In Ted Cruz land, Trump is the devil destroying the GOP
Lost in all the angry retorts, though, is that the Republican Party may be destroying itself
At a rally the other night for Senator Ted Cruz, the dour conservative scold famed for his severe ideological filter, righteous anger crackled through the auditorium of Houston Baptist University.
Some of Texas's most senior Republican politicians sneered from the stage at their own party hierarchy, congratulating Cruz and the Tea Party caucus for humiliating and dumping leaders like former House speaker John Boehner.
To these people, Boehner and his cohort are "RINOs" — Republicans in name only — the hated moderates who care principally about fiscal issues, rather than, say, abortion or gay marriage or the prevention of prayer in schools.
One speaker promised that as president, Cruz would govern "with a Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other." The crowd roared. That, here, is the dream.
And when pro-immigration activists marched down the aisle to heckle, the loathing surged.
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Police quickly descended and hustled the protesters out, amid jeers and insults. But one beefy Cruz militant couldn't restrain his rage; as a woman heckler was frog-marched past him, still chanting, he reached out and punched her.
"I'm just curious," asked Cruz, from the stage, "does this coordinated display mean the lefties are getting nervous?"
The crowd again shouted their happy approval, forgetting for a moment about the enemies within their own party establishment.
Take that, lefties
Deep down, though, most people in the room probably knew that "the lefties" nowadays are anything but nervous.
The lefties are in fact high-fiving and doing happy dances, precisely because of these red-meat, far-right activists.
If any state played a leading role in the revolt against the Republican establishment, it was Texas, America's citadel of Christian conservatism.
Texans sent Cruz to Washington in 2012, where he tangled with his party's leadership, helped sink a bipartisan deal on immigration, and led the Tea Party contingent to a government shutdown.
The Republican leadership in Congress quailed. And with the help of his hardline, evangelical base, Cruz and his fellow warriors in the Tea Party caucus moved the party from the far right to the extreme right.
So-called "moderate" Republican incumbents either moved with them or faced well-financed challenges from the activist right in their districts.
The anger of this so-called base burned ferociously.
They were sick and tired of being treated like chumps by Republican pols who would promise action on social issues, then get to Washington and implement a corporatist agenda directly contrary to the economic interest of their working class constituents.
'A completely new party'
When Cruz announced his White House run a year ago, the party establishment smirked at first, but soon sobered up.
Even with the millions supplied by the Republican "donor class," establishment-approved moderate candidates flamed out, one after the other.
But then the law of unintended consequences arrived in the form of a big, blond master of self-promotion with a history of flip-flopping opportunism.
Donald Trump suddenly, somehow, managed to own the anger, and magnified it. He took the ad hominem tactics of hardline right-wingers to the next level, dismissing Cruz and his cohort as boring, bothersome losers.
Trump also took their nativist rhetoric and fed it steroids. He made fun of his opponents' physical appearances and questioned their masculinity. He insulted women and he called undocumented Latinos rapists and murderers.
Conservative activists watched, agape. Like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expected this.
By the night before Super Tuesday's big vote, the crowd at Houston Baptist University knew their anger and their momentum had been neatly and utterly hijacked.
Lisa Doby, a longstanding conservative purist there to support Cruz (who did win in Texas and Oklahoma on Tuesday, even though Trump took a big chunk of delegates, too) told me her party is finished.
It's a pretty common sentiment, it seems nowadays, among Republicans, conservative or moderate. This is not an optimistic party.
"The Republican party is dead as a party," she says, "the Republican party has killed itself because they don't listen to people. There is going to have to be a rebirth. Or a completely new party."
When I pointed out that Donald Trump is promising to rebuild the party, her voice went flat.
"Donald Trump is insane," she said, then paused, and looked directly at our camera. "Was that clear? Donald Trump is insane. The man is an embarrassment as a human being, let alone as a politician."
On stage, former Texas governor Rick Perry explained that Trump is not a real Christian because he has refused to ask for God's forgiveness, and "salvation only comes from grace!"
The current governor, Greg Abbott, raged about the terrorists slipping into America posing as refugees, and how only Ted Cruz can stop that.
Cruz himself banged on about how America is on a precipice, and the constitution is in mortal danger, and freedom and liberty are fast disappearing, and that Trump is not a real conservative, much less the answer.
And people cheered, and fervently wished every Republican understood those things, and talked among themselves about taking this all the way to the nominating convention for a fight on the floor, even if Trump wins the primary season.
The party establishment, meanwhile, has launched its own "stop Trump" initiative.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the very incarnation of the party establishment, has predicted Republicans will drop Trump like a "hot rock" if he wins.
But the establishment has proven itself helpless, even hapless, and so have the strict conservatives who initially powered the likes of a Ted Cruz. It is probably too late.
The Republican Party is staring at itself today, wondering how in heaven's name Donald Trump happened.
And the answer is simple. Republicans created him. He is the party now.
Take that, lefties.