The Secret to Ted Cruz: He’s a Huge Nerd

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Mon, Feb 15 - 7:00 am EDT | 2 years ago by
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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

At the latest Republican debate, it almost seemed like for the first time Ted Cruz was a bigger deal than Donald Trump. Much of the night was spent with Cruz being either on the attacking or receiving end of some serious fighting words, in what was the most crazy and raucous debate yet. We saw Cruz fighting with Trump about how Trump is really extremely liberal; which is true, in a New-York-business-guy-liberal sort of way. And Trump in turn fought with him about his alleged dirty tricks in the Iowa caucus.

We saw Cruz fighting with Marco Rubio about Rubio being pro-amnesty (which is true). And Rubio in turn fought with Cruz about who was more Latino, accusing Cruz of not even knowing Spanish. Cruz shot right back in Spanish, and I can tell you that even though his accent is thicker than mine, his Spanish is clearly pretty fluent. Mind you, I’m not really sure how much of a winning point that is in the current Republican party.

Finally, he even fought with debate moderator John Dickerson, where Dickerson demonstrated a pretty clear Anti-Cruz bias, arguing with him (more like a participant than a moderator) on Cruz’s point about how unusual it is to appoint a Supreme Court justice in an election year. When Cruz complained, Dickerson, in a dick move, said: “Sorry, I just want to get the facts straight for the audience.” Cruz’s reaction was quite perfect, staring down at Dickerson disapprovingly to give time for the Republican audience to boo the CBS journalist.

Quite a few were booing Trump when he was arguing with Cruz too. Cruz clearly had a lot of support. This, in spite of by all accounts being a very unlikable person. Trump was exaggerating only a little bit when he said that Cruz “didn’t have one endorsement from any of his colleagues.” Politically, Cruz is almost the man with no friends, partly because he’s difficult to deal with – but also because he’s not willing to back down from his agenda; and he’s not supported by the Republican establishment because he’s already proven that he’s never going to let himself be controlled. A lot of people also seem to think that Trump may also have been right in calling Cruz the “biggest liar,” even though when it comes to abortion, even partial-birth abortion, Cruz was telling the truth about Trump:

So why is Cruz both so disliked and so successful?

I think I’ve figured out the answer to both – and it dawned on me when I was watching Cruz’s latest campaign ad. It’s vicious, hilarious and brilliantly produced all at once. Check it out:

The song parody and scene of “Hillary” destroying her emails are both references to the nerd cult-classic film Office Space. And it cemented to me that the whole key of Cruz’s edge and likability issues, his biggest strength and his biggest weakness, are on account of the fact that Ted Cruz is a massive Nerd.

The rest of his ads have that same sense of humor. That is, an anti-authoritarian, mocking kind of humor that you see on South Park and sometimes Saturday Night Live. Look at this one where he gets at Trump:

Or this one, at Rubio:

Note how in that last one, he acknowledges that his lack of likability extends to definitely not having a “pretty face.” In fact, more than one person has said he’s got one of the most “punchable” faces in America.

When we look at these videos, though, we see just how smart Cruz really is. He’s smart enough to know he’s not going to win on looks or on charm, and to point that out to people as a way to win them over. He’s smart enough to attack his opponents in a way that seems sharp, and not brutish like Trump does it. He acts, in other words, with all the experience of the nerdy kid who knew that smart but mean words, quick comebacks and vitriolic humor are the only protection he has against the musclebound jocks out to bully him. All his “dirty tricks,” the realpolitik of campaigning that others resent mostly because he’s better at getting away with them, are the sort of divide-and-conquer and deflecting tactics that any nerd from his generation would have learned to survive junior high school.

Now, you might be thinking that a few campaigns ads are no great proof. It’s not like Cruz made these himself, and maybe didn’t even have anything to do with thinking them up. But the people who did were very clearly nerd-savvy. So it already proves that Cruz is surrounding himself with his own type of people.

And believe me, there’s LOTS more proof of Cruz’s nerdiness. When interviewed about Superheroes, Cruz listed Rorschach as one of his favorite characters. This isn’t like Iron Man or Superman, it’s from a comic (and movie flop) called Watchmen that is legendary among nerds as the greatest comic ever made but something no non-nerd would ever cite. Rorschach, by the way, is a violent psychopath with strong ultra-patriotic right-wing sympathies, very clearly mentally imbalanced, but in the end loses his life by standing up to a godlike being rather than agreeing to cover up mass-murder because his principles about justice and truth wouldn’t let him. His motto is “never compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon.” I’m not sure if he’s a great character for a future president to look up to, but it definitely proves Cruz is a nerd.

