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Kamikaze Cruz vs The Convention

Ted Cruz is, it turns out, Ted Cruz:

Texas Senator Ted Cruz came perilously close to doing something he said he wasn’t going to do on Wednesday night.

“I want to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination last night. And like each of you, I want to see the principles that our party believes in prevail in November,” Cruz said at the Republican National Convention, but did not formally endorse the GOP standard bearer, as expected. “Vote your conscience.”

Cruz was booed by the crowd as he was wrapping up his speech that lacked a clear endorsement of Trump.

Cruz’s wife, Heidi, was escorted out of the floor by former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who told Reuters he escorted her out because he was concerned for her safety.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that it shouldn’t be the story it became. In fact, it didn’t have to be a story at all. Cruz did not insist on speaking, nor did he lie about what he was going to say. The Trump campaign (and the RNC) decided to let him speak anyway. They either took a chance that he would change his mind, or what happened is exactly what they wanted to happen. Or, more likely, they were cool either way.

In another convention, with another speaker, to a party is more secure about its nominee, this wouldn’t have been the big deal that it was. Indeed, the initial focus group response to his speech was positive. Jerry Brown declined to endorse Clinton in his 1992 speech, and Teddy Kennedy declined to endorse Jimmy Carter in 1980. Cruz’s suggestion that people should “vote their conscience” would, under most circumstances, be an accept implicit endorsement. In this case it wasn’t, due to the aforementioned insecurity in part, but mostly because the Trump family decided that they wanted a spectacle. The boos were allegedly planned and orchestrated. It’s possible that Cruz didn’t really know what he was walking into.

It’s also possible, though, that he did. Given his response to the boos and then again this morning, it seems that he was at least prepared for it. He did it anyway.

There has been some speculation as to why he did it. There are three prevailing theories:

  • Principle. This is the theory by Cruz fans and those that are at least not hostile to him. Simply put, he has moral, ethical, and ideological concerns that have not been addressed. Cutting against this theory is his embrace of Trump last year, despite most people having a pretty clear idea of his faults. On the other hand, everybody has their different line to cross. Trump has gotten progressively worse over the last year, and while for me it’s been low esteem to lower esteem, for some it calculates differently. Alternately, it could be the heathen finding god, having been unprincipled last year but now principled. (The hybrid theory is not popular among Trump fans, though some Rubio fans like it.)
  • Personal. He insulted Cruz’s wife and father. He touched on that in his morning discussion with the Texas delegation. Would you endorse someone who did that? Personally, I would have a hard time with it, though in the right circumstances I would. I’d liken it to voting for Ted Cruz in the primary when Donald Trump is the alternative, actually.
  • Political. He made the calculation that Donald Trump is going to lose, and that he will look better by not tying himself to that anchor. It’s all about positioning from 2020 and beyond. This theory has been popular among the horse race analysts.

If it was the third, it was a flawed strategy. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. There is a reason that most of those that have come down hard on Trump are those out of the game or on their way out. The best position for a Republican politician to take while waiting to see which way the wind blows has been the spineless posture of Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and others. If you can’t do that, going the Kasich route of refusing to endorse is the next “best” thing. Those that are enthusiastically embracing Trump, and those that won’t let go of the antagonism, are both taking risks that politicians usually avoid.

But while Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse are taking a risk, it may be a good one. For Cruz, however, it looks like a loser to me. If Trump explodes, nobody’s going to turn to him to rebuild the coalition. His entire political strategy has been to box people into a corner. He spearheaded the Shutdown with the threat that anyone who doesn’t back him will get primaried. He ran for president with a strategy of a plurality victory that force the party to back “the nominee” no matter how much they hated him (oh, the irony). He allied himself with Trump last year because he believed if he could get into a one-on-one with him, the party would have to back him. It is a very logical plan that is completely divorced from the way people work. It’s unlikely to work here.

There have been some discussions as to whether Cruz ’20 is more like Santorum ’16 or Romney ’12, but this makes it a lot more likely that it is the former rather than the latter. This may or may not demonstrate “principle” but a lot of the people he needs don’t like his principles. This mostly reminds people that it is incredibly hard to get him to play ball. I previously expected him to decline to run for re-election and then work on mending some fences to build a coalition of Cruz Wasn’t So Bad Was He? At this stage, he will likely need to run for re-election, and there is a decent chance that Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick will challenge him to keep his seat.

