Memetic Warfare 101: A Retrospective Case Study on The Fall of Ted Cruz's Campaign
I think I stand with most people when I say that this year’s election cycle has been a strange one. Both the Republican and Democratic primaries have been hotly contested by a very unlikely cast of characters. On the blue side we have a former First Lady, Secretary of State, and under-qualified server administrator squaring off against a legitimate grassroots socialist movement led by a man who didn't collect a steady paycheck until he was 40 years old. On the red side we started with a pool of 17 candidates including:
- The brother of a former president whose energy level matches the applause provided by his supporters
- A surgeon turned politician who had a hard time staying awake during debates
- A bombastic real-estate mogul with questionable net worth and even more questionable policies
- A religious senator suspected of multiple affairs and purported to be the Zodiac Killer
- A Myriad of diverse(ish) political personalities trying to navigate their way to the White House
As of writing it seems both teams have all but confirmed their candidates. The blue team decided the Secretary is moving into a bigger office and the red team seems mostly fine with the mogul expanding his empire to include government property. There are grassroots movements growing on both sides of the political spectrum, and somewhere in this analysis there may be a point to be made about this election having the most diverse set of legitimate contenders in years. But I’m not here to talk about that…
Come With Me If You Want to Meme
Let’s go back to the 4th bullet point on the red team's list. Now, I (along with most reasonable people) don’t actually think Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer. But if you ask your own social circles what they think of Ted Cruz, it's likely someone jokingly responds that he spends his weekends creating astrological cryptograms. There was even a survey taken in Florida where 38% of participants said Ted Cruz may be the Zodiac Killer.
While the results of that poll reflect some participants being facetious, it does highlight an interesting fact about this election: internet memes and hashtags such as #ZodiacTed are having a real impact on the perception, the favorability, and ultimately the electability of presidential candidates. Candidates on both sides have spent time being shelled by the internet’s meme-cannon, but the salvos fired on the Republican side have been particularly brutal. Marco Rubio has enjoyed being #LittleMarco, Jeb Bush was too #LowEnergy to keep up with this year's primary, and it seems that #HungryKasich's restaurant tour has finally come to an end. However, during the primaries no candidate was meme-d quite as hard as #LyingTed Cruz.
Cruz has been under fire from all social media outlets, and with particular zeal by 4chan’s /pol/, Reddit’s /r/The_Donald, and Donald Trump’s very own outspoken twitter feed. At this point it might actually be impossible to catalog every Ted Cruz meme on the internet, but I want to focus on one particular campaign that may have been the final nail in the coffin of the Cruz candidacy.
The Meme That Broke The Camel's Back
During the month of March, Cruz was the last man standing between Donald Trump and the nomination. While far behind in delegates, he still stood a chance of taking the primary to a contested convention. There, hopefully with the RNC's backing, he could sway enough delegates to win the nomination. Things were almost looking up for Cruz until seemingly out of the blue The National Enquirer accused Ted Cruz of having 5 secret mistresses. Most people know to take what TNE says with a full shaker of salt, but because we're in an election year many internet sleuths decided this was worth investigating.
Although evidence was compiled from multiple sources, 4Chan's /pol/ and Reddit's /r/The_Donald did an excellent job identifying the alleged mistresses, compiling evidence and creating a timeline of Amanda Carpenter's whereabouts during the alleged affairs. While much of the evidence is circumstantial at best, Trump supporters all over the internet made the #CruzSexScandal the focus of their meme-ing efforts(NSFW). The evidence gathered by 4chan and Reddit eventually made its way into smaller publications before ultimately reaching the mainstream media. The barrage of tweets, memes, and discussion was so intense that for the following two weeks, the affair was the single most discussed item related to Ted Cruz on Google; By the end of the next polling cycle, Ted Cruz's favorability numbers plummeted.
Meme Magic is Real
I firmly believe that if not for 4Chan and Reddit’s over-the-top investigation and subsequent meme-ing, the #CruzSexScandal would not have been covered by main stream media outlets for as long as it was. Without the constant media circus circling the details of the alleged affairs, Cruz may have been able to hold his campaign together long enough to take the Primary to a contested convention. While this theory may sound over-blown, take note that A Hillary PAC is purported to have over spent $4,000,000 dollars on a “Correct the Record” initiative whose goal is to simultaneously shield Clinton from internet-based attacks and spearhead attacks on her behalf.
The evolution of social media in the 2016 Republican primary has been fascinating to follow, and I suspect we're just getting started. Once the general election kicks off I anticipate on-line communities on both sides of the aisle are going to wage even more intense battles of memetic warfare. Although the outcome of this election will ultimately be decided in the voting booths, it is a long road to November, and the next wave of internet madness is about to make landfall.
Do you think that my theory is complete nonsense? Do you feel like I am somehow understating the impact meme's have had on the election? Maybe you are just terrified of the fact that this is even a legitimate topic pertaining to the 2016 election. No matter what your view is, feel free to start the discussion on our Facebook, Twitter, and Subreddit!