After a long and bitter primary battle, businessman Donald Trump is now officially the Republican nominee for president. Despite promising to support whoever the eventual nominee was, many of his vanquished opponents stayed home instead of attending the GOP’s national convention in Cleveland.
That reaction is not exactly a surprise considering that Trump essentially used an insult comic shtick as one of his prime arguments against his competitors. Given Trump’s constant lying and his continual reversals of his own positions, refusing to endorse him is not exactly dishonorable. Instead of showing up and genuflecting before a man he correctly thinks is unqualified to be president, Jeb Bush decided instead to write an essay for the Washington Post denouncing Trump the week of the RNC. He’s also given several interviews where he repeated his sentiments.
Other vanquished candidates like John Kasich, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham simply stayed home rather than appear at an event for someone whom they clearly thought to be unqualified and unelectable.
Ted Cruz could easily have taken any of these two approaches but instead he decided to take a far riskier one by accepting an invitation to speak at the convention but then pointedly refusing to get anywhere near an endorsement of Trump.
The speech came as a shock to delegates inside Quicken Loans Arena, many of whom vociferously booed Cruz off the stage. Social media lit up with discussion of Cruz’s perfidy with many of Trump’s most ardent conservative critics beside themselves with joy praising Cruz’s move as savvy and gutsy, sure to redound to his benefit later.
That’s almost certainly incorrect.
Like so many other political miscalculations that Cruz has made over the years, this one grossly overestimates the number of hardcore conservative activists within the Republican Party. Throughout the campaign, despite his best efforts to peel away Trump’s supporters, Cruz was unable to put any real distance between himself and Florida senator Marco Rubio in the polling.
Only after Rubio, Bush and other also-rans began dropping out did Cruz’s numbers begin to rise. But Trump’s rose as well. In the end, Cruz couldn’t even get to 33 percent support in the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Hoping to get ahead of what is widely expected to be a significant Trump loss, the Texas senator seems to have decided to position himself as the best Republican to challenge a president Hillary Clinton in 2020 by refusing to taint himself with a Trump endorsement.
While the move made the small Never Trump contingent swoon with delight, it was regarded by grassroots Republicans (including many former Cruz voters) as a shocking betrayal of the party and its voters. No one reading the largest conservative online communities such as Free Republic, Lucianne.com, or WND could think otherwise. Here are just a few comments that are very typical:
Kyle on WND: “I am from Texas and Ted disgraced our State tonight. I once liked his Constitutional stances, but what he did tonight was wrong on so many levels. I didn’t think that he would prove Trump right, but he did. Lyin’ Ted, that nickname will be very hard to shake, as it should be.”
Arkfreepdom at Free Republic: “He is a liar. He didn’t honor his pledge. He also was given a spot at the convention. Something trump didn’t have to do. Cruz is a punk. And I supported him. That was dumb of me!”
Dr. Sivana at Free Republic: “I supported Cruz to the end, but he gave the wrong speech tonight.”
Padre at Newsmax. “Ted had an opportunity to be a big man, but he proved himself to be a small man. Trump invited him into his house and he took a dump on the carpet.”
While Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump came as a sudden outrage to grassroots Republicans, it did not come as a surprise to people working for the GOP nominee. Trump himself stated on Twitter that “I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!” His televised entrance into the convention hall before Cruz had finished speaking also confirms this. Cruz staffers have said that their boss informed Trump two days ago that he would not endorse at the convention.
Trump knew what was coming and he clearly wanted it to. Who knows what effect it will have on the voting in November but it will guarantee even higher ratings for Trump’s speech tomorrow night. Judging from the reaction of Republican voters, it’s also finished the career of Ted Cruz. Spend a few hours on Twitter and elsewhere and you’ll see hundreds of people claiming they’ll never support Cruz for anything again.
Chris Christie, infamous among Republicans for hugging Obama in 2012, can attest that Republicans are just like elephants—they never forget. Big-ticket GOP donor Sheldon Adelson looks like he won’t either.
Cruz thinks of himself as the second coming of Ronald Reagan but in truth, he’s probably more like Ted Kennedy.
It’s mostly forgotten nowadays but in 1980 Kennedy fought to the bitter end against President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination but ultimately came up well short of victory.
There are so many similarities between the two men’s races. Both were senators who carried their cause to the party convention, each trying to force “conscience clauses” to allow delegates to avoid casting their ballots according to primary results. (Kennedy at least had the decency to make this campaign openly whereas Cruz and his supporters have said they’re only anti-Trump.)
Just like Cruz, Kennedy gave an impassioned speech about the values he had campaigned on. Just like today, his ideological co-partisans thrilled to the speech. Both senators also pointedly refused to endorse the victorious candidate as well.
While Kennedy eventually came to be regarded highly by his own party, his petty behavior in 1980 made it so that he never was regarded as a serious contender for the presidency ever again. Many party elders blamed his dead-ender campaign for the Reagan victory even if they agreed with his policy stances.
As harmful as Kennedy’s behavior following his bitter loss was to his career, he at least urged fellow Democrats to “reunite on the basis of Democratic principles, and […] march towards a Democratic victory in 1980.”
Ted Cruz couldn’t even do that.
Donald Trump will certainly become less popular after he loses to Hillary Clinton. But Ted Cruz will be more unpopular still. His self-serving attempt to paper over months of refusing to criticize Trump when it actually would have mattered will be the moment that defines his career.
Ted Cruz thought that by lighting himself on fire he could burn Donald Trump. Instead, he’s just blown himself up.
For once, Jeb Bush actually had better political instincts than someone else.