Donald Trump has had an incredible streak of good fortune during this campaign, but his biggest stroke of luck may have been running against Ted Cruz, a man so reviled by members of his own party that last night former Speaker of the House John Boehner described him as “Lucifer in the flesh,” adding, “I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”
English majors and Milton fans were quick to point out that Boehner’s comparison is unfair to Lucifer, who in Paradise Lost is portrayed as an eloquent and dignified revolutionary, while Ted Cruz is naturally, viscerally repulsive.
So if not Lucifer, then who is he? Here are a few more suggestions:
Uriah Heep (David Copperfield)
Columnist Jeet Heer suggested Uriah Heep, David Copperfield’s slimy antagonist in Charles Dickens’ 1851 novel. This analogy has a few things going for it. One, Uriah Heep styles himself as a model of virtue and “humbility.” When he invites David over to his house for dinner, his modesty and good-heartedness is the sole topic of conversation. Yet Heep is eventually exposed as a scheming hypocrite and fraud who will manipulate even his closest friends to advance his way in the world. There’s also the creep factor: Heep is so physically repulsive that when he spends the night at David’s house, David fantasizes about running him through with a hot poker.
Kenneth Widmerpool (A Dance to the Music of Time)
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat makes the case for Kenneth Widmerpool, the breakout character in Anthony Powell’s midcentury quartet “A Dance to the Music of Time.” Widmerpool isn’t as unctuous as Heep, but he is as unloved: the books’ other characters are surprised late in life to find that he’s clawed his way to an aristocratic title, a position he achieved through shrewd calculation and sheer persistence.
Severus Snape (the Harry Potter series)
Though possibly the most complex and multilayered character in the Harry Potter books, Severus Snape is defined above all by his resentment of Harry’s father for winning the affection of the love of his life, Lily James, when they were very young. Although the motives are different—Ted Cruz’s resentment stems more from his frustrated political ambitions than from spurned love—both carry the look of defeat on their faces, the cold sneer, the sense that they deserve better than what they’ve got, that occasionally hardens into pure malice. Read this scorching New Republic profile of Cruz—which paints him as the nerdy kid who hung out with adults because other kids his age didn’t like him—and try not to think of young Snape.
Antonio Salieri (Amadeus)
Not the Salieri of history, whose rivalry with Mozart was by most accounts friendly and not murderous, but the Salieri of the Peter Shaffer play that later became an Academy Award-winning movie. This Salieri has talent, a strong work ethic and limitless ambition—theoretically everything he needs to be successful, the greatest. The only problem is, there’s one person better. One person with an eerie and almost supernatural talent whose genius makes the efforts of others look wan and uninspired. Yes, in this analogy, Donald Trump is Mozart.