Ted Cruz was campaigning in Marion, Indiana, on Monday as part of his last-ditch effort to salvage a shot at Tuesday’s crucial primary in the state when he decided to do something unusual. In front of a pack of reporters, Cruz went up to protesters outside of his rally who were there to voice their support for Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
The interaction was entertaining and informative on a raw level. It basically shows Cruz desperately attempting to argue with, cajole, and ultimately lecture a Republican voter who clearly dislikes him a great deal, is clearly very angry at the political system, and is also very clearly inspired by Trump.
The exchange could basically be viewed as a metaphor for the entire race, with Cruz—in an odd twist, now representing establishment Republicans—talking down to the voter, repeating memorized talking points to the voter, and fudging the truth to the voter, who rejects him out of hand as a typical politician, part of the problem, a liar, and possibly Canadian. Cruz's utter inability to connect with this person on any kind of human level contrasts perfectly with Trump's straightforward speaking style and points to another part of Trump's big appeal in this Republican primary: He doesn't talk like these other guys.
The conversation starts off promisingly enough with the heckler, who declined to give his name to reporters after the event, saying flatly “we don’t want you.” The protester then calls for Cruz to drop out of the race based on him being mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination on the first ballot.
Trump leads Cruz by more than 400 delegates according to the AP count and is closing in on the numbers he needs to be able to go into July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland with enough delegates to secure the nomination without a floor fight. Indiana’s contest was going to be a crucial test for Cruz, but the latest polling has Trump up by huge amounts with two polls released in the past couple days showing him with respective leads of 15 points and 17 points. If Cruz loses in Indiana, these sorts of calls for him to get out could become more sustained.
The exchange continues with Cruz asking the man what he likes about Trump.
“The wall,” he responds simply.
Cruz then attempts to argue that Trump is lying about the wall and that his true immigration positions have not yet been revealed.
“You are the problem,” the heckler responds. “You are the problem, politician, you are the problem.”
“Can I ask you something?” Cruz says.
“No,” the heckler responds.
Cruz goes on anyway and says, “out of all the candidates, name one who had a million-dollar judgment against him for hiring illegal aliens.”
“Name one that is self-funded,” the voter replies.
“So you like rich people buying politicians,” Cruz, who had previously failed to disclose $1 million in Senate campaign donations from Goldman Sachs and Citibank, paradoxically says.
The heckler rejects the idea Cruz is anything resembling an outsider: “Where’s your Goldman Sachs jacket at? We know your wife works there.”
Cruz then seems to try to corner the protester into saying that he “agrees with” John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, figures of hatred within the conservative movement, by supporting Trump.
“I don’t agree with anybody, but I agree with Trump,” he says. “He’s the only one who’s going to put us where we need to be.”
After an exchange about gun control in which Cruz lists his credentials defending the Second Amendment and points out Trump’s flip-flops on the issue, Cruz gets super condescending.
“This man is lying to you and he's taking advantage of you,” the senator from Texas says. “If I were Donald Trump, I wouldn’t have come over and talk to you, I wouldn’t have shown you that respect. I would have told those guys over there, 'go over and punch those guys in the face.' That’s what Donald says.”
“Lying, like you always do,” the voter responds.
The voter has a point! Trump has voiced tacit support for violence at his rallies, but he hasn’t quite crossed the line into instructing supporters to attack unprovoked (he did call on supporters to throw swings at anyone who might be “getting ready to throw a tomato.”)
This is when the exchange gets its rawest, with the heckler saying flatly: “You’ll find out tomorrow, Indiana don’t want you.”
When Cruz says “America is a better country,” the heckler responds “without you.”
Finally, Cruz seems to begin to realize who he’s dealing with, but again he can’t help but give a wooden and condescending monologue that, again, is turned against him. “Thank you for those kind sentiments. Let me point out, I have treated you respectfully the entire time and a question that everyone here should ask ...” “Are you Canadian?” multiple hecklers now say, cutting him off.
The GOP's cultivation and reliance on precisely this type of voter is what is ultimately leading to Donald Trump being their near-presumptive nominee. And Ted Cruz has no response.