Cruz quiz: When the Texas senator mocked "New York values" last month, what exactly did he mean?
Interpretations vary wildly according to pundit. Reason's Shikha Dalmia suggests it was a calculated stab at rival Donald Trump. Dana Milbank at The Washington Post sees Cruz's remark as a sinister appeal to anti-Semitism. Conor Friedersdorf thinks he was pandering to flyover-state culture warriors, a kind of Tea Party updating of Dan Quayle's 1988 corn-fed claim that rural America is "the real America".
When pressed, Cruz likened Big Apple morals to the forbidden fruit of social tolerance. "Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage, focus around money and the media," he told Maria Bartiromo. Adding, "Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan. I'm just saying."
The power of Ted Cruz's language lies in its slippery ambiguity. Supporters and detractors alike can and will choose whatever interpretation suits their preconceived views of the divisive senator. Cruz himself has successfully spun his own insult into a non-apology apology to the good people of New York. But any way you slice it, equating Gotham with Gomorrah seems like a self-defeating sneer from a candidate who is both literally and financially in bed with Goldman Sachs.
Despite Cruz's Iowa caucus victory, his personal and political values place him at the tail end of a long tradition of social conservatives who repeatedly chose the losing side in America's culture wars. At least that's the thesis of Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero's new book, Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).
Speaking with Reason TV, Prothero explained why, for at least the last century, conservatives have fought unwinnable wars against the ever-expanding sphere of social tolerance. It's an apt history lesson for a presidential candidate who sincerely believes he can win the most votes by denigrating a city with the most voters.