The rise of Trump explained in four graphics

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How did he get this far this quickly?

A little more than a year ago, when Donald Trump opened his presidential campaign by gliding down the golden escalators of Trump Tower, with paid extras hired from the New York theater community to pad the crowd size, it was easy to dismiss the real estate mogul as a self-promoting dilettante more interested in publicity than politics.

So many people got it so wrong. His Republican rivals, in the famous words of George W. Bush, “misunderestimated” him. The Pundit Elite kept predicting that just one more embarrassing gaffe would extinguish his White House hopes. The nation’s best newspapers kept churning out damning investigative pieces questioning Trump’s business acumen, his honesty, his ethics, his wild flip-flops on issues and his command of basic knowledge of the world ~ and it seemed to matter nary a bit.

Historians will be discussing the Trump phenomenon for decades. Yet here we are, the general election upon us. How did Donald Trump, a political neophyte and nearly lifelong Democrat, emerge as the self-proclaimed champion of conservative values, the master of the Republican National Committee, and the voice of angry white people?

It’s easy to oversimplify Trump’s appeal, but I’d like to try to explain the rise of Trump in four informational graphics.

#1: Americans have grown increasingly alienated from major institutions

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Until the 1960s — amid Vietnam, civil rights struggles and social unrest — Americans had almost universally positive views about basic institutions in U.S. society. The trend has been downward ever since. But there has been a significant drop in the past decade in institutions as diverse as religion, schools, banking, the news business, the courts, and, of course, the Congress. There are two major reasons: self-inflicted wounds, such as congressional dysfunction and the Catholic church sexual abuse scandal, and a partisan media led by Fox News, which has made it a constant theme of its programming to tear down institutions in order to rebuild America in its ideological image. Donald Trump positioned himself as the champion of the “little guy” against all the big, bad institutions — from Wall Street, to the news media, to big business, to the “rigged” Congress and court system … even against the Pentagon generals who know less about military strategy than the reality-TV star.

#2: There has been a rapid, dramatic shift to the left on social issues

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Within the past decade, the United States reached a tipping point on social issues. On gay rights, the nation went from strong opposition to same-sex marriage to overwhelming support for the new reality that was blessed in 2013 and 2014 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The younger generation — Democrat, Republican and those disgusted with both parties — is almost unanimously in favor of social change that affects women (“no means no”), gays (“marriage equality”) and the environment (climate change is real, not a Chinese-inspired hoax). This rapid shift has proven to be disconcerting to many older people, particularly men, who cling to (no, not their guns and bibles) their now-unpopular views. They want to say no to social change. Trump says they’re right. And he says that he’s their voice.

#3: We’ve seen a partisan reversal on globalization

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For decades, Democrats were the protectionists and Republicans were the free-traders. Democrats, influenced by labor unions and environmentalists, resisted trade liberalization as bad for workers and the environment. Republicans embraced globalism and immigration as good for business, good for America, and, ultimately, a net plus for American workers.

Not any more. The Republican Party, radically altered by a massive influx of middle-aged white men displaced by a global economy for which they no longer have the requisite skill set, has become the party of protectionism and economic nationalism. They see immigrants as a threat to American jobs and American values.

Democrats and independents are now more open to international economic liberalization than the Republican Party, the traditional home of the U.S. business community. Trump is the big winner in this new reality. His “America First” backers crushed the internationalist Republicans like Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries and are challenging Democratic dominance in the nation’s economically distressed industrial heartland.

#4: People now get political information from self-selected partisan sources

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We live in parallel information universes. Left-of-center Americans rely on a mix of CNN, NPR, MSNBC and the New York Times for their political and government news. Most of those news outlets present news from a predictably liberal mindset. Right-of-center Americans overwhelming rely on Fox News and local radio for their information. Fox and the Rush/Hannity/Coulter axis is not just conservative, it is almost anarchic in its desire to tear down institutions of the “elites” and the “establishment” while advocating for the grievances of whites who feel they are innocent victims of racial minorities, immigrants, non-Christian religions, China, Japan, Korea, Iran, Israel, Mexico, NATO … you name it.

The result of this Great Information Divide is that facts have become obsolete. The news of the left may be biased, but it is rooted in objective fact. Nonpartisan fact-checking websites can tell you how often politicians tell you the truth or lie to you. The news of the right has increasingly become resistant to globally accepted facts (evolution, climate change) and has allowed the virus of “fake news,” often generated in countries like Russia and Macedonia, to infiltrate the political mainstream. As Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said after Fox News retracted a false story that Hillary Clinton would soon be indicted, “The damage was done.”

