn’t this law clear from the beginning?
Meanwhile, it would be refreshing to see the media clarify that there is another side to this issue. Should people be forced to go against their religious beliefs?
And when it comes to Ted Cruz, the safe and conventional position for journalists, commentators and political experts is to argue that the firebrand is too extreme, too volatile, and too unelectable to be a viable presidential candidate. The 44-year-old junior senator from Texas doesn’t have the temperament, experience or people skills, we are told. And the fact that Cruz, a Republican, is disliked by both parties supposedly points to some character flaw on his part, and not, say, the fact that the parties are now more alike than different.
This is the path of least resistance. Write and say these things, and your colleagues won’t challenge or criticize you.
But the truth will lead you in a different direction. My colleagues underestimate Cruz at their peril. I’ve known him for more than a dozen years – back when he was working for the Federal Trade Commission during the George W. Bush administration, long before anyone outside of his circle of family, friends and acquaintances had ever heard of him.
What many in the media refuse to accept is that the very attributes that make Cruz unpopular among Washington political elites also endear him to many voters across the country. What his critics consider negatives, his supporters see as positives. This is another indicator of how far removed many of those who live and work in the nation’s capital are from everyday Americans.
Cruz isn’t part of the D.C. club, but that’s a plus for those who think government is too clubby. He has smarts, courage and principle, and he won’t fall in line behind the leaders of his own party when he believes they’re going the wrong way.
He’s unflinching on the attack. He did not hesitate to grill Sen. Dianne Feinstein over the Second Amendment, Attorney General Eric Holder about the investigation into allegations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservatives, or Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel about whether he accepted money from foreign governments.
Cruz doesn’t care about being popular, or playing nice with colleagues, if it interferes with doing what he considers to be the right thing.
Not that he isn’t wrong sometimes. On immigration reform, he parrots GOP talking points that ignore the realities of the debate. Here are three such realities: We can deport people, but they will come back. “Amnesty” isn’t a magnet for illegal immigration, jobs are. And, until you punish employers, the problem will persist.
People ask me if I think Cruz would be a good president. I don’t know. The same goes for Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren. The only way to evaluate a president is to see him, or her, on the job. George W. Bush looked and sounded more like a leader after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Yet I know this: Cruz will be good for the process. He’ll force other GOP contenders to bring their “A-game” to every policy discussion and take their vitamins before every debate. He’ll make them keep their words, and he’ll have the nerve to call them on their nonsense. He won’t be polite, and he won’t defer. And because of all this, he shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.