Senator Cruz: Our 2014 Machiavelli

Senator Ted Cruz's official portrait

Senator Ted Cruz’s official portrait

Last month at the conservatively-slanted Values Voter Conference, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas laid out his plan for a change in America.  As seen in PoliticoSenator Cruz called for the US to,

“bring back jobs and opportunity and unleash small businesses to make it easier for people to achieve the American dream. We abolish the IRS. We repeal Common Core”.

This strong rhetoric is noting new for Senator Cruz.  In fact, he has represented his constituents with this type of political philosophy since he was first elected to the Senate in 2012.  Senator Cruz ranks among the most outspoken Senators as of late, and seldom does the Obama administration enact a policy that is not rebutted by the Texas senator.  So where does this strategy come from, and what is Senator Cruz trying to achieve in the political deadlock that we call Congress? Is Senator Cruz being pragmatic and Machiavellian, or is he just being unreasonable and stubborn?  To answer this, we have to look to Machiavelli’s The Prince to see if this claim carries any weight.  

Of the many maxims in The Prince, perhaps the one that fits the political rise of Senator Cruz most is that in times of need, the people need to rely on their prince.  Since his swearing-in on January 3, 2013, Cruz has taken the Senate by storm by both leading the government to a more than two week long shutdown last October and conducting a 21 hour long filibuster the month before.  These radical moves hadn’t been seen in Congress in years, and Senator Cruz’s bold moves, although controversial, show his resolve to both his people and the rest of Congress.  In chapter 9 of The Prince, Machiavelli notes that a prince needs to be “a man of courage” and “undismayed in adversity”, which by going against the grain of congress, especially as a freshman Senator, shows that he has ambitions to rise above just the title before his name.

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Copy of the Prince in original Tuscan language from the  Library of Congress

Now that the context of Senator Cruz’s character is established, the implications of his fiery actions need to be analyzed.  If we look again to Machiavelli, we see in chapter 8 of The Prince Agathocles’s rise to power involved the killing of the nobles so that Agathocles could become the king of Syracuse.  Clearly Senator Cruz is not trying to kill all those in his way to become the nonexistent king of the US, but this can be put in the context of realistic political ambitions such as a presidential run in 2016.  As the straw poll at the aforementioned Values Voter Summit shows, Senator Cruz would have real support if he were to run.  Although his actions do not mean that he will surely run for the presidency, his strong actions and rhetoric would fit the Machiavellian mold.

Of course, some of Machiavelli’s princely characteristics won’t work in Senator Cruz’s case.  It is very hard for a senator to be truly feared because his or her unilateral abilities are generally very low, but if we look to his character and not just his actions, Senator Cruz shows the cunning ambition that a Machiavellian prince would need.  The next two years in congress have yet to unfold, but I would be far from surprised if Senator Cruz continues his bold moves.  They won’t win him many friends in Congress, but as Machiavelli points out multiple times, it is better to have the support of the people than the support of the nobles in Congress.  He may be destructive and divisive, but he is carrying out his political plan in a way that many in Congress can’t do.  Right now, he is just the prince of Texas, but who knows who’s prince he will be in 2016.

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One thought on “Senator Cruz: Our 2014 Machiavelli

  1. I think your blog post takes an interesting angle on the Machiavelli reading by looking at how a current politician employs Machiavellian tactics to navigate the modern American political landscape. Ted Cruz definitely seems like as good a politician as any to examine.

    Given the fact that Machiavelli was writing specifically with a monarch in mind rather than the president of a democratic republic as the United States has today, it would make sense that not all of Machiavelli’s advice would apply. However, Cruz certainly seems to have taken to heart Machiavelli’s thoughts on and affinity for the use of fear as a political tactic. As you said, Machiavelli believes that “in times of need, the people need to rely on their prince.” Part of Senator Cruz’s strategy for gaining supporters seems to be to convince them that we are currently in a time of great need. He does this by creating what some might call a fictional narrative regarding current political issues, even going so far as to compare Obamacare supporters to Nazi’s.

    As you also point out, Machiavelli believes, “it is better to have the support of the people than the support of the nobles in Congress.” Cruz has certainly gained a strong base of supporters through his use of fear and by making the Obama administration into the enemy. However, it remains to be seen if this divisive, Machiavellian tactic will garner enough support to take his political career beyond the senate.

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