Sen. Ted Cruz has belatedly endorsed Donald Trump. Cruz was in a no win situation, but it was a no win situation of his own making. If he didn't plan to endorse Trump in Cleveland, he should have declined the offer to speak at the Convention. A refusal to endorse from afar, such as with Gov. John Kasich, is less visible than a refusal to endorse during a prime time Convention speaking slot. His speech in Cleveland made Cruz persona non grata with a large portion of the Republican base, but also made him a hero to a relatively small but hard core group of NeverTrumpers. Now that he has decided to endorse Trump, he may salvage some credibility with the portion of the base that was angry at him for not endorsing Trump in the first place, but he may also alienate some NeverTrumpers who will see this as a betrayal of principle. My hunch is that Cruz weighed the potential gain vs. the potential risk, and decided the potential gain was greater.
But even if Cruz is able to satisfy some of the Republicans who are angry at him, he is still in a worse position than he was pre-Convention, because the question inevitably arises, “If he is endorsing Trump now, why didn't he just do so in Cleveland?” None of the essential facts have changed. Cruz comes off looking both petulant and chastened which is not a good look.
I believe Cruz would have been wise to have done from the beginning what Rand Paul did and basically blame the pledge. He should have claimed that he is honor bound to support Trump because he made a pledge to do so. It's hard to argue against honoring a pledge, and at the same time he could have distanced himself from Trump the man and his policies while still technically endorsing him.
I remain truly baffled as to what Cruz was thinking. For someone supposedly so clever, and I don't doubt that he is, how did he think his act in Cleveland was going to be received? Did he really think that was going to go over well? That he would be praised for his courage and principle and honored by the NeverTrumpers without generating a significant negative reaction from everyone else? He should have asked me because I could have told him that wasn’t going to work out for him.
It is hard not to think that his refusal to endorse Trump at the Convention was motivated at least in part by spite rather than political calculation because he couldn’t possibly be that bad at political calculation. Perhaps it is true that he really was upset about the issue with his wife and father, and/or perhaps he just resented being beaten by a political novice reality TV star. I also get the sense that he was too immersed in the fanboy environment that surrounded his campaign, and didn’t understand what was going on outside that bubble.
I am interested to see how the NeverTrumpers react to this news. They have so demonized Trump and Trumpism that they have backed themselves into a rhetorical corner. Their denunciations were escalated to such a hysterical level that they are hard to walk back from at this point. According to NeverTrump rhetoric, Trump is not only an existential threat to “real conservatism” but to the future of the Republic as well. What are they going to do now? “You know all those references to the nuclear football? We were just kidding.”
As a longtime supporter of Trump and someone who initially had a certain grudging respect for Cruz that turned into aggravation with him and his supporters as the campaign went on, I guess I should feel some satisfaction that Cruz has finally endorsed Trump. No matter how Cruz spins this, it looks like he was made to cave to pressure. This endorsement is a win for Trump and Trumpism, not because it is going to move that many NeverTrumpers our way, but because it is a demonstration of strength.
That said, I really don’t take any pleasure in the Cruz endorsement because the underlying dynamic that drives NeverTrumpism remains. The country is quickly headed toward a demographic and structural economic cliff, and you still have a group of people who sincerely believe that what really matters is strict adherence to “conservative” orthodoxy and that all will be righted if they can just get their guy the nomination in 2020. (Whether their guy continues to be Cruz remains to be seen.) This is profoundly clueless. I don’t want to see these poor saps get their comeuppance. I want them to wake up. There conservative orthodoxy isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans if the U.S. becomes a Third World country. Preventing that comes before all else.