For the first time since I was standing in the crowd inside Indianapolis’s historic Union Station on the Cruz campaign’s fateful night of May 3rd, I had the chance to see Ted Cruz last weekend. I was in Austin for the Federalist Society’s second annual Texas statewide lawyers conference, and Cruz—whose national star first began to truly shine in Austin, when he helped transform the Texas Solicitor General’s office into the conservative litigation behemoth it is today and also lectured part-time at the University of Texas School of Law—delivered the Saturday morning keynote address. The video of his speech is public; and, while you can only see the back of my head in the video, I was actually sitting in the front row.
I am a longtime fan of Cruz’s, and I campaigned hard for him this presidential cycle. One of the most humbling moments of my life came this past February, when Ted gave me and a good friend of mine—as Iowa campaign trail volunteers—personal shoutouts during his nationally televised Iowa caucuses victory speech. I was also involved with the Illinois statewide Cruz campaign leadership team, and I appeared on the Illinois ballot as a Cruz delegate candidate.
After returning to the front lines to campaign for Ted in Indiana, I later wrote a piece here outlining my thoughts for what he should say in his much-hyped speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. While I am not nearly conceited enough to think my piece played much (if any) role in what ensued, Cruz’s eventual speech in Cleveland was about as similar to what I had outlined as I could have possibly hoped it might be. I was positively thrilled, and I wrote what is probably my most widely shared piece that I have written for this site: “Ted Cruz, Conservative Icon, Delivers Speech of His Life in Cleveland.”
After Ted finished his keynote address to the Federalist Society conference in Austin last Saturday, he hung around for a bit to chat with conference attendees. I approached him and reminded him that he had so kindly mentioned me and my friend in his Iowa victory speech. He seemed genuinely thankful for all the volunteer work we had done throughout the campaign. I then thanked Ted for his genuinely principled stance in Cleveland, and mentioned how I had written “glowingly” about it for The Resurgent. Ted told me that he remembered reading the piece, and that he was very appreciative of the kind words I had written.
While I was again humbled by his gratitude and appreciation for the piece I had written, I actually intended my words to be a not-so-subtle reminder to Ted of the political—and, indeed, moral—compass that he so conscientiously staked out in his Cleveland stand.
The reminder was needed: Ted Cruz came dangerously close during his speech at our Federalist Society conference to openly endorsing Donald Trump for President of the United States.
You should watch the full speech, but Cruz’s general theme was an effusive praising of the legacy of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, followed by a carefully selected litany of 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that was designed to demonstrate just how precarious, given the current composition of the Court, so many of our most cherished rights and causes really are. Cruz refused to actually utter the magic “I endorse…” words when directly prodded by an audacious audience interlocutor, but he made clear that he remains ardently #NeverHillary, and that he and his team are closely monitoring Trump every day. The implicit thrust of his commentary was clear. It was, in effect, a thinly veiled “quasi-endorsement.”
Over the past few days since the Austin confab, some in Cruz’s inner circle have been fairly explicit in laying the groundwork for what might be an eventual endorsement. Here was his former campaign manager and still-close confidante, Jeff Roe:
Roe on endorsement: Cruz is "on a journey"- he'll have an answer before election day. "We talk about it every day." Recent performance helps
— Liam Donovan (@LPDonovan) September 21, 2016
Without naming names out of respect for their privacy, I have also been in some conversations over the past few days with some friends who are closer—substantially closer, actually—to Ted than I am. While we all understand the extremely difficult position Ted currently finds himself in, the sense of frustration—and, frankly, maybe even bewilderment—is palpable among all of us. Following his highly principled, thankless stand in Cleveland, how exactly did we end up in a situation where Ted “Vote Your Conscience” Cruz might still end up endorsing Donald Trump?
While I have a number of friends close to the core of Cruz world, the reality remains that I am not—nor have I ever been—on a Cruz payroll of any sort. I am an independent conservative blogger who happens to care about Ted—who views Ted as the very present leader of the conservative movement that, having momentarily been displaced by the pernicious form of non-conservative pseudo-white-identity politics known as the “alt-right,” currently finds itself in something analogically akin to Babylonian exile.
All of which is to say that I feel I need to say this in the bluntest, most straightforward terms possible: Ted Cruz should not endorse Donald Trump for President of the United States.
There are at least six reasons why.
1. Any Attempt to Make This Look Principled Will Fail – Perhaps the most obvious reason for why Cruz should not endorse Donald Trump, at this stage, is that it will inevitably look calculated and conniving. After his Cleveland stand, I tweeted that the well-worn argument that Cruz is simply yet another self-interested, run-of-the-mill politician must now go the way of the dodo bird. Cruz purposefully eschewed the easy way out in favor of taking the principled high road. I and so many others were so very proud of him; this was the Ted Cruz we knew all along.