For me personally, this has wiped my slate with Ted Cruz clean and put everything back to zero. I’m not a sudden fan of his, but previous sins have been forgiven. He has the opportunity to redeem himself that wasn’t really there before. But since he’s Ted Cruz and I didn’t decide to dislike him randomly, I expect him more or less to do the things that lead me to dislike him in the first place. In that sense, Kamikaze Cruz is quite possibly a win-win for me.

And for Cruz, if nothing works out for him after this, he will always have this, which is a moment in history few get. In the strangest election in a lifetime, he was going to have a part. Now he has a bigger part, and a better one.

Image by Gage Skidmore Kamikaze Cruz vs The Convention


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126 thoughts on “Kamikaze Cruz vs The Convention

  1. Look, if he’d explicitly said “Screw this guy” and not even attended (like every former President and a whole bunch of bigwig GOP politicians), that’s one thing. Getting up there and giving a speech notable because he didn’t say “Vote for Trump” (but didn’t say vote against him either)? That’s…wishy-washy at best. It’s having your cake and eating it.

    If Trump loses, he can claim he was against Trump and point to the speech. If Trump wins, he can explain that he was unsure of Trump but clearly supporting the party, and point to the speech.

    Not that it matters, because Ted Cruz is a notorious a**hole, so frankly he’ll put himself right back into “WTF, dude” territory soon enough anyways.

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  2. The multi-billion dollar question is what happens to the GOP after Trump. Does it depend on whether Trump wins, Trump loses and takes the GOP down with him, and/or Trump loses but the GOP manages to retain a majority in the house and/or Senate?

    I don’t think anyone really knows. Cruz seems to be betting on Trump losing and the GOP elite behind the doors doing things to make sure that there are no future Trumps.

    There is a chance that Trumpism is here to stay though and the GOP will go further into the politics of cultural grievance and white identity as they have been doing for many decades now.

    Or maybe a Trump loss will be bad for the Trump and Cruz wings. I don’t know…..

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    • The multi-billion dollar question is what happens to the GOP after Trump.

      Well, yeah. And assuming that Cruz is planning for the 2020 nomination, what’s his game plan? If I were offering advice, it would be to hope Trump loses, then slowly position himself as “Cruz the populist” by wrapping things that at least sound sane around parts of Trump’s platform. That is, it wasn’t the message, it was the messenger. Today George will said that the US is a left-center country now. I normally have almost no use for George (aside from his opposition to the designated hitter rule), but still…

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      • I agree with George Will I think. The country seems on its way to a realignment from being center-right to center-left. I suspect we will see a lot of fight and entrenchment to make sure this happens as late as possible in some or many quarters. There are lots of issues and complications though.

        Plenty of people in my age cohort are still GOP leaning though not as much as say people who were around 10 or 12 in 1980 when Reagan became cohort.

        Thought, suppose Johnson wins 13 percent of the vote. Most of this will probably come from the Republican camp. Can the Libertarians become the second party in the U.S.?

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          • There’s the fact that the LP’s platform is, in fact, incredibly unpopular once people learn what it is.

            Which is what made their debates fantastic from an audience perspective.

            So an LP that emerges from irrelevance will not be recognizable to their supporters now.

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    • Well, I expect that “We’re not gonna get blacks or Hispanics anytime soon” is probably item number 1.

      Also, I suppose outreach to the groups alienated by Dubya (anyone under what, 30 now?) is probably off the table after this mess.

      So I suspect the GOP is going to be stuck either trying to figure out how to drive a very small demographic out to the polls in record-breaking %s or double-down on suppressing voting — either via voter ID laws or trying to make politics so toxic it turns voters away from voting.

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      • And the voting ID laws just got two big defeats yesterday that the Supreme Court is unlikely to reverse. Though I suspect the GOP will keep trying. Honestly at this point they are ideologically bound and committed which is fine if you are willing to be a minority party for your ideals. But the GOP seems to want to rule as well but not change their ideology even if a majority disagrees with it.