And this is important because being a nerd informs Cruz’s approach to politics. Another little known though not secret fact about Cruz is that he’s a gamer. He’s posted his Candy Crush level on Facebook, and college friends remember him playing “Japanese fighting games” and Super Mario well into the night. And he approaches politics the way nerds approach a lot of things: he gamifies it. I don’t mean that it’s just a game to him or anything like that, but that his tactical approach to how to win is informed by tactics any nerd would recognize in video games. What others interpret as “sneaky,” “dirty tricks” or even “dishonest,” he’s treating as tactics for leveling up.

Want more? Cruz has admitted to being a concert-going fan of progressive rock (the nerdiest form of rock). He likes Katniss from the hunger games. He confessed to being a huge Star Trek fan (original series, not that wimpy Picard stuff), gave a coherently nerdy answer to a question about Captain America (and to loving the Avengers movies, but said he was more of a Spider-Man and Wolverine fan in the comics) and admitted to having owned every last Star Wars action figure as a kid (in a Darth Vader carrying case, no less). He’s claimed that Han Solo was his childhood idol, much like frequent readers will know was the case for me.

There’s another bit of evidence I discovered when I started writing this piece, that also felt very personally familiar to me. In his own book, Cruz outright admits his nerdiness, as a kid: “Midway through junior high school, I decided that I’d had enough of being the unpopular nerd. I remember sitting up one night, asking a friend why I wasn’t one of the popular kids. I ended up staying up most of that night thinking about it. ‘Okay, well, what is it that the popular kids do? I will consciously emulate that’.

That’s a quote from Cruz’s book A Time For Truth, but it was pretty similar to a pivotal moment in my own youth. I describe it, in Dungeons & Dragons terms, as the day I realized that Charisma was a much more important ability score in the real world than Intelligence. Of course, if you can learn how to have both, that’s even better.

So we both learned how to win people over – and often not by being the nice guy. A lot of candidates are more likable than Cruz, but there are other forms of Charisma than just being friendly. On the other hand, I think a difference between him and I is that Cruz didn’t just learn how to be popular, he repressed some kind of naturalness along the way of all that emulating and that’s part of why he always feels kind of insincere, even when he’s telling the truth.

People support Cruz because he’s clever, convincing in his arguments, knows just how to be mean in a smart and funny way, a very skilled debater, a master of the backhanded compliment (like in the recent debate: “I like Donald… he is an amazing entertainer”) and gives that impression of never compromising. People dislike Cruz because he’s awkward, often seems smug or arrogant, doesn’t seem to care who he offends, doesn’t seem to either need or even want official endorsement from his own side (in other words, he’s a loner), doesn’t actually care if you don’t like him (and is thus immune to your threats of ostracism or condemnation) and seems to be willing to resort to dirty tricks to survive. Looking at those lists, you can only conclude that Cruz (like any of us who went through it) never actually stopped being the nerdy kid. Everything that has made him win and everything that might make him lose is wrapped up in it.

If he were to read this, I might tell him to loosen up a bit more and let that side of his be more visible. In 2016, nerds ARE the popular kids, Ted, and you could be the first full-blown Nerd President. You probably won’t ever reach Reaganesque levels of charm, but you might come off as less punchable and more personable if you owned up a bit more to your Nerd Side.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Kasimir Urbanski doesn’t write on a specific subject; he’s EveryJoe’s resident maniac-at-large. A recovering Humanities academic and world-traveler, he now lives in South America and is a researcher of fringe religion, eastern philosophy, and esoteric consciousness-expansion. In his spare time he writes tabletop RPGs, and blogs about them at Follow Kasimir on Twitter @KasimirUrbanski.

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  • Marty Walser

    Nerd or not: his policy stances are objectionable and locked in the 19th century.

    • rjschwarz

      I’ve heard a lot of people complain about political policies and they are actually complaining about the media’s distortions of their policies. Maybe I have things wrong, what policies are so objectionable?

    • Marty Walser

      Oh, how about “The government should stay out of your lives… unless you’re gay, of course. Or a woman. Or anyone who is a Muslim…”

    • rjschwarz

      Nonsense. That’s overheated hyperbole. You need to study what folks say and not the MSNBC spin. To take one of your examples, opposition to gay marriage was Obama’s official position in 2008. It’s hardly an opinion locked in the 19th century.

    • rjschwarz

      Another example. Cruz’s position on Muslims is live and let live, except for refugees from ISIS areas which should be halted until we learn how to vet them. ISIS has admitted sending terrorists in with the refugees on more than one occasion. That’s hardly world-shatteringly old fashion thinking.

    • rjschwarz

      I suspect you will not be voting Republican in any case.

    • Marty Walser

      If the Republican party puts forth a viable candidate, then it’s a possibility. Unfortunately, candidates like Jon Huntsman appear to be an anomaly in the anti-science, anti-privacy-rights-unless-you-are-Christian party.

