For Achilles, it was the heel. For Samson, it was the hair. For Beast, twas' beauty. Donald Trump may appear impervious to the sharpest Republican barbs, but he has one proven weakness over the course of his four decades in overly public life: stubby fingers.
Trump has presumably had short fingers for as long as he's had fingers, but it wasn't until 1988 that anyone called attention to it. That year, Spy magazine began the practice of needling Trump at every opportunity by referring to him in virtually every story as a "short-fingered vulgarian." ("Queens-born casino profiteer" would also do.) Trump defended his honor in the New York Post, stating that "my fingers are long and beautiful, as, has been well-documented, are various other parts of my body."
In an essay last fall, former Spy editor Graydon Carter revealed how much this pissed Trump off: To this day, the Republican presidential front-runner continues to mail Carter photos of himself, and "[o]n all of them he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers." The most recent one even included a message: "See, not so short!" On Friday, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska even joined in on the fun, responding to an insult from Trump by joking, "you'd think I asked Mr @realDonaldTrump abt the length of his fingers or something important like that."
So just what do Trump's Bart Simpson hands have to do with making America great again? According to Madame La Roux's 1993 treatise on palm reading, The Practice of Classical Palmistry, quite a lot!
Disdain for detail? Impulsive? Impetuous? Hot-headed? Pushy? Obsessed with doing "big" things like building enormous buildings?
This sounds like someone we know.
Now, I don't think Trump's baby-carrot fingers have any bearing on his presidential temperament. But then, I'm not the one who routinely cites the results of post-debate online surveys conducted by the Drudge Report as some kind of science and believes that the "concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." It's only a matter of time before this shocking revelation hits voters in New Hampshire.
The first candidate to useone of the most abused clichés in electoral politics at least had the facts on his side. Just before 5 p.m. on October 11, 1948, President Harry Truman pulled into the train station in Willard, Ohio, and addressed the crowd from the rear platform. In a brief speech that lasted no longer than 12 minutes, he accused his Republican challenger, New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, of obsessing over public-opinion surveys, and then made a historic prediction. "I think he is going to get a shock on the second of November," Truman predicted. "He is going to get the results of one big poll that counts—that is the voice of the American people speaking at the ballot box."
And good for him. Four years after Gallup's preference for Republican candidates prompted congressional hearings, the preeminent polling firm predicted Dewey would win by five points. Truman won by 2 million votes. You've all seen the photo.
As candidates dealt with the increasing omnipresence of polls, Truman's mantra became a handy crutch. At first, the historical allusion was explicit. "In one respect I'm like Harry Truman about polls," Vice President Richard Nixon told the New York Times in 1959. "We share that in common, plus the fact that we both play the piano. I believe the only poll that counts is that on election day." As he prepared to face Sen. John F. Kennedy the next year, he told Democrats, "I can agree with the distinguished member of your party, Mr. Truman, when he said that the only poll that counts is the one on election day."
Nixon's habitual usage of the term helped usher it into the mainstream. In 1972, his daughter Tricia declared that "the only poll that really counts is the vote on election day." Four years later, Tricky Dick sent a private note of encouragement to his successor, President Gerald Ford: "Keep that confident, fighting spirit—and the only poll that matters will come out alright on November 2." Within two years, yet another president, Jimmy Carter, was quoting from the Book of Harry: "Look, the only poll that matters in politics is the poll that the people conduct on election day."
By 1980, when Carter was still holding out hope for the one true poll, the Times felt comfortable calling the use of the cliché a classic gesture of "politicians running behind." It has even traveled across the pond (as a corollary to the very British phrase, "Every jockey knows the fence that counts is the last one"), and found an ironic second life among college football fans.
The problem now is that it's no longer true, for wildly divergent reasons. The polls have been all over the place in 2016, and they're only getting worse because, as Jill Lepore explained in the New Yorker, the pool of people who participate in them is becoming smaller and less representative. But at the same time, the polls matter more than ever. For the first time in a party-nominating contest, they were used to split the Republican candidate field into two tiers of debates—more than a year before election day.
