Donald Trump is only the second-scariest candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. No GOP contender should strike fear into the hearts of reasonable people everywhere more than Ted Cruz, the Canadian-born Texas senator who could emerge as the main beneficiary of the chaos Mr. Trump has visited upon the party.
Since he won his Senate seat in 2012, Mr. Cruz is hands down considered the most self-serving and nakedly ambitious member of Congress, a singular distinction considering the competition on Capitol Hill. Whereas Mr. Trump comes off as a braggadocio and impulsive, Mr. Cruz is a calculating and self-obsessed flamethrower who has deftly harnessed big data to build a diehard following of evangelicals and Tea Partiers. It has made him the favourite to win the Iowa caucuses, the first of the GOP primaries that will winnow the field of contenders.
Mr. Cruz's biggest "achievement" since arriving in Congress has been to make that already dysfunctional body even more unproductive because 1) he genuinely hates government and 2) he sees obstruction as the key to winning the undying loyalty and dollars of the insurgent masses and hedge fund donors who want to blow up Washington. Well before Mr. Trump showed up, Mr. Cruz had been stoking the Republican civil war that, for now, the flamethrowers are winning.
In 2013, Mr. Cruz led a crusade to shut down the U.S. federal government by blocking a budget bill that included funding for President Barack Obama's health-care law. Republicans were then a minority in the Senate and had no hope of defunding Obamacare, a measure the President would have vetoed anyway. But Mr. Cruz insisted on holding up the budget bill, leading to a government shutdown that forced a curtailment of some public services and left hundreds of thousands federal employees furloughed and unpaid for 16 days. He called it a victory.
And it was, for him. It helped him amass a mailing list of anti-Obama cranks and anti-government ideologues whose anger he continued to stoke, and whose money he continued to rake in, with endless micro-targeted e-mails and videos. (One video had him "cooking" bacon on the red-hot barrel of an assault rifle, delighting pro-gun types.) He again tried to close down the government this fall by blocking a budget bill that included funding for Planned Parenthood.
Mr. Trump, no slouch at scorched earth policies, called Mr. Cruz "a little bit of a maniac" who lacks the temperament to be president. But that was before the Donald pulled his punches in Tuesday's debate, suggesting a mutual non-aggression pact. Mr. Cruz is the second choice of a plurality of Trump supporters and he would love to inherit his rival's database if the Donald fades.
The Cruz campaign has employed the most sophisticated data tools yet, using so-called "psychographic targeting" to tailor pitches to voters based on the personality traits they exhibit on social media. It's a crassly hypocritical exploitation of personal data for this crusader against the surveillance state, a cause that has made Mr. Cruz the bane of national security hawks in his party.
That clash was clearly on display in Tuesday's debate. Mr. Cruz carried the flame for the GOP's isolationist wing, defending military cuts he helped trigger, while Florida senator Marco Rubio argued for an enhanced American role in policing the world and spending untold billions to modernize the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal.
If that makes Mr. Rubio sound like the scarier of the two, think again. The Florida senator would by all accounts use U.S. power judiciously, and employ force as a last resort.
Mr. Cruz is against "sticking our nose in foreign entanglements." He is fine with leaving Syria's murderous Bashar al-Assad to slaughter his own people. He would "carpet-bomb [the Islamic State] into oblivion" because it is a direct threat to U.S. security. If that bit of bravado excites his base, it is ridiculed by experts for its ignorance of modern military tactics and disregard for its toll in civilian casualties.
Few who have crossed paths with Mr. Cruz seem to like him. Most profess to loathing him.
"I would rather have anyone else be the president of the United States. Anyone," his college roommate told The Daily Beast. "I would rather pick somebody from the phone book."