David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote in his January 12 column this about Ted Cruz:
But in his career and public presentation Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace. Cruz’s behavior in the Haley case is almost the dictionary definition of pharisaism: an overzealous application of the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy.
Brooks's column caused a spike in lookups of pharisaism as readers were eager to compare Brooks's "dictionary definition" with an actual dictionary definition. Brooks is a little more expansive than the dictionary: we define this particular use of pharisaism as "pharisaical character, spirit, or attitude : self-righteousness, sanctimoniousness, hypocrisy."
His comparison between Christian virtue and pharisaism is an apt one: the attitude is named for a sect of 1st-century Judaism. Pharisees were known for their strict observation and application of the Torah as well as their oral tradition surrounding the Torah. According to the New Testament, Jesus frequently called out the Pharisees for their rigid zeal for and application of the Law that did not allow room for justice or mercy, and he set up his own teachings about faith and true religion in opposition to the Pharisees' teachings. When the name of the sect was borrowed into English, speakers focused more on the supposed hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the original Pharisees rather than their neglect of justice. The connotation, however, is still there, as evidenced by Brooks' "dictionary definition."
How did Ted Cruz respond to Brooks's charge? "When I was elected he said he 'didn't like my face' and now he says I'm 'Satanic,'" he tweeted. (For the record, the word satanic does not appear in Brooks' column.)