September 24, 2016
After indignantly refusing to endorse Donald Trump for going after his wife and father during a mutually brutal primary, Cruz has now reversed course and endorsed Donald Trump. For an ambitious politician like Cruz, this latest move is a little baffling. The supporters he still had, those who were holding out behind him, supported him because of his opposition to Donald Trump. They didn’t oppose Donald Trump because of him. Given that this move will alienate those remaining supporters and that Trump’s supporters are unlikely to forgive or forget Cruz’s stunt at the convention, it is difficult for me to see where this move makes any sense.
Let’s get one potential explanation out of the way right off the bat, and that is to give Cruz the benefit of the doubt. It is possible, of course, that he is being earnest, and is simply doing what he thinks is best for his party and his country. It’s possible, but I think it’s highly unlikely. Ted Cruz’s entire career has been grandstanding, whether on the government shutdown or Obamacare, attempting to advance his career at the expense of his party and his country. Perhaps he was doing what he thought was right then as well, and I’ve been misreading him for years, but the fact remains he has always struck me as a cynical politician who puts his ambitions ahead of all else.
This brings us to the next possibility, which is that his megalomania couldn’t stand to go for so long without seeing his name in the media, and by endorsing Trump he is attempting to thrust himself back into the spotlight. We’ve certainly seen this characteristic in the Republican nominee, who seems determined to make sure that his name is always the headline, whether that headline is good or bad for him. However, this modus operandi doesn’t seem to fit Cruz either. For all his shortcomings, he has never struck me as the type to seek attention for attention’s sake. Though his past actions have certainly been self-aggrandizing, they’ve also served a purpose, namely carving out a base for himself as the principled, non-negotiating conservative. I don’t see him harming his career simply for a twenty-four-hour cycle as a secondary story on CNN.
This again brings us to the question, what does Ted Cruz gain from this? If he thinks Trump is going to win, perhaps he’s setting himself up as a key ally in Congress. However, Trump is not one to forget slights, real or perceived, and isn’t likely to forget Cruz’s convention stunt, a very real slight. Furthermore, it’s difficult to imagine Trump being able to enforce the same party discipline that Hillary or a more typical president would. I don’t see Mitch McConnell rubberstamping Trump’s agenda, and I certainly don’t see Paul Ryan going along blindly with Trump. Even with a Republican Congress, President Trump is likely to have some negotiating to do, and Ted Cruz seems better suited as leader of the principled, conservative wing of the party than the neutered dog of the Trump camp.
If Hillary Clinton wins, Cruz is likely looking to 2020. Again, there is no benefit for him from this endorsement. Before he was perfectly suited to run the ‘I told you so’ campaign, keeping some loyalty from conservatives who never warmed to Trump and having been vindicated by the election results. Now, those anti-Trump conservatives feel betrayed, and pro-Trump Republicans will still be pushed away by his convention stunt. Given the efficiency of his organization and strength of his campaign in 2016, he may still be able to build a base, but it will certainly be weakened by his latest move. Before, he was pompous, but at least he was principled; now he just seems weak.
My best guess is that Ted Cruz realizes he made a mistake at the convention, and this is his clumsy attempt to rectify it. If so, it’s too little, too late. Many Republicans, including those that are not necessarily behind Donald Trump, felt that he was out of line, and if he wasn’t going to support the nominee, he should have skipped the convention outright instead of making a grand old ass of himself. However, once he’d crossed that Rubicon, there was no going back. By trying to do so, he burns the few bridges he had left.