So, I didn’t watch last night, but obviously caught up on Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse, and the delicious chaos that followed. Cruz looks bad, and is hated, and his good buddies are turning their back on him. But this was peak Cruz. He knew what would happen, and still did so. Here’s why.
Cruz is betting on a huge Trump loss, and wants to position himself for 2020. That’s pretty obvious. But the way he’s doing it is to lay the groundwork for The Great Hijacking narrative that will be the Republican story after the loss. The nativists and racists in the party will claim betrayal by the elites, of course, and there will be opportunistic politicians who try to attract them, but what’s left of the Party (not much!) will try to rally around the idea that they were hijacked and bamboozled by a New York billionaire, and that conservative ideas weren’t represented.
Cruz is in a perfect position to do this. On immigration, on Muslims, and on the red-meat social issues, he’s no less and often more hideous than Trump. He can appeal to all sides of the party and its fractured remnants. So he takes the heat now, but then seems like the only person who had the sheer balls to stand up to Trump. So when the party is dazed after their drubbing (this is the theory; not a prediction), Cruz can be the one they turn to.
Paul Ryan is trying the same thing. But as much of a piece of work he is, he’s still slightly more responsible and party-oriented. For Cruz, the GOP has always just been the best avenue for his Messianic outlet. He’s a true believer, but only in himself. He’s willing to break the party if he thinks he can collect the shards into his own basket. I think that’s his plan here. He might be overplaying his hand; he is, as we’ve talked about, more clever than actually smart, more of a striker than a strategist. In four years (or two, really) the nativist wing might, in their anger and betrayal, suddenly remember that he’s a goddamn Mexican or whatever, and the what’s left of the Establishment might try to freeze him out.
But don’t count him out. He is still a good politician, and got hundreds of delegates despite being one of the most unlikable men in America. In it’s own way, it was more remarkable than what Trump did.
What’ll be interesting is when he’s up for reelection in 2018. Who knows if this will hurt him or not. But how can he possibly run and even pretend that he has any interest in serving as a Senator? He’ll be running for President the day his second term starts in 2019. He might not even stop in Washington on his way to Iowa. At least Rubio has two years to pretend to be a Senator. Cruz will run for President regardless of if Trump wins or loses. He’s not waiting another eight years. He’ll do what Reagan did to Ford and Teddy Kennedy did to Carter. That’s a prediction.
The last note is that Cruz did the impossible last night. For literally anyone else, not endorsing Donald Trump would be a sign of character and of decency, of principle and, if you are a Republican, of sacrifice. Only Ted Cruz can make doing the right thing self-serving and selfish. He’s a remarkable man.