Mother Jones lists all of the many derogatory
expressions used to describe Cruz throughout his career—"pompous a**hole," "carnival barker," "hyper arrogant," and "widely despised" among them—to answer the question of whether Cruz is "Really an Awful, Terrible Jerk?" (Conclusion: yes.) In April, Wonkette went even further
back, chronicling Cruz's Princeton and Harvard years in a post entitled "Portrait of a Young A**hole," a tale of a younger Cruz's classroom misogyny, belligerence at pizza shops, and refusal to associate with anyone at "lesser Ivies." (That would be anything besides Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.)
So how to explain Cruz's success in a business as people-oriented as politics? Even members of his own party, from George W. Bush to Bob Dole to John McCain, describe him
as someone that people "cannot stand" -- a "counterfeit" with "no qualifications."
People like Cruz are all around us, of course -- at work, in our communities, coaching our children's sports teams, running our schools. Typically, though, the impulse is to avoid them, or learn to tolerate them. Not to reward them with re-election, never mind the hope of running an entire country.
Or is it? Turns out there's actually a scientific explanation for the Cruz paradox, and that behavior like his, among people at the top, is not all that uncommon. Though likability can play a role in workplace success -- typically, though certainly not always, with female bosses -- studies show that the unlikable often find great success in their fields. There are famous examples of this: Steve Jobs, as has been widely reported, was someone who could be really cruel towards his employees. Larry Ellison has been referred to
as "the billionaire jerk."
What's more, the success these men have found is less about individuals learning to overcome their unsavory personality type and more about how and why we the public might respond favorably to such otherwise off-putting behavior.
Studies, including one published last month
in the Journal of Business and Psychology, have found that disagreeable people -- those described as argumentative, aggressive, egotistical, and hostile -- are quite excellent at getting their ideas heard. That study found subjects who worked on a project as part of a team were far more likely to have their ideas used in the final product if those subjects were described as "disagreeable."
When it comes to politics, of course, being heard is more than half the battle. That's one way to explain Trump's meteoric rise, at least. And as it has been with Trump, even if people seem outraged by what they hear from and about Ted Cruz, they keep listening, perhaps responding less to the words than to the confidence with which those words are delivered: Studies
have also shown that overconfident jerks are perceived as having more social status, which appeals to people, and also that the ruder someone acts
, the more convinced most of the rest of us become that he/she is powerful.
Cruz isn't the only politician to have benefited from the public's tendency to respond favorably to the unpleasant: When Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his presidential candidacy back in April, this site noted
that Sanders "is sometimes gruff and blunt, dispensing with social niceties and usually getting right to the point." And, well, look at him now.
No one, not even his opponents, puts Sanders in the same category as Cruz. And yet their similarities, and the studies -- not to mention the polls -- show that Cruz's odds for success may be favorable not only despite his being so detestable but, in fact, because of it. Do jerks come out on top? In this case, let's hope not. But it certainly wouldn't be the first time.