Politics & Policy

Never Forget that the GOP Establishment Preferred Trump to Cruz

Sorry to have been away for a while.  I’m the proud new father of a one-month-old girl, and with four other children aged nine and under at home and a day job at Hoover that keeps me quite busy, I’ve been a bit stretched for writing time.

But I thought that Eliana and Tim’s excellent article on Sen. Cruz’s reconfiguring his team for a possible 2020 run would be a great opportunity to rejoin the conversation. It’s also a reminder that we don’t even need to wait for one Presidential election cycle to be over to start talking about the next one!

The article as yet another reminder of what a lost opportunity 2016 represents for the GOP, facing the weakest Democratic candidate since (at least) Walter Mondale. From the day after Super Tuesday it was abundantly clear that only Ted Cruz could stop Donald Trump from being the GOP nominee. And yet, in a fit of staggering immaturity and political idiocy, GOP elected officials, with some honorable exceptions, did little to nothing to stop Trump. In making that statement, I’m not making a value judgment on Trump as a candidate. I’m no Trump fan, to say the least, but I’m not a #NeverTrump partisan like many of my fellow National Review contributors. I’m simply estimating GOP elected officials’ political acuity by their own thoroughly amoral standards of what strategy was best to save their own hides.

Does anyone really think that if Ted Cruz were the GOP nominee we would have 20 GOP representatives and senators who have explicitly refused to vote for the nominee and another sixty or so representatives and senators who have refused to say who they would endorse—against Hillary Clinton, the most polarizing and unpopular Democratic nominee in history? Do any of the GOP’s do-nothing caucus claim that Cruz would be trailing Hillary as badly as Trump as trailing now?  Do any think that Trump would be better at winning among non-white voters that will increasingly be a part of any winning national coalition? Do any of them think that on the day when Hillary Clinton’s non-indictment should have been dominating the news cycle, we’d instead be discussing whether or not the presumptive GOP nominee was tweeting anti-Semitic material?

When I’ve made this case to more establishment-minded friends they usually come up with an excuse along the lines that, with the electorate in an anti-incumbent mood, their endorsements wouldn’t have helped.  But these arguments are as self-serving as they are silly.  A full-throated Cruz endorsement from GOP leaders and elected officials in March would have been a signal for the media to stop with the narrative of Cruz as the hated outsider and begun treating Cruz as the party’s clear choice for those hoping to stop Trump.  It would have provided access to funder networks would have been valuable for a campaign that, while well-funded, lacked the full resources to compete everywhere late in the game. Similarly the establishment put no real pressure on Kasich to get out of the race even when it was clear that his presence in the race was helping Trump enormously. (Trump correctly and publicly identified Cruz’s public deal with Kasich as a desperate tactic that was the final nail in the coffin for his candidacy).

Even some of the #NeverTrump voices that, then and now, were the loudest, refused to commit to Cruz when he was the only remaining Trump alternative. You cannot beat something with nothing, and none of the #NeverTrump partisans that refused to publicly commit to the only plausible Trump alternative have any credibility as having tried to “stop” Trump.  They were just trying to look tough while not taking a real stand, which is a particular expertise of too-many GOP officeholders.

The biggest lesson I take away from 2016 is that that from a practical perspective the GOP has far, far bigger problems than Donald Trump.  A party, that, because of pretty personal grievances of some of its leaders, can’t definitively declare that Ted Cruz is a superior candidate to Donald Trump to pursue conservative aims is not in any way a serious or functional party.  In November, The GOP leadership will be quick to blame voters for its likely 2016 defeat, but conservatives should not for a second let them pass the buck on their own responsibility.  The so-called party leaders looking for the problem with the GOP need to stop blaming Trump voters and take a long look in the mirror. 

If Trump loses, Cruz, as the 2016 runner-up, will start the 2020 cycle as the presumptive-front-runner. As Eliana and Tim show, he is clearly already preparing for 2020  and putting an experienced and competent team in place, pivoting his strategy in a way that suggests that he has learned lessons from this election. It’s unfortunate that for the GOP and the country that that team will not be spending its energies tearing down candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Instead, they are likely to be attacking President Hillary Clinton in 2020.  

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