Frankly, it serves him right. Ted Cruz is the target of no small amount of scorn for what he said while using the famous gymnasium in Indiana where the movie “Hoosiers” was filmed as a backdrop for a political speech. He was trying to make a phony “regular guy” point that the state was important: “The amazing thing is that basketball ring here in Indiana, it’s the same height as it is in New York City …”
What’s that? No one calls the basketball hoop a “ring.” Cruz had stepped into, uh, buckets of ridicule. You have to be really ignorant of the sport for something like that to, uh, dribble out of your mouth. Particularly in Indiana, where basketball is a religion. Except it’s more sacred.
It’s OK to pile on, because there’s a serious point. It’s not just a gaffe-ing matter. Like so many politicians, he was resorting to a prop to pretend-attach himself to the passions of a particular locale. What’s obnoxious about the entire practice is the condescension inherent in seeking to appeal to “real people,” “common folks,” “everyday Americans.” You get the idea: It’s the campaigner’s way of patting us on the head. It’s simply patronizing. And when it blows up on him or her, it’s great to see the damage.
There is no shortage of them: John Kerry, for instance, in Wisconsin when he was running for president, glowingly referred to Lambeau Field in Green Bay — a shrine where the NFL Packers play — as “Lambert Field.” The list goes on and on. In fact, Donald Trump has uttered a few crackpot sports lines, but apparently he’s not accountable for anything he says. Besides, one of his endorsers in Indiana is legendary coach Bobby Knight, who wasted little time jeering Cruz and his basketball “ring.”
Actually, Knight and Trump are a good fit. Both are bullies. The difference is that Knight’s record of success speaks for itself; no one questions whether he knows basketball. Many challenge whether Trump is qualified for the position he’s seeking, and his business background has had its ups and downs, subject to interpretation.
The same, of course, can be said about Carly Fiorina. She describes her time leading Hewlett-Packard as a resounding triumph; others say she was a historic failure, running HP into the ground before she was deposed as CEO. That matters again, because Cruz, when he wasn’t displaying his ignorance of roundball, was taking a long shot with his announcement that Fiorina would be his vice president if perchance he got elected. Of course, that is very much in doubt, and based on a strategy of denying Donald Trump the absolute majority of delegates he needs to secure the Republican nomination. The calculation is that Fiorina brings her own supporters to the table and perhaps offers a little comfort to the party machine’s operators who are desperately turning to Cruz in their efforts to stymie Trump.
The problem is they really can’t stand him. I wonder if Ted Cruz has ever had a psychologist and, more importantly, what that therapist would tell him if he said that he sometimes feels that nobody likes him. Would the therapist try to convince Cruz that he simply needs to embrace the fact that he is unpopular, the “It’s not me, it’s them” approach.
That’s what Cruz is doing. His pitch is that being hated by the bad guys is a good thing. He’s not bothered, then, when former House Speaker John Boehner calls him “Lucifer in the flesh.” Boehner always was so subtle. But it’s undeniable that Americans are finally confronting their disgust at a “rigged” system, controlled by a small band of robber barons. Unfortunately for Ted Cruz, it’s working best for Donald Trump. Cruz wants to debate him. But he should forget suggesting a basketball game.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.