Social media has exacerbated the divide. Citizens follow information sources on Twitter and Facebook that confirm their preconceptions of reality. This has become the first post-fact-check presidential election. Trump, with his finger on the “tweet” button of his smartphone and a knack for creating viral content, is the perfect politician for this moment in history.


The changing South, the educational chasm and Latino backlash: 10 takeaways from a deep analysis of polling data

The index logoEvery recent national poll agrees: Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump as the 2016 presidential campaign enters the sizzling summer convention season.

But, as we all know, because of America’s antiquated Electoral College, the national “horserace” numbers don’t tell us much about what’s happening at the grassroots level, where there are 50 state-by-state contests going on. That’s one of the reasons I launched “The Index” this week. Through a deep analysis of demographic subgroups, we can get a very good idea about the way the race is shaping up in certain regions (or even states) from the ground up.

There are some important findings, and some that may surprise you, about military families, empty-nesters, young white Southerners and prosperous Latinos. I identified big shifts among Latinos, northern working-class whites, and Mormons … not always in the same direction.

>>>A look at 100 key demographic blocs, and how Trump and Clinton are faring among them

Here are ten key takeaways from my analysis of the first round of data (taken from Reuters Polling’s five-day rolling average, June 20-24):

  1. Education is a key defining demographic in the 2016 election. American presidential election analysis was governed by economic determinism: the higher your income, the more likely you were to vote Republican. That’s not the case this year, when the poorest and the richest are most likely to favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. The divide isn’t one of income in 2016, it’s educational attainment — for white people, at least. College graduates favor Clinton by 32.2 points. That soars to a 45-point lead among Americans with advanced university degrees. Among whites without a degree, Trump leads by 14.3 points, while minority voters without college degrees favor Clinton by 41 points. Trump’s lead among less-educated whites is largest in the industrial Midwest, where millions of manufacturing jobs once filled by Americans without college diplomas have been lost over the past four decades.
  2. The South is changing, and the way we think about Southern politics should change. There have been far too many stories about the Republicans’ “Solid South,” which is no more solid now than the Democrats’ Dixie was in the middle of the last century. President Barack Obama won Florida and Virginia twice and North Carolina once. Because of racial, educational and generational factors, the South could become even more competitive — and very soon. Yes, Trump is strong with less-educated and older white voters, particularly southern women without college degrees (+26 points). But young white southerners are a swing voting group. White southerners with college degrees, a growing vote bloc, are nearly evenly divided, with women slightly favoring Clinton. Even with Florida’s Cuban-American’s traditional ties to the GOP, Latino voters in the Southeast are strongly Democratic in 2016 (+24 points). With the growth of the Hispanic vote in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, the trend lines in all of these states are likely to move toward Democrats unless Latinos or young voters reverse course. States with smaller minority populations (Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia) will remain out of reach for the party of Obama and Clinton. But Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina are slowly trending Democratic as a new generation replaces the Confederate flag wavers, and whites from the North migrate to the warmer climes of the Southeast.
  3. America’s industrial heartland is deeply divided by race, religion and education. As strange as it sounds, Donald Trump might have a better chance to win Pennsylvania this year than Florida. The reason is the changing demographics of the American heartland states running west from Pennsylvania to Iowa. These areas have large, traditionally Democratic Catholic populations, a higher proportion of older voters, and more whites without college degrees. All of those factors play into Trump’s current strengths. He leads among midwestern men without college degrees by 26 points, among white Catholics over the age of 40 by 12 points, and among white Catholic women by 5. Shifts among these groups put the Clinton campaign in the danger zone: She leads in the Midwest by just 4.9 points and in the Great Lakes states by 3 points, well below her national polling numbers. If current trends hold, Trump might “bet the ranch” on winning historically Democratic states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, along with Democratic-leaning swing states such as Ohio and Iowa. States with lower minority populations (Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin) may be particularly attractive to Team Trump. Clinton easily beats Trump among mainstream Protestant denominations here, but older white Catholics are a tougher sell.
