Richard Nixon was an American original. Since he left public life, I don’t think we have seen anyone like him. Until now.
Ted Cruz strikes me as the son that Richard Nixon never had. Like Nixon, he is a tireless worker and very, very smart, almost always a step ahead of his contemporaries. He shares Nixon’s straightforward patriotism and his willingness to suffer the scorn of the ill-informed and the arrogant who consider themselves his betters. And like Nixon, Cruz is able to convince millions of people to vote for him, even as he is widely disliked, including by many who know him.
Cruz shares Nixon’s virtues, but also partakes of his dark side–a thirst for the office of the presidency that goes beyond common ambition, and a propensity for dirty tricks. Cruz’s brilliance, like Nixon’s, does not always protect him against appalling lapses in judgment.
There is a physical resemblance, too: Cruz, like Nixon, seems unable to smile as others do, and his attempts in that direction sometimes prompt suspicion. He even has the nose!
Of course, Nixon and Cruz are politicians of different eras, and there are obvious differences between them. Nixon lived for foreign policy, while Cruz resembles Barack Obama in the priority he puts on transforming America domestically. And, consistent with the times, Cruz is much more a philosophical conservative. It is impossible to imagine him trying to implement a system of wage and price controls, for example.
Someone on this site–I think it was Paul–pointed out that Cruz’s strategy in the primaries is simple: not to allow anyone to get to his right on any issue. I think that is correct, hence the support he receives from the party’s most solidly conservative voters. But I wonder whether Cruz will follow Nixon in another respect. While many politicians have pursued the strategy, it is Nixon who is best known for advising Republicans to “[r]un to the right in the primary election, and then run to the center in the general election.”
Will Ted Cruz follow that advice? I don’t know. If he does, it will surprise his most ardent fans. But it will tend to confirm my sense that he is the legitimate heir, in our politics, to Richard Nixon.
PAUL ADDS: I was, in fact, the Power Liner who noted that Ted Cruz’s strategy from the day he hit Washington was never to allow anyone to get to his right on any issue. We saw this most recently on immigration, when he embraced Donald Trump’s concept of mass deportation and, unlike Trump, apparently did not allow for the possibility of legal reentry (which at least has the virtue of making a mass deportation policy coherent).
I also noted the similarity between Cruz and Nixon in this post from early December.
I share John’s doubt that Cruz, as a candidate in the general election and as president, would be a pure, 100 percent, down-the-line conservative (I’m pretty sure that Marco Rubio, of the Gang of Eight, wouldn’t be either). However, as John also notes, Cruz is a philosophical conservative. He’s probably pragmatic enough to trim around the edges. But he’s unlikely to stray too far.
John’s point about Nixon living for foreign policy is central. Nixon would make almost any concession to liberalism on domestic issues in order to maintain the power to work what he deemed his foreign policy magic.
Cruz, by contrast, is all about domestic policy of the conservative brand. He will make concessions on foreign policy — see his flirtation with Rand Paul — to advance himself. But there is no evidence that he will make major concessions on domestic policy, much less give away the store — as Nixon, with his wage-price controls and “affirmative action,” was prepared to do.
I’m not all that happy with a candidate who will “stand with Rand” on anything related to national security or foreign policy. But I’m quite confident that, as president, Cruz would lean pretty strongly towards a more traditional Republican approach.