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        • A Full Trump party is ideologically changed (on the economic policy end if nothing else) and is not necessarily a minority party.

          Either way the party is likely to need to make some changes one way or another. Those changes may not be what people assume, though (ie embracing immigration reform).

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          • I think an economically populist party can win. I don’t think they can win Trump’s numbers among minority voters. HRC was pushed to the left economically by Sanders so economic populism is more in the air except among selected GOP old-guarders and the libertarian set who like “income inequality” is good contrarianism.

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            • White women and unmarried whites currently repelled by economic policy about the focus on certain social issues.

              The notion that it’s just impossible for a party to win without minority support is something we tell ourselves because the alternative is too depressing.

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              • Bouie covered this a few months ago. Trump and subsequent Republicans would need to win millions more of the white vote and the demographics are changing.

                There are still plenty of white voters who strongly identify as Democratic. White women have been drifting more and more to the D column as the GOP seems unable to prevent people like Aiken from getting nominated to candidacy.

                Lindsay Graham was right. There are not enough angry white dudes for the GOP to replenish their vote.

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                • I don’t believe Trump can. That’s why I don’t think he’s going to win. That’s a different question than what can happen in the future with a coalition built over time.

                  People assume that our future multicultural electorate looks like California and not like Texas.

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                  • The truth will probably be somewhere inbetween. I don’t expect Texas to be a solidly blue state like California or Massachusetts but I do think it can become another Colorado or Florida and that is dangerous for the GOP.

                    George Will seems to think the diversification of Texas and their increased urbanity is making them more blue. Why do you think otherwise?

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                    • Election results. But that Texas is currently red is not why I mention it.

                      I mention Texas primarily as an example of what a consolidated white vote looks like. And that it can exist within a diversified electorate. Sometimes, it’s more likely to.

                      I don’t think it’s anywhere near impossible to consolidate the white vote in Wisconsin, Michigan, and other northern states.

                      Trump’s problem is that you can’t do it without women. Cruz’s problem is that you can’t do it without the irreligious voters and those who want or need bigger government. But these are not things that can be figured out, especially if there is a huge recession or scandal coming from the other side.

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                      • Texas had a consolidated white vote because it’s population, prior to the last 10-15 years consisted of conservative white people in conservative professions (defense industry, oil & gas, etc.).

                        As the George Will article pointed out, as more non-conservative white people move into the state (ie. tech sector) and the state diversifies, it’d becoming harder for that conservative core to keep control of the state.

                        Plus, there aren’t that many white votes left out there who are amenable to even a milder Trumpism. They’d be maybe amendable to an actual right populist platform, but if that actually happened, you’d lose the votes of other white voters who like tax cuts.

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                      • I think we largely agree but disagree about whether it matters or not.

                        I don’t disagree on consolidating the white vote in diverse states and possibly leading to GOP control or solid red status but I think it can only exist for so long. Will seems to think the tide is turning on this strategy in Texas. Texas also has a substantial number of Hispanics who can be convinced to vote socially conservative as long as you are not too anti-immigrant. Trump might be turning this though.

                        Pete Wilson tried to do the Texas thing in California and ended up destroying the California GOP.

                        Again, the phrase white vote seems void for vagueness. I’m Jewish and that muddles me but I know plenty of people who are white and Christian and too my left and this is not an insubstantial number of people. When you talk about Cruz’s problem, I basically read it as white people can be loyal Democratic and liberal too.

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                        • You are not at all who I have in mind when I talk about Cruz’s problem.

                          If the national white electorate is like the California white electorate, we have nothing to worry about. I don’t think it is.

                          The “white vote” has many shades, but as whites become a minority, and pending future events, that is subject to change.

                          I’d feel a lot better if I believed that the GOP needed to improve or at least not get worse to win. I fear a future where they don’t. And not because I’m a Republican, because in that future I’m functionally a Democrat.

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                        • Texas provides arguments for both sides of the Best Republican Path Forward argument. (Though, broadly speaking, the White Consolidation crowd believes the poll numbers on Hispanics in Texas, and GWB with Hispanics, are erroneous.)