  4. The Latino vote could bury Trump. I have suspected from the day Trump announced — when he called Mexicans criminals and rapists — that he was going to do worse than the 27 percent Mitt Romney received in 2012. After all of his talk of a wall on the U.S. southern border, the electoral reality is sinking in. Trump is losing every kind of Latino voter: young, old, liberal, conservative, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, Dominican — even Cuban-American, which hasn’t ever happened before. He’s doing worst among Latinos in the Pacific region (California, Nevada), where Clinton has a 60-point edge. Say goodbye to Nevada, Donald. He’s 49 points behind among Latinos in the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) — more than twice the deficit GOP presidential candidates have faced in the past two decades. That takes New Mexico off the table for Trump and puts Arizona into play. Even in the Southeast, with a large bloc of Cuban-Americans in Florida, Trump is down by 24 points. Unless he improves his standing, that’ll make Florida all but impossible for him to win, it’ll complicate his efforts to hold the swing state of North Carolina, and it could even help put Georgia into play. How badly is Trump doing among Hispanic Americans? Latinos earning more than $100,000 per year — a swing voter bloc — now favor Clinton by 24 points. For Latinos, Trump may have done in 2016 what “America First” anti-Semites did for Jewish voters in the 1930s and Barry Goldwater did for African Americans in 1964: unite a voting bloc of disparate national origins and varying political philosophies. If this shift is lasting, it could be profound.
  5. The Generation Gap is back. There is a chasm between America’s oldest (white) voters and younger voters (of all races and ethnicities). But younger voters are far more anti-Trump than older voters are pro-Trump (or anti-Clinton). Whites over age 50 favor Trump by 5.9 points, while whites under the age of 40 favor Clinton by 1.2 points. The younger the voter, the more Democratic. White men under 30 give Clinton a 10-point edge. Among students of all races, Clinton tops Trump by 33 points. This is a problem for Trump in 2016. It is a problem for Republicans for a generation.
  6. A wide-open battle for the white middle class. Almost everyone in America claims to be a member of the “middle class.” But when you divide U.S. incomes into numerical ranges, the plurality of voters is between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. The candidate who wins most of these votes usually wins the election. Today, that candidate is Hillary Clinton, leading by 9.3 points (almost the same as her national lead). But among white voters earning $50-100K, Trump’s up by 2.7 points. The reason is his support from the lower half of the middle class, the group earning between $50K and $75K, where he leads by 5. As middle-class incomes rise, so does support for Clinton. Trump’s appeal is stronger to lower-income whites struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. So it should be no surprise that Trump does better in areas with more lower-middle-class whites and fewer minorities.
  7. The new “soccer moms”? How about “the empty-nesters”? Political reporters love to humanize swing voter blocs. The soccer moms were the rage at the turn of this century. We haven’t come up with a new one yet, but for 2016, I’ll nominate “empty-nesters.” That’s mothers who don’t have any of their kids living with them. Because all minority moms are overwhelmingly Democratic, we’ll concentrate on white empty-nest moms. They are a swing group because young moms skew Democratic like all young voters. Middle-aged and older white women tend to be a bit more Republican than the entire universe of women voters. According to the late-June Reuters polling, Clinton leads among these “empty-nesters” by 2.8 points, less than her lead among all voters but better than Barack Obama did in his successful 2012 re-election race.
  8. Democratic dissatisfaction with Clinton and Republican concerns about Trump are canceling themselves out at this point.  There have been lots of stories about conservatives angered by Donald Trump’s coarse behavior, his repeated denunciations of Bush-Cheney foreign policy, and his long-enunciated liberal beliefs on issues ranging from abortion to gay rights. There have been stories about moderate Republicans scared off by his xenophobia and racially tinged campaign rhetoric. There have been stories about Bernie Sanders supporters pledging never, ever to vote for Hillary Clinton. But the polling numbers don’t match the stories, at least at this point. Very few hard-core partisans have switched sides. Clinton leads by 68.2 points among Obama voters, and Trump leads by 67.6 points among Romney voters. Almost identical. There appears to be at least a small enthusiasm gap on the ideological extreme: Clinton leads by 59.4 points among very liberal Democrats; Trump’s lead among very conservative Republicans is “just” 45 points, with a large number parking in the undecided column.
  9. Military families are shifting toward Democrats. This is one trend story that has eluded the American political media. But it makes perfect sense. As more and more of the U.S. military is made up of women and minorities, the share of presidential votes won by Democrats is going up. Trump may have accelerated the shift by his unproven allegations that U.S. troops in Iraq had pocketed stolen loot after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Trump hasn’t helped with his repeated assertion that the U.S. military has been incompetent under Presidents Bush and Obama. The Reuters polling shows that active duty military personnel favor Clinton by 9.4 points, and the families of active duty military and veterans lean to Clinton by  9.6 percent. Trump still leads among veterans, a predominantly white group, by 5.7 percent.
  10. Trump indeed has a Mormon problem. Trump’s ongoing war of words with Romney, a leading Mormon politician, and his demonization of a religion (Islam) clearly contribute to his troubles with one of the most Republican voting blocs in the country. Romney beat Obama among Mormons by some 50 points. Trump’s lead, according to a month of Reuters numbers, is 13 points — and just 8 among Mormon women. This is unlikely to cause Trump to lose heavily Mormon (and very heavily Republican) Utah, but it could prove costly in nearby states with significant Mormon presences like Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

These polling numbers reflect a snapshot in time, and they could change (again and again) between now and Election Day, November 8. But this kind of data analysis can help us understand what often is oversimplified in the “who’s up, who’s down” world of daily political coverage.