Cruz risks throwing away all of this goodwill if he now endorses Trump. All the old insults will come back. He’s Nixon. He’s Machiavelli. Everyone will ask why Cruz did not just endorse Trump in Cleveland, and there will frankly be no good answer to that valid question. Cruz can try to justify the endorsement by explaining that Trump has “pivoted” toward a more serious conservative candidate (his team actually already appears to be doing a little bit of that), but then why does this sort of thing still invariably happen?
You can dislike Dowd, CNN or Gates and still acknowledge this is insane behavior for a person running for President. pic.twitter.com/ZlZjigQR2y
— Rory Cooper (@rorycooper) September 17, 2016
Kellyanne Conway certainly has Trump on a tighter leash than did pro-Russian Exceptionalism Kremlin shill Paul Manafort or woman-hitting liar Corey Lewandowski. But when the candidate is a borderline-deranged megalomaniac who seeks the presidency purely out of spite, there is really only so much one can do.
There is simply no possible way for Cruz to try to spin this as principled. Contra what Sean Hannity or the Breitbart.com team might have you believe, there is no “pivot.” What you have seen all along with Donald Trump is what you get. The only reason the polls are tightening at all is because Hillary Clinton is a living, breathing dumpster fire who is terrible at doing pretty much everything in life. Trump has done nothing at all since late July to make “vote your conscience” now appear to actually be an implicit call to vote for the “alt-right” god-king.
2. There Is No Walking Back From Cleveland – Whatever the internal debate in the Cruz world inner circle may or may not have been, Cruz made his strong stand at the convention. He hedged harder than I would have preferred the next morning by making the speech seem even more like a chivalrous stand in defense of his wife than it was a principled substantive stand against Trump’s noxious brand of existentially threatening “alt-right” non-conservative populism, but the fact remains that Cruz conscientiously decided not to endorse Trump during his nationally televised speech at the convention. There is simply no getting away from that very basic fact. He made his stand, and he had to be aware of the reasonably foreseeable fallout of taking that stand. The righteous and honorable thing to do now is to defend that career-defining stand. If Pandora’s box has indeed been opened, then it is far better to make the best of the resultant chaos than to attempt to put the box back together again.
3. Cruz’s Most Ardent Supporters Will Be Disappointed and/or Horrified – Cruz’s current situation is no doubt a tenuous one. The GOP establishment, which once again revealed its true colors in March/April when it failed to rally to Cruz’s side when the Party of Lincoln faced its existential civil war of convivial constitutional conservatism versus nefarious nationalist populism, hates Cruz more than ever in the aftermath of his Cleveland stand. The Trumpstablishment is interested in potentially trying to primary Cruz in Texas in 2018, and, while Ted should be safe, crazier things have indeed happened. But Ted knew well that the GOP establishment would double down on its Cruz-Hatred Syndrome™ following his Cleveland stand; surely, that was already baked into the calculus.
Cruz is simply too well-established, at this point in his political career, as a polarizing figure. While he can help mend some bridges and assuage some concerns (see point (6), below) with his future actions, a figure as polarizing as Cruz must always be conscientious about retaining the core of his extant support. And the core of his support, which includes folks like me and so many other millions of proud constitutionalists across the country, will not be happy if he now endorses Donald Trump. Heck, most will be worse than merely not happy. They will be bitter. They will be angry. Many will be so disheartened so as to give up on politics forever. My personal conversations over the past few days and my Twitter feed are both extremely telling, in this regard.
Personally, I would be very disappointed—though I am attuned enough to the nuances of the situation where I would not begrudge him too, too much for making the move. But I would certainly not attempt to defend the decision, and would do nothing to try to inoculate Cruz from some of the inevitable blowback he would receive. There will be no blind following along from folks like me.
4. It Will Not Help Cruz in His 2018 Senate Reelection Campaign – Perhaps Cruz thinks endorsing Trump will help fend off a potentially intimidating Trumpstablishment/establishmentarian squish/nationalist populist primary challenge in his 2018 reelection race to return to the U.S. Senate. Perhaps it actually would ward off a tacit NRSC-aligned establishmentarian, but it is difficult to foresee a scenario in which the “alt-right” does not attempt to primary Cruz anyway. The monumental clown Roger Stone is certainly working on it. This once again follows directly from Cruz’s Cleveland stand. There is simply no walking back from the fact that, when given the opportunity to bow before the “alt-right” Mussolini-retweeting, “Two Corinthians”-misquoting, Putin-praising, manhood size-defending orange god-king, Cruz gave that “alt-right” god-king something akin to a massive middle finger. It was, of course, the right thing to do. But the wounds from such a symbolic middle finger do not quickly heal. And since classically pro-Constitution, pro-free market, pro-limited government sentiment is genuinely more popular in a (counter-intuitively) urban/suburban-dominated red state such as Texas than it is in more rural-dominated red states, it is not unreasonable to think that much of Cruz’s core first-generation Tea Party support will sour on him for making the Trump endorsement.
