Candidates Quoting Movies? Please Stop.

Before dropping out of the presidential race last week following a string of losses in the Northeast and Indiana, Ted Cruz often showed his penchant for pop culture – kinda.

Between making campaign promises and hurling campaign insults, Cruz quoted The Princess Bride as requested by an evangelical pastor. He dropped a line made famous by Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire whenever he got a softball question from a supporter at a rally or town hall. Cruz referenced The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and did his best Clint Eastwood impression to appear tough, and he tried to channel Kevin Spacey’s character in The Usual Suspects to talk about the devil in the world in a speech to a conservative think-tank. He even quoted a fictitious leader-of-the-free-world, using screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s words in An American President during a television interview after The Donald seemed to question his wife’s integrity. Check it out:

And on his campaign’s final day, primary day in Indiana, Cruz warned Hoosiers that a vote for Trump was a vote for a “potential Biff Tannon presidency,” alluding to the mean-spirited antagonist in the Back to the Future movie series.

However, Trump defeated Cruz handily over the past several weeks, leading to his concession and the suspension of his presidential biff, I mean, bid. Cruz didn’t have them at ‘hello’; pop culture references didn’t seem to connect Ted with voters.

They’ve worked for me. I use pop culture references all the time in various talks and presentations I give on spirituality and prayer. I find that images and references from TV shows, movies, songs and art help people to enter into a new reality; they often help to open up an alternate way into an old question by giving a different angle or fresh words, bringing something to life anew.

But I think Ted Cruz quoted the wrong line from Sorkin’s President Shepherd character in An American President several weeks ago. Instead of referencing this movie in response to to a personal attack, he should have pointed out the larger narrative Sorkin presciently predicted:

“That’s how you win elections.” Make people fear the present. Inspire a longing for some supposedly glorified past. Find someone else to blame your problems.   

President Shepherd, played by actor Michael Douglas, seems to capture the essence of party politics today, a markedly unchanged situation from 1995, when the film debuted.

Make America Great Again.  Sound familiar?

“We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them,” Sorkin wrote hopefully. I agree. That’s a pop-culture reference I can connect with. Maybe Ted should have tried that one.

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Cover image courtesy Flickr CC user Matt Johnson, found here.

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