Esther Cepeda: The problem is written all over Ted Cruz’s face

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Esther Cepeda
March 28, 2015

CHICAGO -- Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz, native of Canada, junior senator of Texas and lover of Wagner, has thrown his hat into the ring to be the Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential election.

But it’s not his hat that many recoil from so much as it is the head beneath it. Let’s talk about the elephant in Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign: his face.

OK, it’s symmetrical in its composition, not too pudgy or gaunt—all in all, a fine face, really. Some might even say he has the face of an angel. Not me, mind you, but some. Like the funsters over at The Verge who cleverly noted that Cruz’s Twitter avatar bears a striking resemblance to Jesus Christ.

“Let’s really relish, for example, the candidate’s oddball Internet acumen, like Cruz’s Twitter avatar, which is the most blatant Jesus pose a person can hold without blaspheming the Lamb of God,” wrote Chris Plante on the day Cruz formally announced his candidacy. “Scrolling through Ted Cruz’s Twitter stream is like shopping at a Christian bookstore or cleaning out my grandmother’s guest bedroom. Cruz knows his demo. … A picture’s worth a thousand words.”

But, marketing acumen and religious symbolism aside, that’s not the Ted Cruz most of us have come to know.

The Cruz who has most often graced the real estate of our newspapers and web pages has appeared angry, disgusted, tired of your pathetic silliness, done with your sophomoric suggestions, knowing (more than you, duh), barely tolerant (of your ridiculous ideas), superior in every way, extremely self-satisfied and, most often, brimming with contempt.

Those less charitable than me have compared his face to the “tragedy” half of the comedy/tragedy mask common in theater logos. Me? I see the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of “The Divine Comedy.” Go ahead, Google it, and see the portraits of Dante in a full-on grimace. You’ll see. It’s uncanny.

But where Dante may have been experiencing what some have described as psychotic distress, most certainly from his political, emotional and financial difficulties, Cruz seems simply tired of those of us who aren’t as committed to Christianity or as disgusted with the government as he is.

We’re to be pitied, really, since anyone who might not find him palatable as an elected representative of the entire country is just, well, daft. Cruz’s conservatism is not so much a political ideology as it is, to him, simply the right and only way to be.

Watching him on “CBS This Morning” the day after his announcement, you saw that Cruz is undaunted. His tilted head, frowning lips, shrugged shoulders and hands upturned in gestures of incredulousness lead you to view his politics as anything other than “speaking the truth” and “defending common sense.”

Facial expression expert Paul Ekman’s research for the National Institute of Mental Health tells us that the mouth’s expression of contempt—lip corners raised or tightened, usually more to one side of the face than the other—is universally understood across cultures, especially when combined with head and eye position changes.

Contempt, as you may well know, is the No. 1 sign or predictor of a failing relationship. Contempt telegraphs disdain, disrespect, loathing and other things that you and I and most people don’t want in the leader of the free world. Writing on the website of Progress Texas, Ed Espinoza declared “Ted Cruz Has a Latino Voter Problem.” To say that the Canadian immigrant—who has been labeled anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant by Latino advocacy organizations across the U.S.—”has never demonstrated an ability to grow support among Latino voters” is putting it lightly.

And it’s not just Hispanics. There are too many repulsed Republicans to quote here, but I like the irony of David Brooks, The New York Times’ conservative columnist, who said last April: “It doesn’t help that he has a face that looks a little like Joe McCarthy, actually. So, you know, I find him a little off-putting.”

Mark my words: Whether you agree with some or none of Cruz’s conservative positions, his potential for success will come down to his ability to rein in his smug, just-so-disappointed-in-all-of-you facial expressions.

Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is es[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.



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