Cruz is the tea party’s Barack Obama. When he was elected to the U.S. Senate, as the book “Game Change” notes, Obama found himself in what looked a lot like a retirement home full of wealthy old men and women prattling on endlessly about this and that. Obama was only 45 and realized he needed to strike out on his own if he didn’t want to end up as a Senate lifer.
You know the rest.
Enter the unctuously unappealing Raphael Edward Cruz, 42 years old and hot to make his mark. Unlike the personable Obama who played by the Democratic Party rules, the smarmy, self-serving Cruz has violated all of the Senate’s staid tenants of decorum, not to mention Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican.
At first, I thought Cruz was just another Texas lout on the make. Then I learned about his academic credentials, Princeton and Harvard Law, both with honors. In less than 20 years, he went from student to household name. That takes enormous luck or an awfully disciplined game plan. I’ll go with the latter, because Cruz is far too intelligent to rely on mere luck.
To attract attention, public relations practitioners advise clients to disrupt the status quo, to do things differently than everyone else, to stake ownership to new or emerging issues or ideas. Cruz has enthusiastically embraced all of these in the three years since he was elected to the Senate.
However, there is one more thing we tell clients: Never anger, alienate or belittle stakeholders or the public and its diverse constituencies. A good example of how this works can be found at The Coca-Cola Co., where every effort is made to engage all audiences and to assiduously avoid offending anyone. They sell a lot of Coke, as you probably know.
You may or may not buy Cruz’s political philosophy, but the way he’s gone about selling it has angered and alienated almost everyone inside and outside the Republican Party. His only real supporters, other than tea party nihilists, are incendiary conservative media types.
A recent GQ profile revealed that Cruz is insufferably proud of his intellect and very fond of telling anyone who will listen how incredibly smart he is, all he has accomplished, and the powerful and influential people he knows. Like any good lawyer, Cruz seldom lets down his guard, according the GQ.
This is a public relations tactic, too. A popular brand like Apple or Walmart creates a façade and steadfastly, almost religiously adheres to the brand’s public identity. You never see what goes on behind the scenes.
There are very few examples of successful American politicians who have taken Cruz’s approach to brand-building. Joseph McCarthy was one. Barry Goldwater, Newt Gingrich and Anthony Weiner are a few others. None achieved their ambitions because they relied too much on negatives while seldom expressing positive human attributes like humility, understanding, compassion and humor.
Cruz and the tea party is nothing if not negative. They’re all about killing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, workers’ rights, the minimum wage, quality public education, environmental standards, the social safety net and now Obamacare.
If you want to know what the country would look like if the tea party was in power, what’s been going on this week in Washington is a good indicator. Cruz and his House minions have nearly achieved their objective: no government at all.
Cruz may, in the end, outfox only himself if he really believes he’s the leader who will convince the electorate the tea party’s vision is America’s future.
Kevin Foley is a public relations executive, author and writer in Kennesaw.