Cruz v. Rubio
The Cultural Divide
As we get closer to the actual primaries for the 2016 election, the inevitable clash between the two Tea Party princes looms. The social media wars are already being fought. (Disclosure: I support Rubio.) On policy they aren’t that different, when we pull back the microscope of ideological purity. Where they differ most is in cultural outlook.
The similarities are very superficial. Both are young senators of Cuban descent who beat out more established figures for their senate seats. Both are career politicians. Rubio was first elected to office in April ’98 at the age of 26 as City Commissioner for West Miami. He then won election Florida House in a special election in January ’00 (age 28), then would go on win the first of four 2-year terms in November ’00. By his 2nd full term, in ’02, he was Majority Leader, and for his final term (’06-’08) he was Speaker.
Ted Cruz’s path was different. He was an appointed official and bureaucrat, not an elected official. Most prominently as Solicitor General of Texas (‘03-’08), before that he worked on George W. Bush’s campaign and later Justice Department.
Cruz has the more elite background, having gone to private schools, Princeton and Harvard law. Rubio went to community college, then moved on to the University of Florida and University of Miami School of Law.
Both of their backgrounds contribute to their respective weaknesses. Rubio’s willingness to accept compromise legislation stems from his background in legislative leadership. For Cruz, the tendency to sound overly slick and lawyerly is a function of having been a government lawyer. His background as a campaign staffer shows when he tailors his message to the current electorate. (Cruz put together an immigration messaging memo for George W. Bush, which is very different from either of his more recent stances.)
But culturally they are very different. Rubio is the athlete who married a cheerleader, while Cruz is the debate nerd who wears over-sized plaid shirts. Marco Rubio can talk about Lil Wayne and Tupac with TMZ, Ted Cruz switched from classic rock to country after 9/11 . Rubio is the fun guy who hits you in the head with a football, Cruz makes his kids listen to Green Eggs and Ham.
Conservatives often feel that they’ve lost the culture war. The “mainstream media” is slanted against us, our cultural icons all left wing. Cultural conservatives feel left out in this modern world. The issues they care about, such as family values, are ridiculed. Talk radio and conservative blogs feed into this emotions and thrive off of the “us versus them” mentality.
Marco Rubio’s style is to meet pop culture and the media head on and use it to promote conservatism. He appears on Spanish networks, speaking Spanish, to reach out to people who otherwise would never hear about conservatism. He plays along and makes friends. He’s not here to fight the culture war. While comfortably socially conservative, he’s a modern man. (No, that that Modern Man.)
Ted Cruz may be only 45 but he’s the angry old man telling you to get off his lawn. We are here to fight modern culture, not to coexist with it. This stance seeps into the politics as well. It thrills conservatives when Cruz challenges the debate moderator, or when he shuts down the government. It doesn’t matter if it get results. It may be a pointless gesture, but we stood up to them.
The reaction to Trey Gowdy’s endorsement of Marco Rubio was an eye opener. Gowdy built a reputation as a fighter as the lead investigator in the Benghazi hearings. The base loves him because he fights (hence the “draft Gowdy” spam). But when he endorsed the wrong candidate, they turned on him. Why? Because he stepped over the culture divide. He’s no longer “one of us”.
There’s a feeling among the Republican base that the “establishment” is willing to compromise all principles for the sake of getting elected. We can’t pass anti abortion laws, the women won’t vote for us. We need the legalize illegals to get the Hispanic vote. The base wants to know when are we going to stand up on principle and fight back. It’s for this reason that many are wary of the “electable” argument. They don’t want electable, they want a fight.
Of course that’s not what we mean when we say Rubio is more electable. We mean that he has an incredible gift at reaching out to people who don’t agree with him. We point out that he does best against Hillary in head to head polling. We express concerns that Cruz’s style may not translate well outside of party, and indeed outside of the segment of the party that feels this way about culture.
Two young conservatives, each trying to drag the party a different way. Not politically, for they are both conservative, but culturally. This is our decision. Do we play along and try to win over the country, or do we stand in our corner and fight?