This analysis is part of a series that will continue through the election season.

Click here to see the data for all 100 blocs and demographic subgroups.

 


A look at 100 key demographic blocs, and how Trump and Clinton are faring among them

Polls, polls, polls. Every day, it seems there is a new poll. She’s up. She’s down. He’s up. He’s really down.

What does it mean?

To many media outlets, polls are cheap click bait to drive web traffic. To cable news networks, they are the score in the latest inning of an endless political baseball game. There are some smart polling analysts, but most stories about polls are politically shallow and journalistically useless.The index logo

As a political reporter who has covered every presidential race since 1980, I hope I can offer you a respite from pedestrian polling analysis. Welcome to “The Index,” a new analytical feature that will run periodically through Election Day 2016. I hope I can bring you something new, different and interesting.

Here’s my angle: I will analyze the 2016 presidential election through the voting preferences of 100 different demographic blocs. Thirty-three of them are part of Donald Trump’s Republican base. Thirty-three of them are part of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic base. And 34 of them are battleground groups — keys to both candidates’ paths to the White House.

A few of the groups are the basic demographic groups you are accustomed to hearing about: Republicans and Democrats, very liberal and very conservative voters, African Americans and born-again whites. I included these as tests of the loyalty of core voting groups for each party.

But I’m also looking at some groups you don’t read much about, the kinds of groups that will tip you off about the way the election is going. Among them: Latinos making more than $100,000 a year, white men under age 30, families with active duty military or veterans, white southerners with college degrees, homeowners, moms with kids at home, Midwestern white men, white Catholic women, even Mormon women.

I’ll analyze the different support levels of Latino voters in the Southeastern United States (where Cubans have some influence in Florida), the Southwest (from Texas to Arizona), and the Pacific coast. Differing levels of support in each region could be a tipoff as to whether states like Arizona or Georgia are in play, or whether Trump has any chance in Florida or New Mexico.

In each update, I will describe which candidate is leading among each group, and you can easily see how much better or worse than the national norm that is. The reason is simple: As the “horserace” changes from week to week, a key is whether a certain voting bloc is skewing more heavily toward Clinton or Trump. Clinton currently leads every recent national poll, but if the race ends up close, that variation from the norm will be important.

The information for the feature comes from Reuters’ polling data, which is available, open source, on the internet. I am using Reuters’ rolling five-day averages for most of my analysis. I chose Reuters’ numbers because the poll is respected, but, most of all, because the global news service makes the information available to anyone. You can check behind me to examine my methodology — or to create new searches of your own.

One small asterisk (*): Certain subgroups are too small to have a statistically significant counts on the five-day average. In the cases marked with an asterisk (*), I have included data for these groups from the past 30 days of polling. One warning: Subgroups are, by definition, smaller than the entire survey, so they have a larger margin of error and more volatility from survey to survey.

With no further introduction, here is the first set of data:

Overall (6/20-24)

Clinton 40.3%, Trump 31.3%

Clinton +9

Note: (C) means that Clinton leads by more than the 9 point national difference. (T) means that her lead with the group is less than her national lead.

