Trump, Cruz and the Perception of American Power
In January 1981, on the day of US President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, dozens of American diplomats who had been held captive in Iran for 444 days were released.
During the months leading up to Reagan’s election, incumbent Jimmy Carter had been pussy-footing around the hostage crisis, first trying to appease and negotiate with the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and then attempting to rescue the US Embassy staff through a Delta Force-led operation.
The rescue mission failed miserably, due to a sand storm that destroyed the getaway helicopters. This was a direct result of Carter’s hesitation about giving the green light for the operation much earlier, when the climate conditions were appropriate.
It was the demoralized state of American citizens, who watched Carter destroy their economy and turn their country into an international laughing stock and punching bag, that led to Reagan’s election. Try as hard as they might, the Democrats were unable to persuade the voting public that Reagan — though a two-time California governor — was nothing more than a former B-list Hollywood actor.
Reagan managed, in spite of the hype associated with his reputation as a right-wing fanatic and a fool, to inspire cheerful confidence that America had not actually lost its greatness. His message was that the United States was still the beacon of the free world, leading in liberty and prosperity.
This is not the only thing that Reagan — and, unwittingly, his detractors on the Left — accomplished during his campaign. He, with his opponents’ help, succeeded in making the Soviet Union nervous and cause the mullahs in Iran to let the hostages go home as soon as he was about to take office.
Indeed, perception plays a huge role in global politics, as anyone familiar with the Middle East can attest. Fearing that Reagan was going to become the kind of gun-slinging sheriff he might have portrayed in a Western did more to further the release of the captives in the besieged US Embassy in Tehran than all the months of Carter’s pleading and bargaining.
Like Carter, US President Barack Obama entered office with a “make America weak” agenda. Both succeeded in this endeavor, but because Obama, unlike Carter, won a second term, he has had a lot more time to wreak havoc.
It is this fact beyond all others that explains the Donald Trump phenomenon. It is not merely that Trump is an “outsider,” above the Beltway fray. It is, rather, that Trump is flexing his muscles like a bouncer at a nightclub, daring anyone even to look at him askance.
Don’t get me wrong. Trump is the polar opposite of Reagan, who was a class act, as even members of the media at the time came to admit. They had all wanted to hate him for being on the wrong side of their liberalism. But they grew fond of him in spite of themselves.
Trump, on the other hand, baits the media into hating him, as is clear by his ongoing war against Fox‘s Megyn Kelly, a true pro who is both beautiful and beloved to boot. Nor does he keep a muzzle on his mouth under any circumstances. Used to getting his way, like most billionaires, Trump clearly believes that his ability to make money translates into intelligence on all matters, including those about which he is utterly clueless.
But he, too, grabs people in spite of themselves, as was visible when he addressed the AIPAC policy conference in Washington on Monday night. Prior to his arrival, reports had emerged that rabbis and other Jewish leaders were going to boycott his speech. In addition, Democratic rival front-runner Hillary Clinton had been given a few standing ovations at the same venue hours earlier.
Furthermore, American Jews tend to be Democrats, and most Jewish Republicans had been leaning towards Republican candidates Marco Rubio (before he dropped out of the race) and Ted Cruz.
Nevertheless, when Trump took to the podium, not only was the hall packed, but the crowd ended up cheering loudly practically every time he paused. Trump, it appeared, had managed to woo his toughest audience, in spite of themselves. Being a staunch supporter of Israel will do that at such a conference. But then, everyone who spoke there professed great love for the Jewish state.
No, what Trump did was to convey the message that America’s and Israel’s enemies would soon have something serious to fear. No more “nice guy” in the Oval Office on whom every little radical Islamist dictator can wipe his boots with impunity and literally get away with murder. Yes, Trump — with his ridiculous comb-over and Reality TV persona — was actually confidence-inspiring, even cheerfully so.
Then came Cruz’s turn to appeal to the Jewish crowd. Being pro-Israel comes naturally to him, unlike to Clinton, whose definition of “ally” includes brow-beating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu every time an extra bedroom is added to an apartment in Judea or Jerusalem. Also unlike Clinton, Cruz actually opposed the nuclear deal with Iran and still does.
Like Trump, Cruz issued a severe warning to the world’s bullies that with him in the White House, things would be very different. No nukes, no ballistic missiles, no stabbings in the streets of Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital.
Unlike Trump, Cruz is well-spoken, well-mannered and well-versed in global matters. If Reagan were alive, he would undoubtedly be more comfortable supporting Cruz than Trump, who is not even a real conservative in much of his outlook.
But even Reagan would agree that the Islamists — who always pray for a Democratic victory to serve their hegemonic and genocidal interests — are following the current campaign even more carefully than the American electorate.
With all his vulgarity, Trump has accomplished something crucial that Cruz needs to emulate: He has recreated the perception of American power that is a necessary first step to actually restoring it. The upshot of the hostage crisis should serve as a reminder to us all.
Ruthie Blum is the web editor of The Algemeiner.