In his speech to the Republican National Convention, Texas Senator Ted Cruz delivered a much-needed refresher course on his party’s values: liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and the right of citizens to keep more of what they earn. And yet, after he outlined the reasons why a Republican needs to win, Cruz declined to support his party’s nominee, declaring that Republicans should “vote their consciences” in November rather than throw their support to Donald J. Trump. His statement was met with the deafening boos of an arena full of grassroots conservatives. Cruz’s words were not meant to encourage the GOP to support Trump in November; they were a betrayal, a clear nod to the failed #NeverTrump movement.
Sticking to your principles is admirable. Not endorsing someone who violates them also deserves praise. But refusing to endorse the nominee in a prime time speech at the convention looked petty. If Cruz did not wish to compromise his principles, he should have stayed home—like several of his fellow ex-candidates—and accepted the consequences of remaining on the sidelines.
The problem is, Cruz’s reasons for not endorsing Donald Trump were unrelated to principle. In an address the next morning to the dismayed Texas delegation, Cruz defended his non-endorsement by saying that he is “not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father.” This argument—legitimate though it may be—cheapened Cruz’s statement of principle the previous night.
Ted Cruz’s convention speech was drafted out of personal pique, not out of fidelity to principle. Failing to endorse the nominee because of a personal insult completely undermines Cruz’s claim that his dedication to conservative principles—principles which Trump will better serve as commander-in-chief than will Clinton—is what is stopping him from endorsing Trump’s candidacy.
Trump should have apologized for the ridiculous things he said about Cruz and his family during the primaries. But Cruz should have moved past the personal insults for the sake of party unity. Cruz’s critique of Hillary Clinton —and his affirmation of conservative principles—was compelling enough to justify an endorsement of just about any Republican, even Donald Trump.
Furthermore, Cruz’s action worked to undermine any long term benefit Cruz might have gotten by putting principle above party. Betting that Trump will either lose or be a failed one-term president, Cruz was trying to set himself up for a 2020 run, just as Ronald Reagan did following his loss of the nomination to President Gerald Ford at the brokered convention of 1976.
The key difference between these two situations is that Cruz did not lose at the convention, and the image of party unity is important—it’s the main reason the leadership tries to avoid brokered conventions in general. So Cruz, not possessing the same precedent (or charm) as Ronald Reagan, outed himself as a political opportunist. As Charles Krauthammer put it, “What Cruz delivered was the longest suicide note in American political history.”
Already, there are rumors of primary challenges ahead for Cruz. On Tuesday, Joaquin Castro, one of the liberal Castro brothers, announced that he would be looking to run for Cruz’s seat. Donors angry about Cruz’s self-serving stand at the convention may not be willing to step in to help him dispatch these threats.
The delegates, the Trump campaign, and the RNC were livid with Cruz’s performance, but the #NeverTrumpers were thrilled. The D.C. insiders and intellectuals who find Trump unacceptable hailed Cruz as an “American Hero.” Leaders of the movement tweeted their approval and offered to back him in a third party run.
Those leaders had their chance to support him, of course, when he was in second place against Trump, and their support could have led to a different outcome. But he was ‘too religious’ or otherwise unattractive for them when it mattered. People who had never even considered voting for Cruz in the primary suddenly applauded his “principled” stand against Trump and the GOP establishment.
Cruz came off as a sore loser, not a statesman. By allowing his animosity toward Trump to guide his convention address, the Texas senator sold his party short—and his career even shorter.