Battleground groups

  • Latinos earning >$100K    Clinton +24* (C)
  • White Catholic men    Clinton +11 (C)
  • Great Plains states   Clinton+11 (C)
  • Voters earning $75K+    Clinton +11.1 (C)
  • White men under 30    Clinton +10 (C)
  • Men    Clinton +9.7 (C)
  • Families with active duty military or veteran    Clinton +9.6* (C)
  • Active duty military    Clinton +9.4* (C)
  • Voters earning between $50K-100K    Clinton +9.3 (C)
  • Midwestern white men    Clinton +9
  • Women    Clinton +8.7 (T)
  • Whites earning >$150K    Clinton +8 (T)
  • Unmarried white women    Clinton +7.9 (T)
  • White single, never married    Clinton +6 (T)
  • White divorced    Clinton +6 (T)
  • Whites earning between $50-75K    Clinton +5 (T)
  • Midwest    Clinton +4.9 (T)
  • Great Lakes    Clinton +3 (T)
  • White Catholic    Clinton +3 (T)
  • White women, no children at home    Clinton +2.8 (T)
  • Whites earning between $50-$100K     Clinton  2.7 (T)
  • Whites under age 40    Clinton +1.2 (T)
  • Homeowners    Clinton +1.9 (T)
  • Whites earning between $75K-$100K    Clinton +1 (T)
  • White southern women with college degree    Clinton +0.4* (T)
  • Independent     Tie (T)
  • Married voters     Trump +1 (T)
  • White southerners with college degree     Trump +2.1* (T)
  • Southern white men with college degree     Trump +3.9* (T)
  • Whites 50-65    Trump +4 (T)
  • Lean conservative     Trump +4 (T)
  • Midwestern white women     Trump +5 (T)
  • White Catholic women     Trump +5 (T)
  • Mormon women     Trump +8* (T)

Trump base

  • Voted for Romney     Trump +67.6 (T)
  • Republicans     Trump  +52.4 (T)
  • Very conservative voters     Trump +45 (T)
  • Moderately conservative whites     Trump +35 (T)
  • White born-again men     Trump +35 (T)
  • Southern white men     Trump +33 (T)
  • White born-again voters     Trump +32.7 (T)
  • White Tea Partiers     Trump +30.5 (T)
  • White born-again women     Trump +30 (T)
  • Whites who attend church at least once a week     Trump +26 (T)
  • Southern white women without college degree     Trump +26 (T)
  • Midwestern men without college degree     Trump +26 (T)
  • White women, children at home     Trump +17 (T)
  • Southern white men without college degree     Trump +15 (T)
  • White non-college grads     Trump +14.3 (T)
  • Southern white women     Trump +13 (T)
  • Whites 65+     Trump +13 (T)
  • Mormons     Trump +13* (T)
  • White independents who voted for Romney     Trump +13 (T)
  • White Catholic over 40     Trump +12 (T)
  • White married voters     Trump +10.6 (T)
  • Whites $100K-$150K     Trump +9 (T)
  • Southeast     Trump +8.6 (T)
  • South     Trump +8.2 (T)
  • Southwest     Trump +7 (T)
  • Whites 50+     Trump +6.9 (T)
  • White voters     Trump +6.4 (T)
  • Veterans     Trump +5.7* (T)
  • White, children at home     Trump +5.2 (T)
  • White non-college grads earning <$50K     Trump +5 (T)
  • White voters earning less than $50K     Trump +2.8 (T)
  • Non-college grads     Trump +0.1 (T)
  • Rocky Mountain West    Clinton +4 (T)

Clinton base

  • African Americans who attend church at least once a week    Clinton +71.6 (C)
  • African Americans    Clinton +70.6 (C)
  • Voted for Obama    Clinton +68.2 (C)
  • Latino voters in West    Clinton +60* (C)
  • Very liberal voters    Clinton +59.4 (C)
  • Democrats   Clinton +50.1 (C)
  • Latino voters in Southwest    Clinton +49* (C)
  • Asian American voters    Clinton +45 (C)
  • Voters with advanced degrees    Clinton +45 (C)
  • Minority voters without college degrees    Clinton +41 (C)
  • White Catholic under 40    Clinton +35 (C)
  • Students    Clinton +33 (C)
  • Voters with college degrees    Clinton +32.2 (C)
  • College graduates    Clinton +32.2 (C)
  • Latina voters    Clinton +29.8* (C)
  • LGBT voters    Clinton +27 (C)
  • Latino voters in Southeast    Clinton +24* (C)
  • Latino voters nationally    Clinton +24* (C)
  • Unmarried women    Clinton +22.6 (C)
  • White voters with college degree    Clinton +21.1 (C)
  • White men with college degree    Clinton +21 (C)
  • White women with college degree    Clinton +20 (C)
  • Voters who never attend religious services    Clinton +19.3 (C)
  • White students    Clinton +19.5 (C)
  • Southerners with college degree    Clinton +19 (C)
  • Latino men    Clinton +18* (C)
  • Voters under 40    Clinton +16.4 (C)
  • Far West Clinton Clinton    Clinton +16 (C)
  • Mid-Atlantic    Clinton +15 (C)
  • Voters who attend religious services once a month or less    Clinton +15 (C)
  • New England    Clinton +14 (C)
  • Voters under 30    Clinton +13.9 (C)
  • Women with no children at home    Clinton +10.9 (C)

In the next few days, I will post some of the analytical highlights of this first data dump, explaining which subgroups’ results I think are the most important and surprising. I look forward to sharing the 2016 political roller coaster with you.

