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New York Values

Forging a Gomorrah might be Cruz's best bet

By Shubhankar Chhokra, Crimson Staff Writer

In a tight race for Missouri’s 6th district Congressional seat back in 2008, Representative Sam Graves launched an attack campaign against his opponent, Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, over her “San Francisco Values.” One particularly risible attack ad featured scenes of champagne glasses clinking in the air interspersed with clips of flamboyant ethnics gyrating on each other to the beat of vaguely sexual elevator music. Graves’s margin over Barnes deepened after the commercial aired, leading to a 59-37% victory. Now, eight years later, Graves’s campaign manager and the mastermind behind the “San Francisco Values” bit —a man by the name of Jeff Roe—manages Ted Cruz’ presidential campaign.

But you didn’t need to know all this to tell that Cruz’s “New York values” jab at Donald Trump two Republican debates ago was nothing more than political theater. If you can remember what seems like years ago in election time, Cruz seemed ill at ease up on stage—unconvincingly making an entire city the punch line of a joke that the rest of the country was in on, then seeming too exhausted to deliver any of the million possible rebuttals against Trump’s uncomfortable exploitation of 9/11. He seemed like a candidate unaware of his eventual upset Iowa victory, ready to try anything to stop the Trump machine.

Perhaps Cruz does genuinely believe New York City is an accurate trope to highlight the most un-conservative parts of Trump—his “socially liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage” track record and his “focus around money and the media” as Cruz put it. Perhaps—and most likely, I’d say, considering his debate performance—he doesn’t. This hardly matters though, since Jeff Roe’s strategy—though distasteful and overblown—worked well before and was an important contribution to his victory over Trump in last Monday’s crucial battle of Iowa.

It’s worth noting first though that many of Trump’s most echt-New York qualities are what drew his adherents in the first place. Conor Freidersdorf writes in The Atlantic, “He’s big, loud, brash, unafraid to brag, and full of superlatives. He speaks his mind and has [a] high opinion of himself. He’s comfortable with being pushy and with open conflict. He values ruthlessness and winners.” It’s this New York bravado, this cosmopolitan penchant for melodrama that holds together the Savior complex that fuels the Trump machine: From a wretched hell full of PC witch hunts and being reminded that se habla español, The Donald will save Iowa—you know, the real America—and make it great again.

Cruz’s response to the angst of today’s middle American was far more effective, I think. Whereas Trump delivers exhausting outrage and gimmicky machismo, Cruz chose the more timeless approach of identity politics. Somewhere early on the campaign trail—probably when Trump’s support started to pick up—the senator stunningly rebranded himself from the Princeton debate champion and husband of a Goldman Sachs executive to the southern evangelical who likes his beer cold and guns hot. He became a hopeless bromantic of Trump, but only incidentally—as a side-effect of his focus on the culture war against moral decay and religious lethargy, a twin issue to Trump’s culture war against political correctness.

Accusing Trump of espousing New York values fits well into Cruz’s general strategy, and critics were too quick to declare Trump the winner of this altercation. Branding New York as a modern American Gomorrah surely alienates urban voters, presumptuously intervenes in the fruitless search for the “real America,” and of course obscures the truth: That New York represents vice and excess far less compellingly than it does limitless opportunity and vibrant multiculturalism. But that’s a small price to pay to exploit Trump’s greatest vulnerabilities—his social liberalism, his glitz, and other unforgivable red flags for the middle American voters who will likely choose the Republican nominee.

In these weeks after Iowa, Cruz will only attempt to further undermine Trump’s urban appeal, likely drawing connections between him and Hillary Clinton, a fellow denizen of New York and easy target for embodying the city’s values. Trump, for what it’s worth, has already done his part: In perhaps the most New York move of all time, he tweeted a threat to sue Cruz for rigging the caucuses. “Bad!” The great American bard ends his tweet accusing Cruz of not winning Iowa, but stealing it.

But not even self-destructive Trump can help Cruz’s cause if Cruz himself doesn’t press the “New York values” bit more believably and more often than he did on the debate stage two weeks ago. The Rubio supporter in me wishes he won’t. But the part of me that admires Cruz’s skillful ability to play the game is intrigued. In a particularly overpopulated field where candidates had to move, adapt, or die, Cruz has demonstrated a level of adaptability and a readiness to prioritize that just might take him to the White House. I would like to see that.

Shubhankar Chhokra, ’18, a Crimson editorial writer, concentrates in social studies. He lives in Eliot House.

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