What happened last night on Facebook, Twitter, Instant Messenger, and e-mail was unprecedented, for this writer at least. It started almost as soon as Ted Cruz left the podium in Cleveland, and it built up momentum until it quickly became an avalanche. I didn’t just hear from politicos (though I certainly did hear from them) or conservatives (ditto) – I heard from liberals, moderates, and even from friends who are relatively apolitical. Some wanted to hear my opinion on Cruz’s speech and the subsequent reaction. But most just wanted to let me know that they thought it was fantastic.
Most of those I heard from were movement conservatives – not surprising considering that movement conservatives have been among the strongest anti-Trump partisans. But other messages came from liberals, including my sister, who messaged me “Yeah, Ted Cruz!” – the first time she has ever praised a Republican other than her brother.
Obviously, not everyone at the convention center felt the same way, though to some degree, as Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort seemed to acknowledge, the boos were choreographed by the Trump campaign. Yet the party establishment (and hard-core Trump supporters) will be more furious at Cruz than ever before, at least until November, at which point the political wisdom, or lack thereof, of Cruz’s move will be more apparent. However, it is well worth pointing out, even a Trump victory in 2016 would not automatically be devastating to Cruz’s future prospects. Trump must both win in 2016 and govern reasonably effectively (by conservative lights) for Cruz’s non-endorsement to live in long-term infamy. Cruz does not believe that will happen.
Yet for all of the political analysis of Cruz’s supposed calculation in not endorsing, much of it seems too clever by half — as the analysis largely reflects the author’s predisposition toward Cruz. In that regard, I should state my own biases. While I have at times been critical of Cruz, in general I am a fan. I endorsed him in the 2016 election, and nothing from last night causes me to reconsider that endorsement (quite the opposite). What’s more, Cruz’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone paying attention to the post-election statements from either the senator or his team. In various conversations with people close to the campaign in recent weeks, they were unanimous that they did not expect Senator Cruz to ever endorse Donald Trump, and certainly not at the convention. And Senator Cruz’s team went out of its way when they were given a speaking slot to indicate that an endorsement was not required of them in exchange for it. Frankly, it was gross political malpractice by the Trump team to allow Cruz to deliver his speech essentially unvetted, yet, given other gaffes made at the convention, it’s hardly surprising.
In this case, the simplest explanation for Senator Cruz’s behavior is also the best one: He didn’t endorse Trump because he didn’t think Trump was worthy of endorsement.
Donald Trump insulted Cruz’s wife, (presumably) planted false tabloid stories about him in the National Enquirer, and suggested, completely baselessly, that his father might have been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. Beyond these outrageous personal insults, it is clear that Trump’s conservatism, such as it is, has little in common with the limited-government, pro-federalism conservatism of Senator Cruz.
Does that mean that Cruz might not have endorsed Trump were it obviously politically advantageous for him to do so?
Of course not.
Cruz is a political animal — he isn’t Ron Paul searching for the most extreme way of standing by his principles with no regard to their practical consequences. But those close to Cruz felt that strategically, the political implications of his move were unknowable. While a Rubio-style soft endorsement would have been politically much safer, ultimately there were presumably enough unknown unknowns about the politics that Senator Cruz decided that the best course of action was simply to do what he felt was right and hope, without any guarantees, that the politics would eventually work out for him.
Ultimately, Cruz’s performance in the hall outlined his strongest political quality: his courage, a virtue that, ironically, he shares to some degree with his Trumpian nemesis. For those of us who believe that courage is the virtue we will need most if we are to have any chance of effectively challenging liberalism’s false premises and rolling back its cultural hegemony, that courage is the reason we can make peace with Cruz, whatever his other flaws.
And Cruz’s courage is very different from Trump’s. Trump’s “courage” is more akin to the courage of a man who simply doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him (and therefore it tends to come packaged with a healthy dose of pathological narcissism and a failure to listen to good advice). Despite the stoic face he puts on, it is clear that Cruz is to some degree bothered by the opprobrium that is heaped on him (indeed, his discomfort was even visible at times during the speech). But it is a far more human and admirable courage than Trump’s hyper-confident bluster. This is not to suggest that Cruz is not a calculating politician (indeed he is, far more than most). Nor does it deny that he may well bear some responsibility for other behaviors that have not endeared him to his Senate colleagues. But after all of the calculating is done, Senator Cruz, more than any other national Republican, is willing to go out alone and defend an unpopular conservative position when doing so may have substantial personal and political costs.
#related#”It was the glory of this man that he could stand alone with the truth and calmly await the result,” said Frederick Douglass at the funeral of his fellow radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who first took up the cause at a time when it was deeply unpopular. While the stakes of Cruz’s speech, significant though they were, pale in comparison with the battles fought by Douglass and Garrison, the core principles Douglass stated apply equally. And in this case, the truth, whether or not the delegates in Cleveland wanted to hear it, is that Donald Trump, whatever virtues and vices he may have, and regardless of whatever GOP officialdom wants to pretend, is not a conservative, at least in the way that Americans have thought of conservatism over the last several decades. Ted Cruz didn’t join #NeverTrump yesterday. But he did declare that he wasn’t going to pretend that Trump’s record was something it wasn’t.
Senator Cruz’s decision was clearly unpopular with many GOP delegates and insiders in Cleveland. But for many in the wider political world outside the convention hall, Lyin’ Ted became Lion Ted on Wednesday night. And 2016 will likely not be the last time we’ll hear his roar.