Commentary Magazine


The GOP Field and Liberal Identity Politics

How far can you go in pushing a public figure on his or her racial, ethnic or gender identity? If you’re a liberal, you know there are lines that the press dare never cross. If you’re a conservative, especially one despised by the liberal establishment, there are no such lines. We got a taste of that late last week when Mark Halperin interviewed Senator Ted Cruz on his BloombergPolitics cable show. After discussing some policy issues, Halperin decided to give Cruz a Hispanic identity test, checking to see if he could name favorite foods, music and then demanding that he speak in Spanish. As Ruben Naverette wrote in the San Jose Mercury News, Haplerin did everything except ask Cruz to “play the conga drums like Desi Arnaz.” Suffice it to say this is not a ploy Halperin would pull on a Hispanic Democrat. But rather than put it down to the usual fun and games of liberal bias and partisanship, this piece of snark is about something much more serious: the notion that Hispanics, blacks or women who are conservatives, aren’t authentic members of those groups. We can expect to see a lot of it in the coming months as the liberal media copes with a breathtakingly diverse Republican presidential field and seeks to brand them as inauthentic.

What Halperin did to Cruz was merely another example of the identity wars that are being fought in contemporary politics. Just as women who don’t support abortion without any restrictions are portrayed as not really female by the left, so, too are blacks and Hispanics who don’t toe the Democrat party line treated as somehow inauthentic minorities.

But while it’s one thing for political operatives to operate in that fashion, it’s quite another for a reporter who likes to pretend to be playing it down the middle to play this game. Halperin is best known to television audiences as a frequent member of panels on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program where he masquerades as one of the adults in the room. But as Naverette wrote, neither Obama’s Housing Secretary Joaquin Castro, nor his twin brother Rep. Joaquin Castro speaks fluent Spanish. Yet it is as unimaginable that either would be quizzed in the same manner about their background, as it would be to probe anyone of any other ethnicity about whether they were entitled to it. In this instance it would be instructive to recall the way most of the liberal media ignored the kerfuffle about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s somewhat dubious claims to the status of Native American.

As it happens, Cruz has never made his Cuban lineage central to his political career except in the sense that his father’s experience as an immigrant that fled Cuba taught him valuable lessons about American exceptionalism and the need to struggle for opportunity and liberty. But because he’s a vocal opponent of amnesty for illegal immigrants, he’s assumed to be a fake Hispanic. You don’t have to be a fan of Cruz’s politics to understand that this sort of journalism isn’t about finding out more about someone who is running for president. Rather, the purpose was to try and label him as an inauthentic minority. Had Halperin or anyone else done this to the Castros, apologies would have been demanded and suspensions would be discussed.

But this minor controversy does go to the heart of what is wrong about most of the talk about the need for Republicans to appeal to Hispanic voters.

Pundits are right when they say the GOP must do more to reach out to Hispanics. But the discussion about this issue centers almost exclusively on whether Republicans are prepared to embrace a path to citizenship for illegals or stop talking about the need to secure the border against new waves of people crossing the border without permission. There are cogent arguments to be made about the need for resolving the status of those already here by means that don’t include unrealistic expectations about them being deported. But as important as that may be, Hispanic voters, who come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and are not monolithic in nature, have other interests beside the fate of illegals. And, contrary to the assumptions of the mainstream media, they can differ about amnesty just as women can differ about abortion.

It’s one thing to denounce conservative Hispanics as wrong on the issues. It’s quite another to treat them as crypto Anglo-Saxons. But with two Republican presidential candidates of Hispanic background (Cruz and fellow Cuban-American Marco Rubio) and one GOP hopeful that is a woman (Carly Fiorina) and another an African America (Ben Carson), the liberal authenticity police will be out in force. But rather than merely ignore them as Cruz, who kept his cool with Halperin did, this insidious bias needs to be shown for what it is: a desire by the media to delegitimize anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideas about identity politics as interpreted through the catechism of liberal ideology.


On Monday, Mark Halperin apologized to Senator Ted Cruz for his egregious questions. But the apology, which claimed the interview was intended to be “lighthearted” rather than an effort to test Cruz’s authenticity as a Latino, was delivered in standard non-apology style in which he said he was sorry “to those who were offended

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One Response to “The GOP Field and Liberal Identity Politics”

  1. M LOUIS OFFEN says:

    Imagine if Cruz had noted in conclusion that just as he is a hyphenated American, namely Cuban-American, Halperin is a hyphenated American, namely Jewish-American, and asked Halperin to say what Jewish food he regularly ate, what Jewish music he particularly liked, and would he speak a little Hebrew, or Yiddish, or maybe Ladino for his listeners. Now, that would have proved interesting, wouldn’t it have?

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