The shrewdness of Ted Cruz

The Washington Post reports on how the Cruz campaign’s use of “big data” is contributing to the candidate’s success. For example, according to the Post, campaign emails are tweaked based on the personality of the recipient. If a potential supporter is considered a “stoic traditionalist,” the message will be very direct and to the point. If he or she is labeled “temperamental,” the tone will be more inspiring. And so forth.

Note to Cruz campaign: consider me a temperamental traditionalist.

The Post’s story tends to confirm my sense that Ted Cruz is the shrewdest candidate in the GOP field. This impression stems from the way, in a very short time, he maneuvered himself to the head of the conservative class by spearheading a partial government shutdown over Obamacare; the way he stood with Rand Paul during his absurd filibuster on drones, thus making sure that, during a seeming lull in the threat of terrorism, the Kentucky man didn’t get to Cruz’s right; and the way he has refused to criticize Donald Trump, claiming that he doesn’t believe in Republican-on-Republican violence even as he attacked Marco Rubio.

In a time when governing experience seems to be viewed as (if anything) a negative, shrewdness is perhaps the number one requirement of a successful presidential candidate. It was the key to Barack Obama’s success. He and his team were shrewd enough to figure that Hillary Clinton was not virtually unbeatable; that he could gobble up delegates in caucus states, thus obviating his need to outperform Hillary in primaries; and that the public would fall for his vacuous “hope and change” theme. In addition, his campaign made fabulous use of big data, the way the Cruz campaign seeks to do now.

Is there any relationship between this sort of shrewdness and the ability to govern the United States? Arguably some. Obama has been shrewd about enhancing his power and circumventing Congress. Thus, he has implemented more of his left-wing agenda than might have been expected, given his lack of popularity and the lack of electoral success by congressional Democrats during his presidency.

Overall, though, Obama is a poor advertisement for the statesmanship and leadership qualities of candidates who, having served less than one term in the Senate, rely on brilliant political calculation to make it to the top.

In fairness to Cruz, he’s not just shrewd; he’s very smart. Alan Dershowitz, the famous Harvard liberal law professor, says Cruz was “a terrific student” who had “brilliant insights and he was clearly among the top students.” Lawrence Tribe, Dershowitz’s even more liberal Harvard colleague, recalls that Cruz earned an “A” in his class and would always offer “an interesting counterpoint” in discussions.” Tribe added, “he was certainly smart.”

Obama’s classroom contributions at Harvard reportedly consisted more of summarizing what others said and commending them for making good points than of offering brilliant insights of his own.

In any case, Cruz’s smarts and cleverness, though certainly are assets, don’t persuade me that he’s prepared to be an effective U.S. president (I’m agnostic on this question). However, they do suggest that, if nominated, he may be a stronger opponent for Hillary Clinton than many suppose him to be.