Like everybody else on Wednesday night, I had no idea what to expect from Ted Cruz’s speech at the Republican Convention. There were stories floating around that he wouldn’t endorse, but after seeing Scott Walker sell his soul to Trump earlier in the evening and Marco Rubio pointlessly capitulate in a humiliating video blurb, I was fully expecting Cruz to fall in line behind Trump as well. Right away, however, Cruz offered up a tiny spark of resistance when he congratulated Trump for ‘winning the nomination last night’. That was odd language, I thought. Of course technically Donald Trump didn’t ‘win’ the nomination until last night, but in all other ways Trump became the nominee months ago. Cruz’s congratulations clearly implied that until last night there was a reasonable possibility that Trump might not win the nomination. Was it a simple last act of gamesmanship on Cruz’s part or could it be a harbinger of something more confrontational?
Cruz then went on to give a brilliant speech outlining the concepts of modern conservativism and promoting the principles that he thinks this country should be governed by. Remarkably, he did all this without overtly demonizing either Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party. It was a speech designed to bring people into the world of conservatism, not push people away. It had the right tone and that is no small thing. Finding the right tone has been a difficult thing for conservatives to achieve. The Party is now mostly driven by right wing Radio and TV hosts to ever higher levels of anger and revanchism. By common conservative standards, Cruz’s speech was tame, yet the principles and ideals he espoused were exactly why those people in the convention hall became Republicans in the first place. They were listening and they were captivated.
Then the moment came near the end of the speech for Cruz to endorse Donald Trump, but he didn’t do it. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t finish that speech championing core conservative ideals with an endorsement of a candidate who he believes does not value those same ideals. He couldn’t endorse a candidate who he believes does not understand conservatism or The Constitution.
But he didn’t just fail to endorse. He advocated that everyone go to the polls in November and vote their conscience. This was a very deliberate choice of words for Cruz. He was telling every conservative that was listening that they did not have to vote for Donald Trump if they could not reconcile that vote with all of the conservative principles and ideals that he had so painstakingly laid out for them in the previous 20 minutes.
Once it became clear that Cruz would not endorse Trump at Trump’s own nominating convention, all hell broke loose. He was booed and jeered, not just by diehard Trump supporters, but by everyone in that hall that valued party unity above all else. The crowd was egged on by Trump’s own campaign staff and Trump himself rudely entered the hall before Cruz was even finished.
This was a show of dominance politics between these two rivals, pure and simple. But who came out on top. Clearly the pundits all thought that, although a remarkable show of defiance by Cruz, Trump came out the winner and Ted Cruz the loser. For the short term, I would agree. Support for Cruz melted away before our eyes and it probably won’t come back anytime soon. But anybody who is thinking that this will damage Cruz’s chances to win the nomination in 2020 if Trump loses this year are missing the larger picture.
There are two things that are going to happen if Trump loses in November. First, Trump will be unable to take responsibility for his loss. He will have to place the blame somewhere else. His obvious target will be the Republican Party. Trump will be all over Fox News and other conservative outlets accusing the GOP of not supporting him enough. They will be to blame, not him. Every time there is a Presidential crisis or event, he will be talking about how much better the country and the world would be if only the Republican Party and conservative voters had not failed him.
Second, true conservatives will also be looking for someone to blame. Trump and anybody who supported him will be on the outs. Trump will become the scapegoat and his shallow, fly by night, pretend policies will be thrown away like the trash that they are. This will separate the Trump voter from the GOP. It will separate the parasite from the host and leave the GOP free of Trump and Trumpism.
Those that courageously stood against him will be there waiting and it will be they who will emerge as the early frontrunners in the 2020 Republican race. This is where the true brilliance of Ted Cruz’s speech last night comes into play. Cruz and others have always maintained that the only reason that Republicans don’t win the Presidency anymore is because the Party keeps on nominating candidates who aren’t conservative enough. After nominating and losing with John McCain, Mitt Romney and Donald Trump, Cruz will be counting on that idea taking center stage in the next election. He wants to be that candidate. He wants to be the one person Republicans think of when they think of conservatism. His speech on Wednesday night will be the foundation of that campaign.
Cruz will happily take the hit now in order to be seen as a conservative stalwart later. He is counting on the fact that at the next Republican convention the boos will turn into cheers. He is counting on the fact that long after meaningless campaign slogans fade into obscurity, core conservative values that he championed will remain the bedrock of the Republican Party. Ted Cruz is wrong about almost everything, but he’s not wrong about this. Last night was his victory, not Trump’s.
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- An Historic Election - November 9, 2016
- Trump’s Debate Plan: Prepare To Fail By Failing To Prepare - September 27, 2016
- Trump’s Apocalyptic Message To America - July 22, 2016
- Ted Cruz’s Long Game - July 21, 2016
- So You Say You Want A Revolution? - May 16, 2016
- How Bernie Can Win By Accepting Defeat - May 14, 2016
- Political Reality Trumps Political Revolution - April 26, 2016