More than a month ago, acquaintances who support Sen. Ted Cruz — or, more accurately, despise Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama — parroted ad nauseam Cruz’s talking points about “radical Islamic terrorism.”
“Why won’t they say ‘radical Islamic terrorism’?” they asked me, perhaps thinking I am a part of the Clinton and Obama inner circles. “How can we defeat ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ when we have a president who refuses to say those words?”(Spoiler alert: Obama said them as recently as Dec. 6, as you’ll see below.)
It was if they were speaking from the same briefing distributed in the same clubhouse, or from the same long-running thread of email forwards. It was as if someone said, “Go out and ask all your liberal friends this.” It turned up everywhere, and I wondered if people truly believed that saying those three words held the key to prevailing against evil. There was a crazed obsessiveness about those words, or their absence from the speeches of Democratic leaders, that reminded me of Sam Kinison’s character in “Back to School” screaming “Say it! Say it!” at Rodney Dangerfield.
I watched the Republican debate Tuesday night curious to see if Cruz would double down on the phrase in the aftermath of the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. Instead, he tripled down on them, as noted by others watching and commenting on Twitter.
Radical Islamic Terrorism Radical Islamic Terrorism Radical Islamic Terrorism Said by Ted Cruz 3x in a single answer.
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) December 16, 2015
And the number of the counting shall not be three, because there was more.
"Radical Islamic terrorism" was invoked 15 times in last night's debate. Sure enough, all but one from Ted Cruz. https://t.co/uWkgSy4MXc
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) December 16, 2015
Last month, Cruz evaded a question by Jonathan Karl of ABC News by asking Karl if Karl could say “radical Islamic terrorism.”
— Mark R Matthews (@MarkRMatthews) December 16, 2015
Cruz wouldn’t say it so often and for so long if it didn’t resonate with the type of people he wants voting for him, including Trump supporters he hopes to acquire by the primaries. As evidenced by the exchange with Karl and in the debate Tuesday night, Cruz is dropping it into conversation wherever he can. Good morning, Sen. Cruz. “Can you say radical Islamic terrorism?” What would you like for lunch, Sen. Cruz. “Can you say radical Islamic terrorism?” He reminds me of evangelizing Christians who will enter your personal space and ask if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. What’s more, Cruz has a lot of people repeating the phrase, including other GOP candidates. It has the feel of people working off a script, perhaps because they’re unable to do their own thinking.
One reason I watched the debate was to see whether Cruz would keep hitting this theme even after Obama mentioned radical Islamic terrorism in his Dec. 6 address to the nation in the wake of the San Bernardino killings. From that address:
It’s right there. The two went “down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam” and committing an “act of terrorism.” Obama said it, just not in the way Cruz wants him to say it — like Dorothy, believing that simply by saying a few words, magic will happen. “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” While clicking her heels, of course.
I’m not alone in seeing this obsession Cruz has with such magical thinking.
Ted Cruz: "Obama killed Bin Laden. But I will say 'Radical Islamic Terrorism' three times quickly and we will be safe again." #GOPDebate
— The Daily Edge (@TheDailyEdge) December 16, 2015
Ted Cruz’s argument right now: If you say “Radical Islamic Terrorism,” it’ll go away. Or something.
— Jack Jenkins (@jackmjenkins) December 16, 2015
#iNews9K BREAKING: Ted Cruz demands Obama say the words 'Simon Says Radical Islamic Terrorism.'
— 3 WisemenPRT (@WiselinePRT) December 7, 2015
And Tuesday night:
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) December 16, 2015
I nodded Dec. 6 after Obama said the lines cited above, because I knew he’d just said what he supposedly was afraid of saying, and that he wouldn’t get credit for it. No, he didn’t say “radical Islamic terrorism” in that exact, uninterrupted word sequence, but no reasonable person would come away from hearing that address to the nation thinking he had not mentioned radical Islamic terrorism. In fact, I admire him for phrasing it his way rather than taking the bait, as if to say he’s not going to jump through hoops to satisfy some ultimately meaningless demand or challenge by desperate, angry, calculating political foes.
But he said it. So, now what, Sen. Cruz? What else do you have?
Without getting into how slimy Cruz appears to be, how many previous snake-oil salesmen he calls to mind, how much like an evangelist he acts and talks, and how woefully inept he seems when he tries to come across as a regular guy, it’s easy in the wake of the debate to find take-downs of his attempts at laying out a strategy.
— Pete Quily (@pqpolitics) December 16, 2015
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) December 16, 2015
His absurd misunderstanding of carpet-bombing and how he’d be able to do what we’re already doing, only better, is another example of how in over his head Cruz is regarding serious foreign policy.
Cruz: Obama's strategy of bombing ISIS and arming Kurds is terrible! Instead, I would bomb ISIS and arm the Kurds.
— Nicholas Thompson (@nxthompson) December 16, 2015
"…By targeting the bad guys" – thanks for the detailed ISIS strategy Ted Cruz.
— John Avlon (@JohnAvlon) December 16, 2015
Which is probably why he sticks to repeating what he sees as magic words, the apparently foolproof incantation that leads to victory over ISIS, and convincing his followers that we’re in the mess we’re in because of liberals’ refusal to use those three magic words.
For him, and for his followers, I have three more appropriate words: Shock and Awe.