The dominoes are falling – as we knew they would. On Friday Ted Cruz endorsed Donald Trump, just weeks after a mic-dropping moment at the Republican National Convention, where he pointedly refused to endorse the man who insulted his wife and accused his father of conspiring to kill JFK. Instead, in the face of a chorus of boos, he urged delegates to vote their conscience. The implication was clear – a conservative of conscience should not support Trump.
Whatever. Now he’s on the Trump Train, and in heeding the GOP conductor’s call of “all aboard” he’s teaching us once again an important lesson about the contemporary American political elite. They’ll take risks to achieve upward mobility, but the prospect of truly diminished influence is apparently too terrifying to contemplate. To quote the Hamilton musical, once they get in the “room where it happens,” they just don’t want to leave.
That’s why you saw fading Republican stars jump on the Trump Train early – he was their hope for continued relevance. That’s why you see establishment Republicans falling all over themselves to endorse Trump despite his manifest ignorance, mendacity, and unfitness. They want to remain in the establishment. That’s why religious right leaders keep endorsing one of the sexual revolution’s most ardent practitioners. They can’t abide the thought of political irrelevance. They all do it by convincing themselves – down to the very core of their beings – that the nation would be worse off without their unique talents, wisdom, and judgment.
Let’s be clear, between the Republican convention and this weekend, absolutely nothing changed about either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Trump and Clinton are the same politicians with the same towering self-regard and same unfitness for the presidency. Trump is the exact same person who Cruz once said could “plunge” this nation “into the abyss.” Clinton is the exact same person we’ve seen throughout a quarter-century of dreary, corrupt years in national public life. What changed is all this “pressure” I keep hearing about. “The pressure is building,” people say. It’s time to get in line behind Trump.
What pressure? You might get primaried? The terrifying Reince Priebus might get angry? You might – gasp – lose your Senate seat? Good heavens – the nation just can’t survive without Cruz in the Senate!
We’re all replaceable. All of us. I’m reading Nathanial Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition, and I’m struck by the extent that perhaps the closest thing to an irreplaceable person in all of American history – George Washington – intentionally exposed himself to British volleys. Why? Because he knew what great commanders have known for millennia — while there are substitutes for even the best generals, there is no substitute for valor. That’s no argument for mindless recklessness (Washington hardly led every charge), it does reflect the reality that there are times when you pledge your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor for the cause you hold dear.
Similarly, while there are substitutes for any senator, there is no substitute for respect for the values and constitutional principles that made this nation great. And if a politician has to expose himself to Reince’s public relations peashooter to — quoting Cruz himself at the convention – “defend our freedom” and be “faithful to the Constitution,” then by God you do it. Too bad Ted couldn’t. Perhaps someone else will.