Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks as he campaigns, Dec. 22, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn.
Photo by Mark Zaleski/AP

Ted Cruz exploits the power of cultural resentment

The voting-rights fight in Alabama grew even more controversial in the fall, when the state closed 31 driver’s license offices, which in turn made it that much more difficult for residents to get the ID they now have to show in order to vote. The state’s move, launched in October, has already drawn federal scrutiny.
And as it turns out, it’s an issue in the presidential campaign as well. Hillary Clinton, who has made voting rights an important part of her platform, has been deeply critical of Alabama’s DMV decision, calling it “a blast from the Jim Crow past.” Last week, Ted Cruz campaigned in Alabama, and as the Washington Post reported, the Texas Republican told a local CBS affiliate what he thought of Clinton’s concerns.
“It’s not surprising to see a Democrat like Hillary Clinton coming in and attacking states, particularly Southern states,” Cruz said. “Frankly, it’s a bigotry from the Democrats. They look down on the Southern states like we’re a bunch of hicks. Look, I’m from Texas and Hillary Clinton is not a big fan of my state either. We don’t need more politicians from Washington looking down on us like a fly-over company.
“We’ve had seven years of a president who looks down on the American people. Hillary Clinton thinks we’re just a bunch of ignorant rubes, and we need to be governed by what she deems as moral and philosophical betters. I think that’s complete nonsense. I believe in the American people.”
The rhetoric is almost too ridiculous to analyze, and it’s hard to imagine even Cruz believes his own rhetoric. Championing voting rights, and calling out those who make it harder for Americans to cast a ballot, is not “bigotry.” It’s the opposite.
But putting reality aside for a moment, the quote is a reminder about Cruz’s ability to exploit cultural resentment. The Texas Republican could try to defend his party’s war on voting, but that would be difficult. It’s vastly easier to encourage Southern white voters to see themselves as victims of cultural elites.
It’s hollow and ugly, but a whole lot of GOP candidates have had quite a bit of success with a simple pitch: “They see you as a bunch of ignorant rubes and I don’t.” To overlook this style of campaigning – and the potency of cultural resentment – is to overlook one of the factors that contributes to Republican dominance in the South.
For its part, the Clinton campaign wasn’t impressed. “Hillary Clinton is fighting to expand people’s voting rights, and that’s a case she’ll make anywhere, anytime,” said Christina Reynolds, Clinton’s deputy communications manager. “Respecting voters means allowing them to vote, not systematically trying to weaken that right, as Senator Cruz and his party have done. Instead of offering insults, Senator Cruz should discuss why he’s consistently supported efforts that make it harder for Alabamians and many Americans to vote.”