Ted Cruz is obviously book smart. What he wants the world to know, however, is that he is also comic-book smart. Cruz dips into popular culture with as much practiced enthusiasm and detail as he does Supreme Court cases and Bible verses. We thought we'd take a shot at documenting a few of his more frequent touchstones.
Reference: The Simpsons
First sighting: April 14, 2014; he posted a tweet with a link to Homer Simpson booing the IRS building on a visit to Washington, D.C.
Since then: Made splash by doing various character impersonations on a visit to the offices of BuzzFeed; gave a list of his favorite episodes to the right-wing purity tester website The Federalist. His favorite quote (paraphrased) is from the Kang-and-Kodos-run-for-president "Treehouse of Horror" episode: "forward, not backwards, upwards not downwards, and always twirling, twirling for freedom."
Probability of genuine fandom: 90 percent. While no one does as bad a set of impersonations as Cruz did as part of some master plan, we're hedging because it's not clear that Cruz is a fan of the same Simpsons as the rest of the world. The one in his head, that apparently doesn't offend him or cause him to doubt his own certainty in any way, seems different than the one I'm familiar with.
What he thinks it says about him: He's got a nerd-smart sense of humor, laughs at the same things humans do.
What it really says about him: Dredges up the possibility that he might actually be an alien in disguise running for president (à la Kang/Kodos). More seriously, the bad impersonations bespeak a rather lonely sense of what Cruz thinks popularity (or likability) consists of: the insertion of a shared reference point, devoid of context. It makes sense that he feels this way, since that's how his dog-whistle brand of tea-party politics works: Say the right set of code words ("religious liberty," for instance, when you really mean "not having to mingle with LGBT people") and you're in the club. You don't even have to mean it. There's also an obvious disconnect between the anarchic-liberal sensibilities of The Simpsons and Cruz's own policies, which are exactly the kind of stuffy crypto-fascist nonsense the show skewers so well. Indeed, next to Trump, Cruz is the candidate who already most resembles a Simpsons character come to life: a trapezoid-faced stiff with immovable hair and lips drawn on with pencil.
Reference: Star Wars
First sighting: September 25, 2013; during his not-really-a-filibuster that delayed nothing, and that in retrospect is looking more and more like just an attempt to plant a flag in as many pop-culture references as possible. He likened the "D.C. Establishment" to the Empire, and said, "Just like in the Star Wars movies, the Empire will strike back. But at the end of the day, I think the Rebel alliance, I think the people, will prevail."
Since then: Oh boy. There's cultural ambulance chasing and then there's attaching yourself, remora-like, to the swift-moving current of an entertainment trend. In the past two and a half years, he has:
- Hijacked the premiere of The Force Awakens for his own fundraising scheme
- Said he went to see The Force Awakens instead of watching the first Democratic debate, as "Wookiees and spaceships and laser beams … struck me as much more realistic and down-to-earth than whatever the Democrats were talking about.”
- Asserted that "an important question to ask of any presidential candidate" is "which Star Wars character would you be; and that "anyone who says 'Luke Skywalker' ought to be eliminated right off the bat." Contended that the "only right answer" to that question is Han Solo, who is "perhaps the coolest character in all of cinema" (a description he repeated verbatim a month later).
- Invoked both Yoda and Darth Vader as his go-to responses for voter questions.
- Suggested that the series has "biblical overtones," but "I wouldn't describe it as a Christian work."
- Promoted a "fan-produced" two-minute-long parody featuring clips from his own career set to the The Force Awakens trailer audio -- except for an Obama cameo at the mention of "the Dark Side."
- More recently, was the star of a Breitbart-distributed Korean-animation-studio-production-value short that has him wielding a lightsaber while riding an elephant to do battle with, haha, rhinos.
Has suggested that the U.S. use "space-based" weapons to defend against nuclear attacks from North Korea. Different Star Wars!
Probability of genuine fandom: 95 percent. His bad impersonations always suggest a level of sincerity not found in Cruz's normal emotional range. Admits to having "had a full collection of action figures that I carried in my Darth Vader carrying case" as kid. Wiggle room for the possibility the he largely ignored the saga for the decades between teen years and today; likely a covert Jar Jar Binks apologist.
What he thinks it says about him: In a universe split between good and evil, Cruz squarely places himself on the side of good and will fight for it on your behalf, but in a sexy, rebellious way.
What it actually says about him: Was a virgin until marriage. Is fascinated by the idea of beguiling villain and thinks of "the Dark Side" as both a temptation and a useful foil, something to pridefully warn off but also exploit as a bogeyman. (See: "Islamic extremism.") Sees his enemies as irretrievably fallen; having made a choice to serve a cause other than his own, they are not worth arguing with nor even saving. (See: "LGBT people.") Might still jerk off to Slave Leia.
Reference: Duck Dynasty
First sighting: August 31, 2013; mentioned in the context of a joke about Obama thinking that a series about a "Southern, God-fearing family of entrepreneurs who love liberty and love to hunt” is either a "fantasy show" or a "horror film."
Since then: Brought up during the faux-filibuster, of course; called A&E's suspension of the show due to patriarch Phil Robertson's homophobic remarks "an affront to freedom." This year, Robertson returned the favor and endorsed Cruz in an uncomfortable cosplay video during which he explained his criteria for the nod: "My qualifications for president of the United States are rather narrow. Is he or she godly? Does he or she love us? Can he or she do the job, and finally, would they kill a duck and put him in a pot and make him a good duck gumbo?"
Probability of genuine fandom: 30 percent. He may enjoy the small-minded psychodramas as escapist fare, or perhaps he views the series anthropologically. Almost certainly drenches himself in Purell after any interaction with the family IRL. Would prefer his daughters remain ignorant of the clan's entire existence.
What he thinks it says about him: Despite my Ivy League education, investment banker wife, and high-rise Houston condo, I, too, am at heart just another blue-collar regular Joe multimillionaire. My bank account balance is not as important as my love of killing things and my retrograde opinions on gender roles and sexuality.
What it actually says about him: He's a cynical bastard whose discomfort with any social interaction masks his specific awkwardness around men who threaten his fragile sense of masculinity. Thinks of hunting as an excuse to wear clothing with lots of pockets.