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