I laughed out loud when I saw this lede from National Review‘s Andrew Stiles: “The liberal media are obsessed with Texas’ senator Ted Cruz.” Aside from his own piece, there are at this particular moment three other articles about Ted Cruz on the National Review website’s front page. It’s not the “liberal media” who went into paroxysms of joy during Cruz’ two trips to Iowa. The “liberal media” didn’t convince the de facto leader of the conservative movement, former senator and current Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, to make Cruz his de facto protege, replacing the discarded RINO squish Marco Rubio. Check out this DeMint quote from back in May:

“I’ve been in 25 cities in the last few months, all I have to do is mention Ted Cruz’s name, and they stand up and cheer,” DeMint told reporters before the dinner. “They’re hungry for someone who’s not afraid, willing to stand up and trying to change the status quo. Everyone knows that’s unpopular when you try to do that in both parties. He’s a very popular person and he’s clearly very smart.”

This last reference is probably the key to the conservative obsession with what they perceive to be the liberal obsession with the Texan. Just as Andrew Stiles was accusing the “liberal media” of an unhealthy focus on Cruz, National Review Editor Rich Lowry was publishing a piece at Politico glorying in Cruz’s Ivy League credentials as a living stick-in-the-eye to the snooty Left:

The party’s highest-profile Texans, George W. Bush and Rick Perry, tended to match inarticulateness with cowboy swagger and lend themselves to mockery as intellectual lightweights. Bush went to Yale and Harvard Business School, yet no one naturally thinks of him as an Ivy Leaguer. The two Lone Star State governors played into the left’s stereotypes so nicely that if they didn’t exist, Gail Collins would have had to make them up.

Cruz is different — a Princeton and Harvard man who not only matriculated at those fine institutions but excelled at them. Champion debater at Princeton. Magna cum laude graduate at Harvard. Supreme Court clerkship, on the way to Texas solicitor general and dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cruz is from the intellectual elite, but not of it, a tea party conservative whose politics are considered gauche at best at the storied universities where he studied. He is, to borrow the words of the 2009 H.W. Brands biography of FDR, a traitor to his class.

Ah, how rich, Rich! Here’s a Princeton grad, a champion debater, a former Supreme Court clerk, a Hispanic, who thinks just like Sarah Palin! Try to make fun of him as an ignorant yahoo! Just try, liberals!

This schoolyard (or maybe Old School Tie) taunt is, I fear, at the heart of the paradox surrounding what some are bold to call “libertarian populism.” A heavily credentialed pol whose policies revolve around the defense of economic and cultural privilege roams around the country bellowing with rage at the liberals and RINOs whose “establishment” is frustrating the will of The People. I’m reminded of Thomas Frank’s passage in What’s the Matter With Kansas wherein he imagines right-wing “populists” storming the bastions of the wealthy with pitchforks and torches and issuing their demands: “We are here to cut your taxes!” Only now the “populists” are led by a “traitor to his class!”


Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.