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                  • Texas looks like Texas because politically smart Republican’s realized they couldn’t turn out a massive chunk of the voting base and actually keep control of the state.

                    There’s a reason why even Rick Perry seemed more immigration friendly than the teeming masses in 2012.

                    Non-Texas Republican’s seemed to have some issues learning this.

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                    • I think this is mostly true, but there are limits to where this gets us. There is no demographic electoral college; one can easily imagine future elections where the basic demographic breakdown of the vote is similar, but you move the partisan split of each group by a couple percentage points and get a totally different outcome.

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                        • Well, burritos are like wraps and wraps are just white people’s food. There is a white guy who operates a food stand near my current place who sells baked potatoes and burritos. So, the whitening of hispanic culture is not necessarily too far away.

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                          • Burritos have been white people food for some time already.

                            It is common for people from both California and Mexico to complain how they cannot get “good Mexican food” outside of those places. When pressed, you realize that they are talking about CalMex and TexMex respectively.

                            In other words, it gets very difficult to draw a meaningful line between which parts of culture of the present American Southwest are Mexican and which are “American.”

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                            • I think you meant outside of California and TEXAS, not Mexico

                              Which is totally my observation. Restaurants with food like they eat on Mexico are for arugula eating foodies. You can’t get fajitas, charro beans, guacamole or nacho con queso in those damn places. No self respecting Texan would go there

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              • Did you read Will’s column on Texas?

                Sure the GOP can win without a minority vote. They can win in Idaho and Iowa. They certainly can’t win in California without the minority vote and they can’t even win in Oregon or Washington.

                Yet for some reason, commenters here and people in the media think that the Democratic Party really needs to think hard about why they are losing among white men without college degrees. I’m not sure this is true and I think the media is projecting.

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                • “Needs to” can do a lot of work – either will be driven to, or morally ought to. I’m a long-time Democrat but I solidly would argue that the party should think about white men without college degrees in the interest of having a unifying platform (even if rejected by many for grievance politics). I’d like the party to be more clearly, at least in aspiration, the party for everyone – and given that part of why it gets my support is a desire to have government help mitigate risk and limit damage to those left behind by the economic engine of capitalism, a Democratic Party that doesn’t concern itself with less educated white men is one that misses a target group whose interests should influence its overall agenda.

                  Given the salience of identity politics, demographic trends, and the success of ethnic/cultural grievance strategies on the right, the Democratic Party absolutely doesn’t “need to” in terms of its electoral strategy, at least short-medium term. It can win without them, and they are a hard target.

                  To me, it’s a distinction between the platform and the process. Much like it’s been important for the Republican Party to compete for minority votes along small business or social conservative lines, even though they didn’t drive or explain its success, I think it’s healthy for the Democrats to compete for white working class votes or at least incorporate some of their perspectives into core platforms. The intellectuals should care about this as a stewardship matter. The party operatives who get out votes, not so much.

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                  • The Democratic Party does a lot for the working class. The ACA was a good program for the working class.

                    The problem is that a good chunk of the white working-class seems to dislike ACA because they see it as a handout to minorities.

                    If this is the attitude that persists, I am not sure what the Democratic Party specifically can do for the WWC without betraying their core and loyal base.

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                    • I agree with all three points, but I still think it’s important (and healthy) for the party to continue to define itself and its offerings broadly a la ACA – not really specifically things for the WWC as much as aiming at class inequality. I think the Bernie campaign showed that there is some juice there.

                      Note that I see this not as a strategy for “winning them over” but as a framing about the Party’s purpose and who they purport to speak for. At a time of division, it’s important to act like the party of everyone, especially where it is not at cross-purposes with interests of core constituencies (and sometimes, even when it is). It’s the best way to combat the zero-sum rhetoric of the other side, and the norms implied do matter, I think.

                      I know that this won’t necessarily happen organically, due to the electoral math, which is why I think it needs consistent championing from the party’s thinkers.

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    • Depends on what November looks like. It Trump wins then we know. Beyond that, the margin will help dictate who has the stronger and weaker hand. If it’s a blowout the party will have a problem that it has to address (like after 2012 senate races). If it’s close, the Trumpers may be able to purge everyone from the party they can credibly blame for the loss. If it’s in between, it’s hard to say.