If the cliché is truly dead (it may be indestructible), then Donald Trump killed it. In a rebuke to the Nixons and Trumans—and basically everyone else—who came before him, he has decided that polls are, in fact, fantastic. He can rattle off the latest results off the top of his head; at the most recent debate, in South Carolina, he even corrected a moderator who misstated the size of his lead. And it's working. The effect has been to turn the polling industry into a political perpetual-motion machine; poll numbers beget media coverage about poll numbers, which beget even higher poll numbers.
After all this, maybe there's only one way this story can end:
That's Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln looking on in disbelief at the mess Trump is making of the American presidential election. It's pretty funny, at first glance, but the problem with this cover is that the only thing many of those ex-presidents would find confusing about Trump is the television he's on.
Where to start? Teddy Roosevelt backed a racist imperial war and said white women using birth control were committing "race suicide" by turning their country over to less-fair-skinned hordes. FDR, the architect of Japanese internment, actually did the thing that people are calling Trump a fascist for defending—and kept the internment camps open long after they'd been deemed unnecessary in order to win a presidential election. I don't know what else to say about JFK other than that his personal life makes Trump look like Ned Flanders, and he started a land war in Asia we're still recovering from. George Washington owned people and bought an election by getting people drunk. All four were born into privilege. And Abe Lincoln—okay, let's not speak ill of the dead; that man slayed vampires.
The point here is that what is distasteful about Trump is not that he offends old-fashioned American values; Trump is distasteful because he taps into certain old-fashioned American values—nativism, brash tough talk, slow-burning authoritarianism; family dynasties—that have played a not-inconsequential role throughout our history.
The worst-case scenario for a Trump presidency is that he will do the very things those horrified ex-presidents did.
As a high school senior in the Houston suburbs in the spring of 1988, Ted Cruz sketched out a five-part plan for the rest of his life: go to Princeton, attend Harvard Law, become a lawyer, run for office—and win the presidency.
This ambition trajectory was detailed in his bio for a traveling club he belonged to as a teenager called the Constitutional Corroborators. Founded by a former vaudeville performer named Roland Storey, the troupe of high schoolers entertained Rotary Clubs and other civic groups across Texas reciting portions of the Constitution from memory. Another former Corroborator, Laura Calaway, dug up the program last week and posted it on Medium, along with a photo of a young Cruz eating a gummy bear.
Cruz appears to have followed the career path he sketched out in high school to a tee. He attended Princeton as an undergraduate and majored in political science (go ahead, read his thesis). Then he moved on to Harvard Law School (where he may or may not have formed a study group that excluded students who attended "minor Ivies"). He had a successful law practice, was appointed to political office, ran successfully for Senate, and now has a better shot than most at winning the presidency.
The Corroborators' year-end speech competition fell short of a Hollywood happy ending, however. As Calaway (a Hillary Clinton supporter) happily notes, she placed first while Cruz came in a disappointing third.
With the bromance between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump over, the mogul turned GOP front-runner has begun trash talking the senator from Texas. "He's a nasty guy," Trump recently huffed. "Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him." For members of the politerati, this was no revelation. As Cruz has quickly climbed the political ladder, he has left a long line of associates who complain, without much prompting, that he is an insufferable schmuck.
A prominent aide to George W. Bush's 2000 campaign could barely contain himself when we asked him to discuss Cruz, who worked in the campaign's policy shop. This person described Cruz as hyper-arrogant and widely despised, and he emphasized—over and over—that the pervasive dislike of Cruz within the Bush ranks had nothing to do with ideology. (Cruz, he noted, never objected to Bush's call for compassionate conservatism, immigration reform, and national education standards, and no one on the campaign regarded him as an ideologue.) The problem was simple: his personality.
"That's exactly what he was: a big asshole," says a campaign veteran who worked with Cruz.
"Ted thought he was an expert on everything," says this campaign veteran, who asked not to be named. "He was a smart and talented guy, but completely taken with himself and his own ideas. He would offer up opinions on everything, even matters outside his portfolio. He was a policy guy, but he would push his ideas on campaign strategy. He would send memos on everything to everyone. He would come to meetings where he wasn't invited—and wasn't wanted." In fact, this Bush alum recalls, "the quickest way for a meeting to end would be for Ted to come in. People would want out of that meeting. People wouldn't go to a meeting if they knew he would be there. It was his inability to be part of the team. That's exactly what he was: a big asshole."
