There is a great deal to admire about the Cruz campaign. He had a terrific get-out-the-vote operation in Iowa. His television commercials are fine. His debate performances have had more good than bad. So why are his set piece speeches so mediocre to lousy?
Cruz sucked the life out of an enthusiastic crowd yet again on Tuesday. His bad speech on Iowa Caucus night was understandable. The world had been attacking him for the past two weeks, and Cruz beat the world. He was visibly exhausted and everybody has a bad day, but he did it again yesterday.
Cruz’s speech was somewhat better this time around. It was more succinct and focused, but his speech made for a terrible comparison with that of his fellow high-ideological politician, Bernie Sanders.
Sanders the socialist leads with people’s concerns like jobs, wages, college tuition, and health care. You don’t have to agree with his solutions, but you know what he is talking about. It is Ted Cruz — the conservative populist — who sounds like a theoretician talking to the Socialist Party’s central committee about the balance of factional forces revealed by the latest election. What percentage of people under 35 had any idea what Cruz was talking about when he mentioned the “conservative grassroots” and the “Reagan Democrats?”
Cruz likes to talk about how he is inspired by Reagan, but Reagan had a much wider rhetorical range. Reagan sometimes sounded a little bit like Cruz did last night, but it wasn’t often, and only when he was in front of very specific activist audiences. Reagan was a better speaker than Sanders (better anecdotes, better jokes, more statistics), but Reagan and Sanders both understood that their speeches had to be about the concerns of everyday Americans. They were both admirers of FDR. Every time I hear him, Cruz sounds like Reagan talking to the Conservative Political Action Conference. Bernie Sanders sounds like Reagan talking to America.