    • rjschwarz

      Everyone has their issue that they consider important. I find social issues resolve themselves without the President getting involved (Obama was against Gay Marriage in 2008 for example but that hardly mattered). My own issues are the economy and foreign policy.

    • Marty Walser

      I think the Dems have done pretty well on the economy. The “Trickle Down” theory has been disproved several times since even before the Reagan era and yet conservatives hang onto it as an economic like the railing of the Titanic.

      Neither party has done that well on foreign policy. Bush was a disaster to almost all our allied relationships and entered us into wars that have resulted directly in the mess we have on our hands today.

      But even aside from those — Republicans are weak on intellectual property issues, patent law, privacy issues, net neutrality, health care, science… basically anything that deals with science or technology upon which most of our economy is now based.

      They are out of touch with the problems of modern society and that makes them useless as law makers.

    • rjschwarz

      The economy is in terrible shape. The collapse in 2008 happened under Bush and his response was terrible but Obama’s response after that made things far worse. The unemployment figures are distorted by not counting folks that have stopped looking for work so they can pretend the longest recession in history is some kind of tepid recovery. We’ve regulated the hell out of the economy and crippled it. If the environment is your top priority fine, claim credit because that’s why they regulated, but claims the economy is doing great are based on lies.

      Foreign policy-wise the Democrats are far worse than the Republicans. Bush got us into Iraq and we paid a price to stabilize the country, but it was stable when he left office. So stable that Obama felt he could pull our troops out despite experts telling him that would destabilize the region. He knew better and he pulled the troops out over a minor quibble about status of force agreements.

      One lesson most people learned from Iraq was Islam is not really compatible with Democracy yet that is the one lesson the Democrats didn’t follow when they removed the strongman of Libya and sent that country into anarchy, when they removed the strongman in Egypt and sent that country into temporary anarchy, and when they tried to remove the strongman in Syria nearly pushing them into anarchy and creating a vacuum that ISIS filled. And Obama refused to do anything about ISIS for a long time because doing so would be admitting error which is a horrible way to handle foreign police (Bush on the other hand realized his errors and changed tactics to the surge which is what brought about eventual peace in Iraq before his term was over).

      You can try to blame Bush for the current mess but you should try with someone that doesn’t follow politics or have access to YouTube.

    • Marty Walser

      Ok, if you can’t even get recent history correct, your opinion is invalid.

      Democrats removed Egypt’s leader? Citation needed. When was this?

      Mubarak stepped down due to pressure from his own people and military. Morsi was ousted by the military. The U.S. has ABSOLUTELY NO INVOLVEMENT in the political change in Egypt and if you think it did, you are ignorant.

      Funny, I seem to remember the Republicans pushing to remove a “strongman” from Iraq and often calling loudly on Fox News for regime change in Iran through military intervention.

      Nice try.

    • rjschwarz

      The US supported Mubarak until he was in trouble. Then abandoned him when he needed help because the administration was gung ho on the green revolution and democracy despite lessons in Iraq. That was my point.

      The conservatives pushed to remove a strongman in Iraq. Dems said dumb idea. Then after a long war the conservatives realized it was dumb. When the Dems got into power they suddenly thought it was a great idea.

      Mistakes happen, failure to learn from mistakes is failure. In this case big time failure that is burning up the region.

    • rjschwarz

      Nice deflection by the way. Avoided pretty much the whole point over minutia.

    • Marty Walser

      I understand your politics now. You basically desire puppet governments of the U.S. Doesn’t matter what their people think of them. How did that work out for us in the 20th century? Yeah, not so good.

    • rjschwarz

      Another deflection and a straw man to avoid the point. Supporting dictatorships has proven to be a better alternative in many cases (the Shah over the Ayatollah for example).

      Removing the dictatorship in Libya was stupid. Attempting to remove the dictatorship in Syria was doubly stupid since he’d just pulled US troops out and left a vacuum. Please help me understand how these are significantly better than the Iraq adventure when Obama had the advantage of lessons from Iraq to work with?

    • rjschwarz

      I think the bit on science is cherry picking and hardly limited to Republicans. It is a Yuge weakness of Trump, however, which makes me sad. He’s an anti-vaccine guy which is just dangerously stupid.

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    • Kasimir Urbanski

      He has a variety of policies, some of which I really don’t like at all, others of which I approve of. He wasn’t my candidate of choice, that was Rand Paul, but Cruz is probably the least objectionable to me of viable candidates that are left. Better than Rubio, who is a stooge of the establishment, or Trump who is a self-serving narcissist.

    • Marty Walser

      Kas – Don’t you have socialist leanings? Or am I thinking of a different blogger?

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      You must be. I’m a free market libertarian. I am definitely very ‘socially liberal’ if you want to use that term. Maybe that’s what confused you?
      Most libertarians are, though.

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