 

 


Flashback: My 2013 profile of Ted Cruz, when he was first being compared to Ronald Reagan and Joe McCarthy

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Presidential campaign bumper sticker: His supporters think Ted Cruz is always right

Thanks to the wonders of social media, Ted Cruz supporters and detractors are still circulating a profile I wrote of him that appeared on Texas on the Potomac on Feb. 21, 2013, six wild weeks into his Senate tenure. I’m glad to say it still holds up today. The most interesting quote in it may come from then-Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas, when he discusses the futures of Cruz and freshman Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Here’s the story:

Ted Cruz’s blazing start in the U.S. Senate has proven to be the political equivalent of a Rorschach test.

Cruz is a political Rorschach Test. Everybody sees the same thing — and everybody sees something different.

Cruz’s fans, and there are many, compare him to Ronald Reagan, who happens to be the 42-year-old senator’s boyhood hero. Cruz’s detractors, and there are many, compare him to Joe McCarthy, the controversial Wisconsin senator known for smearing his foes by innuendo and questioning their patriotism. And there are not many in between.

“It’s going to be in the eye of the beholder,” said Timothy M. Hagle, a political scientist at the University of Iowa.

To Cruz, the first Latino senator in Texas history, the swirling controversies of the past two months stem from his credo to “speak the truth,” whatever the consequences.

Screenshot 2016-01-12 10.16.55

Official family portrait

The Houston Republican’s first legislative proposal, as promised during his campaign, was a complete repeal of the 2010 health-care law widely known as Obamacare. He was the only senator on the losing side of every key vote in his first month in office. He was one of only three senators to oppose the confirmation of Secretary of State John Kerry, and was one of just 22 to vote against the Violence Against Women Act.

But it’s Cruz’s hard-charging style — and not just his hard-line conservatism — that has attracted national attention.

Texas’ junior senator made a name for himself on Capitol Hill with his hostile grilling of Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense. Showing no deference to his elders, the newcomer also had a tense encounter with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer on a usually sedate Sunday talk show.

Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Bruni dismissed him as “an ornery, swaggering piece of work” full of “too much quackery, belligerence and misplaced moralism.” NBC Latino commentator Raul Reyes declared that “Cruz knows no shame” and “it’s time the GOP presses the Cruz-control button.”

At the same time, Cruz has been welcomed as a conquering hero by the grassroots conservatives who fueled his upset victory over establishment Republican favorite David Dewhurst in the 2012 Republican runoff contest. The new senator was picked to deliver the closing address at next month’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, the nation’s largest annual gathering of right-thinking activists.

Ted Cruz TT

Conquering hero or dangerous demagogue? (Texas Tribune photo)

“Ted Cruz has not sacrificed his values and beliefs on the altar of political correctness or to become part of the Washington, D.C., circuit,” said Harris County Republican Party chair Jared Woodfill. “Like Ronald Reagan, he can take our conservative values and beliefs and articulate them for the world. He has made a huge mark at the national level in just a few months.”

Republican strategists are particularly pleased that Cruz brings a fresh face — as well as much-needed diversity — to the GOP message machine.

“He’s not a grumpy old white guy like so many of our spokesmen have been,” said Fergus Cullen, a communications consultant and former New Hampshire Republican Party chair. “He comes from the policy/ideas/intellectual wing of the conservative movement, like (2012 vice presidential nominee) Paul Ryan, and we need more of them.”

While assessments of Cruz’s job performance vary widely, there’s one thing everyone can agree on: The former Texas solicitor general is willfully ignoring the age-old adage that in the Senate, freshman are seen but not heard.

“Sen. Ted Cruz came to Washington to advance conservative policies, not play by the same old rules that have relegated conservatives — and their ideas — to the backbench,” said Michael A. Needham, CEO of Heritage Action, the political committee of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “It should come as absolutely no surprise the Washington establishment — be it the liberal media, entrenched special interests or even wayward Republicans — is now attacking him in the press for following through on his promises.”

Some Republicans say that Cruz — as well as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — are being targeted for tough criticism from the left because of his Hispanic heritage.

“Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are an existential threat to the liberal status quo,” said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Cruz’s boss for more than five years. “For a long time, liberals assumed that if you were Hispanic and went to Harvard, you’d be a Democrat, not a conservative Republican. Not only that, he embodies the conservative principles that exist in a majority of the Hispanic community.”

