Though predictable overall, the recent Republican and Democratic National Conventions did deliver some notable drama–particularly of the Ted Cruz variety. If it was drama you sought, the first-term Texas Senator and previous GOP presidential hopeful did not disappoint.
Before we get into this, I should admit: I was once a Ted Cruz fan. Not anymore.
Drama at the RNC
You know what I’m talking about: Cruz’s infamous non-endorsement speech at the RNC. Watching Cruz speak that Wednesday evening was like watching a train go off the tracks in slow motion. At first, the ride was fun and the view lovely. Cruz was telling us what we wanted to hear. And then we went through a tunnel. Those present on the floor began—softly at first—to chant for Cruz to do the right thing and endorse Donald Trump, the GOP nominee. Cruz refused to do so. Those of us watching at home became uneasy. We shifted in our seats, suddenly uncomfortable. Surely Cruz, the ultimate politician, would not refuse to endorse Trump; would he? Surely he would not be so obstinate in a prime time speech with much of America watching; would he?
And then he did. The train emerged from the tunnel only to careen down a steep incline and over a cliff that few of us saw coming. In a matter of moments, the audience went from adoring, to respectful, to guarded, to suspicious, to demanding, to angry, to furious. Through it all, Cruz remained unyielding, defiant. He was a man on a mission to . . . what? Stand on principle? Hurt Trump? Destroy his own carefully crafted and constantly nurtured political career?
There is a silver lining, however: Those events lead me to conclude that presidential primary seasons, while challenging, tiresome, and expensive, do work, after all. Their purpose is to vet, hone the skills of, test the mettle of, and rally increasing support behind the deserving while weeding out the unacceptable, the undeserving, the incapable, and those of impure purpose.
Cruz’s RNC speech was a stunning moment that is destined to take its place in the archives of presidential politics as one of the most dramatic convention moments in modern history.
Drama, it turns out, is rapidly becoming the hallmark of Ted Cruz. And that is a problem.
In that stunning moment that we will discuss for years to come, Ted Cruz failed to reach the mark. He also showed his true colors.
Ted Cruz is in it for Ted Cruz. Like a petulant child who did not get his way, Cruz stood defiantly before the American people, figurative arms crossed tightly across his chest and lower lip protruding, and unapologetically refused to do what he pledged he would do: support the party’s nominee. Despite having just delivered a rousing speech that would make any constitutional scholar proud, for that very public transgression, Cruz was literally booed off the stage. At that very moment, Trump appeared in the wings, with his thumb jutted firmly into the air, in a signature gesture. Trump’s message was clear: “It’s all good. I’m bigger than this. I’m better than this. We’re better than this.” The no doubt contrived optics worked for Trump, as Cruz silently slunk from the stage. It was a very presidential moment—for Trump. Yet again, the career politician had been outmaneuvered by the political newcomer.
It was not Cruz at his most splendid. It did not make him look remotely presidential. To the contrary, it made him look small, petty, mean, jealous, and self-serving. It made him look entitled. Moments later, Cruz’s wife Heidi was hurriedly escorted out of the convention hall by security as angry delegates yelled the intended insult, “Goldman Sachs!” at her.
Cruz’s evening went downhill from there. As he walked past, shocked, disappointed and furious Republicans averted their eyes. It was too soon. One gentleman had to be restrained. Cruz proceeded to the suite of Las Vegas casino magnate and GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, having previously been invited to do so. That invitation, however, was rescinded the moment Cruz refused to endorse Trump. Cruz was stopped at the door to the lavish suite, where he was denied entrance. Later, a senior aide to Adelson tweeted out a picture of Adelson and his wife posing with Trump, “their choice for President!”
Trump and his supporters were building their first wall—to keep Cruz out of the upcoming general election process.
This is personal.
Even so, mere hours after being booed from the convention stage, an astoundingly tone-deaf Cruz on Thursday morning told an angry group of Texas constituents that he refuses to be a “servile puppy dog” to the party’s nominee. Did I miss something? Trump gave the man a prime time speaking slot—and an opportunity to address the nation—despite the fact that he refused to endorse Trump. What about that indicates the servility of anyone, much less Cruz?
Cruz also admitted that despite his lofty speech the night before, steeped as it was in soaring constitutional rhetoric and concluding with a call for those listening to “vote their conscience,” his beef with Trump was, it turns out, quite personal. When some members of the Texas delegation voiced their displeasure with his actions, Cruz defiantly stated that his refusal to endorse Trump was “not about politics” but was, rather, “personal.”
It seems that Cruz was mad because of Trump’s perceived attacks against Cruz’s wife Heidi and his father Rafael. With regard to Heidi, the Cruz campaign created an ad portraying Donald Trump’s wife, former supermodel Melania Trump, scantily clad and in a distinctly immodest pose—which it then plastered across the notoriously conservative and religious state of Utah just prior to the Utah primaries. The Trump campaign hit back with an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz. With regard to Cruz’s father Rafael, the National Enquirer published a photo of what appeared to be the elder Cruz with Lee Harvey Oswald handing out pro-Castro pamphlets in New Orleans in 1963. The implication was that the elder Cruz was linked to the assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Though he was not responsible for its publication, Trump publicly referenced the National Enquirer photo.
That is it. Even so, facing his constituents Thursday morning, Cruz angrily pointed his finger and doubled down, declaring that “right and wrong matter.” Needless to say, Cruz’s morning-after righteous indignation fell as flat as his speech the night before.