The Bush vet goes on: "I don't know anyone who had a decent relationship with Cruz." And when Bush became president, his top campaign aides agreed Cruz should not be offered a job in the White House. "No one wanted to work with him," this source remembers. "George W. Bush couldn't stand the guy." This person adds, "It's a real quandary for Bush campaign people: Trump versus Cruz, who to vote for? And it would be a big quandary even if it's Cruz versus Hillary Clinton. That's how much they cannot stand him."
It may be easy for someone to lob anonymous shots at Cruz. But there are plenty of others, including prominent Republicans, who have not been shy about sharing their feelings about Cruz on the record. Here is a quick guide to Cruz's loudest detractors:
Fighting words: The 1996 Republican presidential nominee and former senator from Kansas told the New York Times last week that Cruz would be an ineffective president because "nobody likes him." He explained: "He doesn't have any friends in Congress. He called the leader of the Republicans [Mitch McConnell] a liar on the Senate floor. If you want to call somebody a liar in the Senate, you go to their office—you don't go on the Senate floor and make it public."
The beef: Last fall, Cruz mocked the failed candidacies of Dole, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, citing their efforts as evidence of the electoral impotence of mainline Republicans. But the feud with Dole began in 2014, when Cruz led a last-minute push to defeat the UN Treaty on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. He claimed the accord threatened American sovereignty. Dole, who suffered a disabling injury while serving in World War II, had come to the Senate floor in his wheelchair to lobby for passage of the treaty.
Bob Dole likes every GOP candidate in the field—except for the one he whispers at the end of this video: https://t.co/i7XGzyWdJW
Fighting words: McCain called Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul, and Rep. Justin Amash "wacko birds" in 2013. Last spring, McCain derided Cruz after Cruz boasted he had been leaning on McCain to loosen restrictions regarding guns on military bases. "It came as a complete surprise to me that he had been pressing me; maybe it was some medium that I'm not familiar with," McCain told Politico. "Maybe it was through, you know, hand telegraph; maybe sign language. Ask him how he communicated with me because I'd be very interested." In January, McCain suggested that Cruz might not be eligible for the presidency because he was born in Canada. "He fucking hates Cruz," a McCain adviser told GQ. "He's just offended by his style."
The beef: McCain considered Cruz's treatment of Dole unforgivable. "It was the most embarrassing day in my time in the Senate, to force Bob Dole to watch that," he told the New Yorker. And he certainly holds no warm feelings for Cruz, who once said he was "embarrassed" to have supported McCain in 2008. But McCain's hatred of Cruz is not just personal. It has a policy component: The two have clashed on drones, NSA data collection, and the nomination of McCain's friend Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense.
George W. Bush
Fighting words: "I just don't like the guy," the former president said in October.
The beef: Cruz worked as a policy adviser for Bush's 2000 campaign. But while most of Cruz's colleagues on the campaign got White House jobs, Cruz ended up at the Federal Trade Commission—an indication he had alienated his campaign comrades. Explaining W's dislike of Cruz, a Jeb Bush donor told Politico that "he sort of looks at this like Cruz is doing it all for his own personal gain, and that's juxtaposed against a family that's been all about public service and doing it for the right reasons. He's frustrated to have watched Cruz basically hijack the Republican Party of Texas and the Republican Party in Washington." Bush consigliere Karl Rove told Fox News that Dubya was particularly upset that Cruz had questioned Bush's nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts—whom Cruz himself had once praised.
The beef: Where to start? Cruz has served as a cheerleader for the House Freedom Caucus, the band of arch-conservatives who made Boehner's job all but impossible. He trod so heavily on Boehner's turf that he earned the nickname "Speaker Cruz." Cruz pushed for a government shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood, and then he accused Boehner of selling out conservatives to cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi. When Boehner resigned, Cruz took a victory lap.