Cruz, a champion debater in college and a former law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, is undaunted by the criticism.

“Washington has a long tradition of trying to hurl insults to silence those who they don’t like what they’re saying,” Cruz said Tuesday as he toured the LaRue Tactical gun-manufacturing plant near Austin. “I have to admit I find it amusing that those in Washington are puzzled when someone actually does what they said they would do.”

Cruz McCarthy meme.jpg

Critics speak: Another McCarthy?

Democrats, however, are decidedly not amused by his introduction to the national stage.

“He’s part of this right-wing, extreme group in the Republican Party,” said Gilbert Hinojosa, the Texas Democratic Party chairman. “He was elected to do the business of all the people of Texas, not just the business of a small group of Tea Party right-wingers. He makes (conservative former Sen.) Phil Gramm look like a progressive.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a liberal from California, went so far as to summon the ghost of Joe McCarthy during a discussion of Cruz on the Senate floor. MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews added former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long and Charles E. Coughlin, anti-Semitic radio broadcaster and fiery New Deal critic.

“He’s a potent combination of intellect and demagoguery that really has the potential to light a fire under the freshman Republicans to burn the place down,” said Jim Manley, a long-time Senate staffer who worked for Sen. Ted Kennedy and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “But if you go down that path, you end up as nothing but roadkill in the Senate. If he continues down this path, his base may feel good about it, but he may just become isolated and irrelevant.”

A few Republicans have privately counseled Cruz to tone down his approach. One GOP colleague, Sen. John McCain, went so far as to rebuke him publicly after the Texas senator asked Hagel whether the former Nebraska senator had received payments from Saudi Arabia or North Korea.

“Sen. Hagel is an honorable man who served his country and no one on this committee at any time should impugn his character of his integrity,” McCain said as Cruz sat quietly by.

The two men shared another uncomfortable moment at the State of the Union speech, when McCain responded to Obama’s praise for bipartisan immigration reform with a quick jig while Cruz, two seats away, sat frowning.

Conservative activists are thrilled that Cruz has roiled both Democrats and old-line Republicans.

“We are encouraged that he is standing up to the establishment as a U.S. senator,” said David N. Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United. “Fighting the tough fights for conservative principles is why Ted Cruz was elected to the U.S. Senate.”

L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica, blamed fellow Republicans for undercutting Cruz.

“The GOP establishment is at it again,” he said. ‘After capitulating to President Obama in negotiations over the fiscal cliff and promising to kneecap conservatives in the 2014 primaries, these moderates are attacking Sen. Ted Cruz for sticking to his conservative principles.”

Cruz’s brand of uncompromising conservatism gives Texas two of the most conservative members of the Senate. New ratings released Wednesday by National Journal indicated that the Lone Star State’s senior senator, John Cornyn of San Antonio, was the Senate’s second most conservative member in 2012.

Cornyn says he looks forward to “working closely” with Cruz “as we fight for a conservative agenda.”

“Ted has quickly proven himself to be among the next generation of leaders of Texas and the Republican Party,” Cornyn said.

It may be a bit early to declare Cruz a leader, but there’s little doubt Cruz is having an impact disproportionate to his seven-week Senate tenure. An editor of the conservative website The Daily Caller recently likened Cruz’s ability to shape the debate over Hagel to the liberal grassroots group MoveOn.org’s impact at the height of the Iraq War.

He’s certainly the most visible freshman senator, appearing on more national TV programs than any of his first-year colleagues, including the much-hyped liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and conservative Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina, the first African American senator from the Deep South since Reconstruction.

With the hype, of course, come the jibes.

“Washington is a rough-and-tumble place, and I certainly don’t mind if some will take shots at me,” Cruz said. “What I do think is unfortunate is if the coverage of the political game overshadows the substance.”

“Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are an existential threat to the liberal status quo.”

— Greg Abbott


Flashback: My 2013 article on Birtherism 2.0 and Canadian-born Ted Cruz’s eligibility to serve as president

Screenshot 2016-01-06 07.23.16Screenshot 2016-01-06 07.23.55I woke up this morning in Beijing to a tweetstorm fomented by Donald Trump’s new birther conspiracy: raising questions about Ted Cruz’s eligibility to be president. Here is a story I posted on Texas on the Potomac in 2013, when it was growing increasingly likely that the Canadian native would seek the U.S. presidency. In case you’re interested, here is what I wrote:

It seems like an obscure court case from a dusty old law book, but if Canadian-born Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ever decides to run for president, you’re likely to hear a lot about the United States v. Wong Kim Ark.
In that 1898 case, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-2 to repudiate the exclusive language of the infamous Dred Scott case and create an expansive definition of the Constitution’s “natural-born citizen” clause.