      One x-factor that may help Trump is that some anti-Trump Republicans are leaving the party altogether, which may shift the internal balance regardless of the November outcome. I mean not just voters, but party people leaving the hen-house completely to the foxes, potentially.

      Another x-factor is the vacancy atop Fox News and what direction they go.

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  3. Gaming this out in my head for the whole “what happens after Trump loses” scenarios is interesting but I don’t see Cruz being the 2020 frontrunner.

    Sure, he’s the kingslayer… but he proved that he can’t be trusted. Thanks for stabbing the bastard in the back, Ted! You’ve gone as high as you’re ever gonna get. Oh, by the way, your brethren in the senate still hate you for your senate shenanigans too.

    Think that he can parlay this into a decent gig somewhere but it ain’t gonna be in government.

    Maybe he can teach next to John Yoo or something.

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  4. He allied himself with Trump last year because he believed if he could get into a one-on-one with him, the party would have to back him.

    It did almost work though. The timing just didn’t quite work out, Bush sucked up too much establshment oxygen early and flamed out quickly, allowing Rubio and Kasich to hang on a bit longer than Cruz needed, and Trump had slightly too much momentum when we finally got to mano v mano pequeno.

    In January, everyone would have laughed at Cruz being the mainline GOP’s last best hope against Trump, yet that’s what actually happened.

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    • I don’t see any way he could have withstood the northeastern onslaught. Even with the post-Wisconsin glow, he’d just thrown too much salt on the soil. And that salt was the direct result of the tactics that got him there.

      He ran a hell of a campaign and I found myself doubting myself for a bit, but we found his ceiling of support within the party. Even when the alternative is Donald Trump.

      His stubbornness and lone Wolf strategy is a good way to get about 2/3 of where he needed to get.

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  5. 1. You’re going to be murdered. Illegal immigrants will murder you and people you love. If they dont, violent Muslims will.

    2. This is Obama’s fault because he racially polarized America and put Hillary Clinton in charge of our foreign policy.

    3. Big corporations bought her so they could run the system, and get rich moving our jobs overseas. Even Bernie Sanders saw this and tried to fight it, but the systen is rigged and he never had a chance.

    4. I’m going to stop it by enforcing the law and building a wall and renegotiating our tade agreements, including NAFTA. I alone can do this.

    5. Then I’m going to cut your taxes and deregulate the energy industry. Jobs will come flooding in, we’ll all be rich.

    6. Then I’ll reform education, replace Obama care with something else, fix the TSA, and rebuild our military. I’m going to get other nations yo pay for it all.

    7. I’m going to appoint judges like Scalia and protect the free speech rights of evangelicals.

    8. Hey, isn’t my family great? They’re the best.

    9. I’m your voice. I’m with you. MAGA.

    I’m a little bit flip here, but I think I’ve captured the substance.

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      • Didn’t someone here state that, during their work with the State Leg, every incoming class of Legislatures seemed to have one guy asking for the list of wasteful and fraudulent spending.

        Because clearly it was a line-item and voted on.

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        • The day that new member training did the budget was always depressing. I’m retired now — maybe things are better, but I’d be surprised.

          There were the waste, fraud and abuse people. Of course there is a certain amount of those things. You minimize them by keeping things simple, and with audits. I never met a legislative budget analyst who wasn’t in favor of simple. The WF&A group always seemed surprised that we already had a State Auditor’s Office that found problems and recommended fixes. They seemed to be unhappy that audits actually cost money.

          There were the people who were surprised that 95% of the General Fund got spent on the Big Six budget items — roughly in order of size, K-12 education, Medicaid, corrections, higher ed, other human services (eg, child welfare), and transportation. And that except for higher ed and transportation, most of that GF spending was constrained by the state constitution and/or federal law. I was always tempted to ask, “What did you think state government did?”

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  6. “Cruz’s wife, Heidi, was escorted out of the floor by former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who told Reuters he escorted her out because he was concerned for her safety.”

    This stood out to me. Assuming this wasn’t an overreaction on either Heidi or Ken’s part, fearing for someone’s life because a speaker failed to endorse the candidate is… terrifying.

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