Since we are for the time being required to think of Sen. Ted Cruz as a significant force in American politics, it’s helpful now and then to consider how the world looks from his perspective. TPM’s Josh Marshall suspects that being told his whole life how incredibly smart he is has not been good for his character:

[B]ack when he showed up at Harvard Law School in 1992, he stunned his fellow classmates by putting up flyers around campus for an ‘elite study group’ with the instructions ‘only magnas from top Ivys need apply.’ In other words, at a place where arrogance is like air and self-awareness a precious commodity, Cruz managed to stand out on day one as a triple-ply arrogant ass.

Cruz never seems to have grasped that there are people every bit as sharp as him who didn’t go to an Ivy League School (even a ‘top Ivy’). My read on Cruz, from talking to people who knew him very well in college and law school, is that he’s so confirmed in his belief in his own rectitude and genius that he’s likely impervious to what most of us would interpret as rejection or failure. This didn’t work? Well, too many stupid people or cowards who didn’t flock to my banner. That seemed to be the gist of his speech before the vote. And my guess it wasn’t just puffing but represented his genuine belief.

Moreover, in a “populist” wing of the Republican Party that is very self-conscious about its lack of ethnic diversity, its transparent anti-intellectualism, and its tendency to lionize pols that are aggressively proud of their ignorance, Cruz has been an all-purpose antidote, and hears more testimony to his brilliance every day than most very smart people hear in a lifetime.

His situation reminds me of the central character in Walker Pecy’s novel Lancelot, who gets an unearned reputation for brilliance among his teammates on the LSU football team:

Being “smart” on the football team meant that you read Time magazine and had heard of the Marshall Plan. (“You don’t believe he can tell you about the Marshall Plan? Ask him! He’s one more smart sapsucker.”) They, my teammates, admired “smartness” more than anybody I’ve met before or since.

Now add in the fact that Ted Cruz happens to espouse a political philosophy (and for that matter, a religious faith) based on a very rigid concept of what’s right and wrong at all times and in all circumstances, along with Cruz’s legendary rhetorical skills, and you have a recipe for a very scary personality.

I once read a letter to the editor from a man who explained that in opposing legalized abortion and homosexuality he was expressing “the mind of God.” “Now that’s self-confidence,” I thought. Add into that equation a mind that’s used to being described as almost God-like, and invincible arrogance–if not an actual God Complex–will be the result every single time.

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.