That’s important because the Constitution requires that the U.S. president be a natural-born citizen –and Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1970. Cruz, who is being urged to run for president in 2016 by some conservative activists, argues that he is a natural-born citizen because his mother was an American citizen. His father, now a naturalized American, was born in Cuba.

Screenshot 2015-12-26 11.17.49

Trump: This is war!

As the Cruz-for-president talk heats up on the right, some bloggers on the left have argued that the strict interpretation of the Founding Fathers’ words that Cruz claims to worship would disqualify a Canadian-born American from serving as president.

Five years after celebrity billionaire Donald Trump and a motley assortment of conservatives raised questions about a liberal Democratic candidate’s American birthplace, the shoe is on the other foot.

Call it Birtherism 2.0.

“It is ironic that a Tea Party favorite might be blocked from serving as president by one of the Tea Party’s favorite constitutional provisions,” said Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

The question of presidential qualifications has never directly reached the Supreme Court. But there is a wide range of jurisprudence on the issue — which overwhelmingly favors the notion that Cruz is eligible to serve as president.

Ironically, the same legal logic that confirms Cruz’s eligibility would have permitted Barack Obama to serve as president even if he had been born in Kenya, because his mother was a U.S. citizen.

The most comprehensive study of the issue was a 2009 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which cited English Common Law principles and American legal scholarship dating back to 1833.

“The weight of scholarly and historical opinion appears to support the notion that ‘natural born citizen’ means one who is entitled under the Constitution or laws of the United States to U.S. citizenship ‘at birth’ or ‘by birth,’ including …those born abroad of one citizen parent who has met U.S. residency requirements,” wrote Jack Maskell, a CRS legislative attorney.

So why the controversy?

Because, as in so many cases, the Constitution’s authors were silent on the meaning of the phrase “natural-born citizen,” leaving it to generations of constitutional scholars to divine their thoughts.

T. Gerald Treece, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said that despite the Founders’ silence on the subject, their intentions are easy to understand.

“The Founding Fathers merely did not want any British or other foreign subjects to become naturalized and, therefore, eligible to become president,” said Treece.

He said legal precedents focus on an individual’s status “at time of birth.”

“Most authorities agree that, if at time of birth, you are born to U.S. citizens — where they reside — then you are a U.S. citizen at time of birth,” Treece added.

But because the Supreme Court has never directly addressed the issue, it has been a subject of argument for centuries.

in 1881, some Democrats contended that Republican Vice President Chester A. Arthur was born in Canada and ineligible to succeed assassinated President James A. Garfield. But Arthur insisted he was born in Vermont, had a birth certificate and was sworn in as president.

in 1964, some critics of Republican nominee Barry Goldwater said he was barred from the presidency because he was born in Arizona before the territory gained statehood. The challenges got nowhere.

Four years later, Michigan Gov. George Romney sought the presidency although he was born in Mexico, where his American parents were living in a Mormon colony. The Mexican constitution in effect at the time of Romney’s birth in 1907 restricted citizenship to the children of Mexican nationals. So there was no issue off dual citizenship to cloud Romney’s campaign.

In 2008, both presidential nominees faced lawsuits to disqualify them based on their place of birth.

GOP nominee John McCain, the son of a Naval officer, was born in the Panama Canal Zone, then a U.S. territory, in 1937, months before Congress approved a law guaranteeing birthright citizenship to children of military personnel serving abroad. To erase any doubt, the U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan resolution confirming McCain’s citizenship, and a legal challenge to his eligibility was rejected.

There was far more fuss over false claims that McCain’s Democratic rival, Barack Obama, was born in Africa. A series of lawsuits were tossed out of court.

None of the anti-Obama “birthers” has stepped forward to challenge Cruz.

“I doubt that birthers will go after Cruz because he is ideologically compatible with them,” said Carleton College political scientist Steven E. Schier.

After the “birther” circus of 2008, friends and foes of Cruz say they’re ready to focus on his political positions, not his birthplace.

“The ‘birther’ issue — whether it’s Barack Obama, John McCain or Ted Cruz — has always been nothing more than a pointless hyperpartisan distraction and remains one,” says Democratic consultant Harold Cook.

Here’s the 2009 CRS document:

41131059 MoC Memo What to Tell Your Constituents in Answer to Obama Eligibility

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