Obnoxiousness Is the New Charisma

Frank Bruni in The New York Times:

FrankMaking light of so much bloodshed, Cruz told Iowans the story of a Texas woman who was pulled over by a police officer. She supposedly informed the officer that she had a Glock affixed to her hip, a .38 revolver in one boot, a single-shot derringer in the other and a double-barrel shotgun under the seat. “Goodness gracious,” the officer said. “What on earth are you afraid of?” “Not a dang thing,” the woman responded. Cruz is unsettling enough in isolation, but it’s the combination of him and Trump that really galls. And it galls not just Democrats but other Republicans. “At some point, we have to deal with the fact that there are at least two candidates who could utterly destroy the Republican bench for a generation if they became the nominee,” Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, told Politico’s Alex Isenstadt recently. In the current issue of Time magazine, David Von Drehle put it this way: “The G.O.P. has awakened less than a month from the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary to find itself in bed between a bombshell and a kamikaze.” It’s a king-size bed, and they’re all under an eiderdown of obnoxiousness. From the moment Trump announced his candidacy, he chose a potty mouth over a silver tongue, and a shocking number of Americans thrilled to that, regarding crudeness as the greatest form of candor. From the moment Cruz arrived in the United States Senate, he chose tirades over teamwork, becoming “so unpopular that at one point not a single Republican senator would support his demand for a roll-call vote,” The Times’s Jennifer Steinhauer wrote last month, adding that he was left “standing on the Senate floor like a man with bird flu, everyone scattering to avoid him.”

But what repelled Republican senators is somehow beckoning Republican voters: In a Gallup survey released on Friday, 61 percent of them said that they had a favorable impression of him, while only 16 percent said that they had an unfavorable one, giving him a “net favorable” rating of plus 45, the best in the Republican field. I guess bird flu is the new catnip. Many analysts explain all of this in terms of a potent anger among Americans. They say Trump and Cruz lend voice to it. But that’s not exactly right. Anger can have a noble dimension — as a response to injustice, as the grist for change — and neither Trump nor Cruz projects much nobility or tries to, for that matter. They’re not so much angry as petulant, impudent. When Trump tells rivals on the debate stage that they’re ugly or unpopular and when he ridicules a journalist’s disability, he’s not being angry. He’s just being a jerk. And when he crows incessantly about his deal-making genius, his billions and his poll numbers, he’s not stoking constructive passions. He’s just stroking himself.

More here.