The headline of the third night of the GOP convention is Ted Cruz’ non-endorsement of Donald Trump, and his command to voters to “Vote your conscience, up and down the ticket…”.
The list of credible politicians and media figures claiming that this was political suicide on Ted Cruz’ part is… non-existent. There are however many loud voices in the new Trump GOP claiming just that. “He’s finished. This is why everyone has always hated him!” bla bla bla. The critique might sting more if it wasn’t coming from Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Peter King and uber alt-right tabloid Breitbart.
The real story is not in the headline though. The Trump campaign knew exactly what was in the speech. They knew there was no endorsement. Ted Cruz himself told anyone who would listen that he has not been asked to endorse, and did not intend to endorse Donald Trump specifically.
The real story is not about Ted Cruz, but once again, about the mafia style tactics of the Trump campaign. Putin loyalist and Trump capo Paul Manafort indicated earlier in the day that Cruz would not endorse specifically, but would “suggest” an endorsement. Without the boos and the overdone outrage, Cruz’ comments, and his very presence at the convention after a nasty and personal primary battle, could have easily been spun into an implied endorsement.
The Trump people did not want an endorsement. The Trump campaign plan was to humiliate Cruz by orchestrating boos from the front-and-center New York delegation.
As is usual in today’s polarized politics, Trump supporters heard the loud boos and nothing else. As a non-Trump supporter, I heard the boos, but I also heard a loud swell of applause coming from the many Cruz supporters, not to mention the pride welling up in my own chest.
Think about this for a second. This was not an ordinary campaign. In a primary in which Donald Trump prided himself on not playing by the rules, scorning party leadership and age-old concepts of unity, and displaying his toughness (mostly mean tweets consisting of name-calling and potty-talk) in destroying his adversaries, these were just a few of the highlights:
- Trump directly attacked Ted Cruz’ wife, calling her ugly in comparison to his supermodel third wife. He has not deleted that tweet to this day.
- Trump directly implicated Rafael Cruz (Ted’s father) in the JFK assassination.
- Trump ran with demonstrably untrue rumors planted by his allies at the National Enquirer that Ted Cruz was involved in a torrid affair with five women.
- Donald himself revoked the now-sacred pledge long ago. (A pledge by the way, that could only have ever served Trump and was a horrible Reince Preibus idea from the very beginning. It never should have seen the light of day).
If Ted Cruz had explicitly endorsed Trump after this set of facts, he would have erased any shred of dignity that anyone would have accused him of having. He would have fallen in line with the long list of conservatives who expressed their personal opinion that Trump was unfit for office (including Gov. Mike Pence), but have since changed their minds for political expediency. Is this what you want in a leader?
Ted Cruz was hired to flip the bird to the establishment in 2012, and he has been doing it ever since. Personally, I have expressed the opinion that I do not see Ted Cruz as the future of conservatism, mainly because he has problems with likeability, and has shown a tendency to opportunism (see his early embrace of Trump in the primary). I also feel like the future of a viable conservative movement will need a tad more emphasis on civil liberty (see Rand Paul). It was for this reason that I, myself, wrongly predicted that Ted Cruz would kiss the ring at the convention and endorse Trump.
With all that said, please do not be fooled into believing Cruz hurt his political career in Texas. Texans have an ingrained sense of insurgency and are particularly enthused by a Senator who will stand up against the party. His support here, especially in Houston, runs very deep. He will take some flak for the next four months, but it will fade quickly. He will phone in a campaign in 2018 and cruise handily to re-election.
Once you cut through all the spin, one stubborn fact remains for all objective observers to see: The GOP is not a united party, and is unlikely to be united under Trump. Trump has placed the worst elements of the party front-and-center in his campaign, while ridiculing those who stand up for everything worthwhile about conservatism: limited government, free markets and liberty.
The episode revealed a division that has always existed in the GOP, but which is much deeper and corrosive than it has ever been. For the most part this division is between the powerful go-along get-along establishment, and those committed to conservative principles.
Is there any question at this point, who represents which faction?