Rep. Peter King
Fighting words: When CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked the Long Island Republican if he would support Cruz as the nominee, King replied, "I hope that day never comes; I will jump off that bridge when we come to it." He has called Cruz a "carnival barker," a "counterfeit" with "no qualifications" who appeals "to the lowest common denominator," and "just a guy with a big mouth and no results."
The beef: King was one of the House Republicans most upset with Cruz's push for a government shutdown in 2013, which he considered disastrous for the party. "If you come up with a strategy that's going to shutdown the government of the United States, and you have no way of winning, you're either a fraud or you're totally incompetent," King told CNN.
Sen. Lindsey Graham
Fighting words: "He is an opportunist, he's a libertarian when it is hot," the senator from South Carolina told RealClearPolitics, adding that Cruz "has done more to allow ISIL to gain a foothold in Syria than any senator other than Rand Paul." Last week, Graham said picking between Trump and Cruz was like having to choose "death by being shot or poisoning," and he said the party would be better off if it picked "somebody out of the phone book."
The beef: Graham thinks Cruz has blocked national security measures for personal gain, and he rebuked the Texan for suggesting Hagel had received money from the North Korean government.
He was infamous for firing off mundane work e-mails in the middle of the night—it happened so often that some in the Bush campaign suspected him of writing them ahead of time and programming his computer to send while he was asleep. He was also known for dispatching regular updates on his accomplishments that one recipient likened to "the cards people send about their families at Christmas, except Ted's were only about him and were more frequent."
Supreme Court clerks
Fighting words: Former clerks who had worked at the Supreme Court when Cruz was clerking for Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissed his "dime store novel" write-ups of death penalty cases.
The beef: The New York Times reported that Cruz's fellow clerks believed he was "obsessed" with capital punishment and noted that clerks took offense at the airy tone with which he discussed executions when the court received last-minute appeals for a stay.
The beef: GQ reported that Cruz started a study group during his first year in Cambridge, but he announced that "he didn't want anybody from 'minor Ivies' like Penn or Brown." In an interview with the Boston Globe, another student recalled what happened when she agreed to carpool with Cruz: "We hadn't left Manhattan before he asked my IQ."
His Princeton roommate
Fighting words: "I would rather have anybody else be the president of the United States," screenwriter Craig Mazin told the Daily Beast in 2013. "Anyone. I would rather pick somebody from the phone book." On Twitter, Mazin—who has called Cruz "a nightmare of a human being"—recalled that when he was a freshman sharing a dorm room with Cruz, he would get invited to parties hosted by seniors because the upperclassmen pitied him. Cruz, he notes, "was that widely loathed. It's his superpower."
Getting emails blaming me for not smothering Ted Cruz in his sleep in 1988. What kind of monster do you think I am? A really prescient one?
The beef: It's personal. "I have plenty of problems with his politics, but truthfully his personality is so awful that 99 percent of why I hate him is just his personality," he said on the Scriptnotes podcast. According to Mazin, Cruz would hit snooze on his alarm clock over and over again, and he refused to stop doing this when Mazin asked. Also, Mazin says, Cruz was just weird. "I remember very specifically that he had a book in Spanish and the title was Was Karl Marx a Satanist?," Mazin told the Daily Beast. "And I thought, who is this person?"
Everyone else at Princeton
Fighting words: Per the Daily Beast, "Several fellow classmates who asked that their names not be used described the young Cruz with words like 'abrasive,' 'intense,' 'strident,' 'crank,' and 'arrogant.' Four independently offered the word 'creepy.'"
People might think Craig is exaggerating. He's not. I met Ted freshman week and loathed him within the hour. https://t.co/2ZrbTdjHJh
The beef: It's tough to pinpoint any one cause, but Cruz made female students uncomfortable by frequently walking to their end of the floor in his freshman dorm, wearing only a paisley bathrobe. When he announced his bid for president of the school's debate society, the other members had a secret meeting to pick an anyone-but-Cruz candidate. The eventual winner later acknowledged that "my one qualification for the office was that I was not Ted Cruz."
Fighting words: "If you want someone to grab a beer with, I may not be that guy," Cruz said at a Republican debate in October.
The beef: Being well liked is not everything. At least that seemed to be the point Cruz was making about himself. He added, "But if you want someone to drive you home, I will get the job done and I will get you home."