The Corner

Politics & Policy

Nothing Inconsistent About Cruz Both Competing in Florida and Wanting Trump Defeated

In response to Fox, Fyi

I think Fred is conflating the overlapping but not identical goals of Cruz and others who want to stop Trump. I also disagree with Fred’s suspicions about Cruz’s calculations regarding 2020.

The people who are in the race and are not Trump want to stop Trump but they also want to win themselves. There is no inconsistency in these objectives, but they are neither identical nor necessarily inter-dependent. Take X candidate, who wants to win and wants Trump to lose. X obviously wants Trump to lose because only one candidate can win and X wants to be the one; but X may simultaneously want Trump to lose because X thinks Trump would be bad for the country, regardless of whether X wins.

Then there are people like us who are not in the race and who want Trump to lose. I’d break them down into four categories: (1) some of us support a particular candidate, and care more that our candidate wins than that Trump loses; (2) some in that situation would prefer to see Trump lose than our own candidate win (i.e., we’ll be satisfied if one of the other two candidates beats our candidate as long as Trump loses); (3) some are so fixated on defeating Trump that they don’t much care who does it as long as it is done; and (4) some are so #neverTrump that they may sit out the election or even vote for the Democrat if Trump wins the nomination. (I support Cruz and hover between the first and second categories: I think Trump would be bad and prefer the others, but I can’t pretend that it makes little difference to me whether he is beaten by Cruz, Rubio or Kasich – I have a strong preference for Cruz. And since I assume “#neverTrump” really means never Trump, I don’t fit that category since I have already indicated I would vote for Trump against Hillary Clinton.)

Let’s assume what I’ve outlined are the possibilities for both candidates and non-candidates who oppose Trump. It is clear that everyone in the equation wants Trump to lose, but not everyone gives that goal the same priority.

Cruz is in it to win it, and his best shots to win it are: (a) to get it down to a one-on-one at the earliest possible point in the hope of winning outright, or (b) get as close as possible to the magic number of 1,237 delegates, so he enters the contested convention as, patently, the most viable alternative to Trump – such that he would not have to do too much horse-trading to get the delegates needed to get over the top. (In light of his antagonistic relationship with the GOP establishment, which will be running the convention, Cruz has to assume that if there were a second plausible alternative to Trump, the establishment would try to rig things in favor of that alternative – even if Cruz starts the convention with more delegates. So Cruz needs to blow away the non-Trump competition.)

Thus Cruz’s interests counsel competing in Florida: His ultimate goal is to win the presidency, so he cannot afford to sit out in a state the Republican nominee must have in November; if there is any chance of winning the primary, he needs to try (Fred says there is no chance, but it was just a few days ago that Bernie Sanders supposedly had no chance of winning Michigan); and if Cruz’s participation denies Rubio a win over Trump (just as Rubio’s participation has hurt Cruz in various states), that knocks Rubio out – getting Cruz closer to the one-on-one against Trump and assuring that he will collect more delegates going forward.

I don’t think there is any inconsistency between Cruz’s decision to compete in Florida and Cruz’s placing a high priority on Trump’s being denied the nomination.

Starting from the premise that denying Trump the nomination should be the objective of “anyone who cares about conservatism or the Republican party or America,” Fred seems to argue that, to act consistently with that goal, such a person must do whatever will deny Trump a victory in Florida. That is not necessarily so (or even likely so) if a Trump victory in Florida has the domino effect of knocking out Rubio, getting Cruz closer to a one-on-one, and rendering Trump unable to keep winning states with only 37 percent of the vote – i.e., making Trump’s ultimate defeat more likely.

But quite apart from that, I don’t see why Cruz should analyze the situation the same way as someone who thinks it doesn’t matter who beats Trump. Cruz wants to beat Trump and to win. He can serve both those interests by competing against Trump and Rubio in Florida, even if someone whose main goal is beating Trump might rather see Cruz abstain in order to give Rubio a clear shot. Indeed, the way things are going for Rubio right now, there’s a good chance that Trump would beat him in Florida even if Cruz did abstain. (Even Fred says Rubio would have only “a decent shot,” which is hardly a lock.) Why should Cruz cooperate – with no benefit to his own candidacy – in an effort that could backfire: Rubio loses anyway and Trump steamrolls out of Florida with an air of inevitability?

Moving to Fred’s speculation regarding 2020, I do not believe Cruz would rather see Trump become president than see someone else other than Cruz. Fred reasons that if Trump wins, Cruz can spend the next four years attacking him (presumably because Trump is as bad as we fear he could be) “and then be the obvious man to replace him in 2020.” That may not be inconceivable, but it is implausible.

The GOP candidates all promised to support the party’s nominee; so if Trump is the nominee, wins the election, and has a disastrous term, Cruz’s support for Trump will count against him (Cruz) in 2020. Moreover, even if Cruz were the only viable GOP contender (unlikely), beating an incumbent president for the nomination would be highly unlikely. (Even Reagan, though more popular than Cruz, could not do it in 1976, despite Ford’s being burdened by the Nixon scandal and pardon as well as a bad economy.) And if Trump’s term had been a disaster, the Democrats would be heavily favored to win in any event.

I don’t see Cruz doing anything in the here and now with an eye toward putting himself in position for a 2020 run. He’s still a young man and there’s always 2024 … if we still have a country left. 


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