After all, this was pretty surprising stuff coming from the guy who just publicly broke a formal pledge because, well, he got mad. And how could he have known, in taking the pledge so many months before, that he would become mad at Trump . . . because Trump hit back . . . when Cruz hit him first. Oh, that’s right: Cruz could have saved himself this dilemma by simply never taking the pledge. After all, that would have been the honest, upstanding thing to have done. And as we all now know, Ted Cruz is all about standing up for what it right. As it was, he did—take the pledge, that is. And he should have kept it.
Punch and Counterpunch
The back-and-forth between the Cruz and Trump camps is the classic political punch and counterpunch. It is the dirty underbelly of politics. It is the stuff of tough primary contests, where politics don’t differ all that much and distinctions must be drawn among individuals candidates as individuals. It is the part that makes good, decent Americans everywhere wince in discomfort and embarrassment that our politics should sink so low—on both sides of the aisle.
Were these among America’s proudest moments? No. Were they too personal for comfort? You bet. Were they surprisingly juvenile and mean-spirited for a presidential contest? Of course. Were they completely unexpected given the rough-and-tumble world of presidential politics? Of course not.
Most importantly, were the majority of the so-called “personal attacks” started by Ted Cruz? Yes, they were. Whatever you may think of Donald Trump, he was hitting back. That is very different from dealing the first blow.
Every playground bully knows this: Think twice about throwing the first punch if you can’t knock the other guy out. Whatever you do, don’t throw the first punch if you can’t take the counterpunch.
Cruzing to Obscurity
In the days since, things have not improved for Cruz. His favorability ratings have dropped precipitously. A recent CNN/ORC poll indicates that Cruz’s likability, at least among Republicans, dropped by 50 percent as a result of his actions at the RNC. Before the convention, two-thirds of Republicans viewed Cruz positively. After his RNC performance, that number dropped to one-third. That represents a precipitous decline, and is not what a 2020 presidential hopeful wants to see.
The ever astute Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer put it best in observing that “what Cruz delivered was the longest suicide note in American political history.”
Cruz’s gamble—taking a solitary stand against Trump as the GOP nominee—appears, for the time being, to have backfired. While that is bad for Ted Cruz, it is probably a good thing for the rest of us.
As it turns out, taking dramatic stands based on principle rather than practicality for the purpose of serving his own needs is somewhat of a Cruz characteristic.
Green Eggs and Ham
Cruz’s RNC performance was reminiscent of his much publicized 2013 quasi-filibuster in the United States Senate in protest of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. For 21 hours, we watched Cruz talk. We watched him read bedtime stories to his young daughters, including Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. Cruz even provided two versions of his family’s recipe for the literature-inspired dish. All the while, Cruz kept talking, and talking, and talking. It was dramatic, yes. Perhaps even slightly touching—in an odd, uncomfortable, too-public way. It was silly, and pointless.
Ultimately, it was Ted Cruz grandstanding. Cruz was making a name for himself while strategically positioning himself as a “Washington outsider” ostensibly opposing “the Washington establishment”—the same Washington establishment of which he was unquestionably a part. Cruz was positioning himself to run for the presidency in an election cycle characterized by unprecedented voter mistrust of and anger at career politicians—career politicians like Cruz. As far as the Obamacare question, Cruz’s mission was doomed from the start. It would have no effect or consequence. It was, we now know, mere political theater. It was also typical Ted Cruz.
Fall From Grace
The RNC marked what I predict will be the beginning of Ted Cruz’s stunning fall from political—and certainly the GOP’s—grace. Though it is still early, that fall promises to assume Shakespearean proportions—or at least I hope it does. Because at the RNC, Ted Cruz showed that he is not fit to lead—now or ever. Despots and Manchurian candidates from the right are every bit as frightening—and destructive—as those hailing from the left. So are those who feel personally entitled to hold political office. Regardless of party affiliation, a leader who is in it for himself is no leader; he’s a tyrant. So is a leader who is convinced of his own entitlement to lead. He, above all, is dangerous to the nation he feels entitled to dominate.
It may just be that we dodged a bullet in Ted Cruz. Time will tell.
Out-Politicking the Politician
It is ironic that in the contest between a businessman with no political experience and a career politician, it turns out that the career politician is the one who can’t take the heat in the boiling kitchen of a messy and overcrowded primary contest. Go figure. One would almost think that Trump—as the founder, owner, and main force behind one of the largest real estate development companies in the country, if not the world—has himself battled a storm or two. Go figure. But I digress.
Someone should send Ted Cruz a memo. This is not about Heidi or Rafael Cruz. It is not about Melania Trump. It is not about Ted Cruz or even Donald Trump. This is no longer even about politics. This is about the future of our country. This is about stopping the bleeding of the last eight years. This is about stopping a train headed full-bore toward our self-destruction. This is about saving us from the suicide that we are in the process of committing. This is about saving us from the dire predictions of none other than Thomas Jefferson and Alexis de Toqueville. This is about saving our own lives.
Just as we conservatives will reject the Clinton/Obama 3.0 ticket this fall, so also should Texas voters reject Ted Cruz when he comes up for re-election in 2018.
Cruz needs to go. Let’s face it: He’s just no good at the politics of politics.
Please let me know your thoughts.