5. The Resistance Needs Ted Cruz, and Ted Cruz Has a Unique Role in the Resistance – Almost every other prominent Republican in the country—with notable, admirable exceptions, such as Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Sasse and my former boss, Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee—has sacrificed some degree of ideological, intellectual, and/or moral integrity by being tainted with Trump/”alt-right” complicity. Here is an excerpt of a recent text message I received from a former Cruz-supporting friend whom I would deem a solid “category 1″/”category 1.5” Trump supporter, as it pertains to the general election:
I wish that I could tell Cruz, but even if he now thinks that Trump is better than Clinton, we need someone who is a leader in the conservative movement to have stood against Trump and to be the insurance policy for the GOP in case Trump goes down in flames in November. Cruz was that guy because of Cleveland. Literally everyone else in the party is tainted.
Cruz is, whether he covets the role or not—and I suspect he does—the de facto leader of the exiled conservative movement in America. His Cleveland speech assured him of that role. That role, furthermore, is his path to victory in a potential 2020 presidential primary. Plenty of candidates will be able to say they endorsed Trump and did all they could to campaign for him. Cruz will never, ever win the supporters that those candidates will be courting. Instead, he should focus on securing the support of those of us who emphatically believe in training and mobilizing the conservative movement for a possible proverbial return to Jerusalem out of Babylonian exile.
If Ben Sasse runs against Cruz in a 2020 presidential primary, then it is true that Cruz will not be able to out-#NeverTrump Sasse. But Cruz has the institutional support throughout the broader channels of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that Sasse largely lacks. And Cruz took the very public, very controversial, and very awesome stand in Cleveland that Sasse did not take. As I told a senior Cruz advisor Saturday in Austin, if conservatives are ever to preempt the “alt-right” and other sundry brute populist forces from permanently corrupting the Party of Lincoln, that Resistance will have to emanate from the broader Cruz network. It just has to. We are ground zero for the pushback, I told the advisor. There is simply no other option.
I hope and pray that Cruz, as a principled movement conservative for all of his adult life, appreciates the necessary role he has to play in all of this high drama. He must not taint himself, and thus discredit the Resistance’s most natural leader, by now endorsing Trump.
6. There Is a Better Course to Steer – I continue to think that the least bad option for Cruz—and, to be clear, they are all sub-optimal—is to continue saying exactly what he has been saying through Election Day. He should continue to preach the imperative of voting one’s conscience. But he does not need to affirmatively accede to the “lesser of two evils” narrative and actually pick a side, when the choice is between Hillary Clinton and her old donor Donald J. Trump. One can oppose multiple evils, as I wrote:
Like many of my fellow constitutional conservatives, I oppose both Hillary Clinton and her old donor Donald Trump. I oppose a catastrophically corrupt, race-baiting, plutocratic socialist who serially undermined American national security and lied to the faces of the families of Benghazi victims, and I also oppose a borderline-deranged, Kremlin-tainted, quasi–fascistic, fraudulent orange cult leader. As between Ebola and HIV, I choose neither. I am firmly both #NeverHillary and #NeverTrump.
Cruz does not need to actually use the term, “#NeverTrump.” Frankly, I would not be bothered to learn that he plans to vote for Trump in the privacy of his own ballot box. So be it. That is leaps and bounds different than a public endorsement—especially of the man who once tweeted this:
Lyin' Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
Furthermore, in preparing for his 2018 U.S. Senate run and possible 2020 presidential run, there are some concrete steps that Cruz can take to improve his public profile. Given how badly the establishment almost unanimously preferred Trump to Cruz when it mattered, I suspect the days of calling Mitch McConnell a “liar” on the floor of the U.S. Senate are over. But Cruz does not need to—and absolutely should not—become yet another foot soldier for feckless leadership. Instead, he should partner with other principled conservatives, such as the policy innovator Lee, to help proffer and advance a substantive conservative platform that can demonstrate the sincerity and gravity of the Resistance’s efforts as it grapples to bring conservatism out of exile and overtake momentarily ascendant “alt-right” nationalist populism as the governing ideology of the Party of Lincoln. If he is successful in that endeavor—in, at minimum, clarifying what conservatism can do for the American people, and in distinguishing conservatism from nationalist populism—then that would be a truly fantastic platform for Cruz to run on, in 2020.
I doubt these words will make much of a difference in Ted Cruz’s upcoming decision. He is between a rock and a hard place, and he is no doubt receiving advice from advisors and operatives far more qualified than I am.
But, at the same time, I hope that if Ted reads this, he takes it seriously. Endorsing Donald Trump would substantially damage his name brand amongst his most dedicated base of support. Many would forever disavow him. Some would drop out of politics forever. As an independent blogger with a sense of duty to call it like I see it, I would neither defend his endorsement nor try to inoculate him from the blowback he would receive.
I sincerely hope Ted does the right thing by following the trail he so courageously blazed in Cleveland. He should not, under any circumstances, now endorse Donald Trump. We in the Resistance need an untainted Ted Cruz. And Ted, whether or not he realizes it, also needs us.