Timothy Stanley: Refusing to endorse Trump at the convention was brave, the best thing Cruz has done,
Now he's thrown it away for expediency, Stanley writes
Editor’s Note: Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He is the author of “Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Never underestimate the politician’s agony at not being talked about for five minutes. That’s one explanation for Ted Cruz’s decision to endorse Donald Trump – he may be yearning for a return to the national scene.
It’s certainly a surprising move given the two men’s personal history. Donald Trump called Cruz a liar, a Canadian, implied that his wife was unattractive and hinted that his father might have been linked to the assassination of Jack Kennedy. Saint Cruz took revenge in his convention speech by withholding an endorsement. It was the highest point in his career. He should’ve stayed up there.
Instead, he has prostrated himself before Trump on Facebook. Why? Objectively, it makes some sense. If Trump was 10 points behind Clinton, Cruz would be wise to sit out the election and say “I told you so.” The party would owe him some respect. But if Trump narrowly loses to Clinton, then Cruz could be blamed for the defeat – with repercussions for his own re-election effort in Texas. Worse, if Trump actually wins – Cruz will be frozen out of GOP politics for four, maybe even eight years. That’s a big gamble to take.
But this is Cruz’s problem: he’s all tactics, no strategy. It seems smart to play the odds and come out for Trump just before the first debate – it gets him attention and gets him into the big guy’s good books. But when the historians come to tell the story of this election the endorsement is going to look like an odd mix of craven and vain. One does not assert statesmanship by selling one’s soul in public.
And that’s what this amounts to. What Cruz did at the convention was remarkable. Brave. To borrow some evangelical language, it was like Daniel walking among the lions. While most other Republicans either stayed away or surrendered to Caesar Trumpus, Cruz walked confidently into the convention hall and laid out the reasons why he couldn’t endorse. It was subtle, lawyerly and – yes, I’ll admit it – spoke to me personally.
Clinton is unacceptable to conservatives. But that doesn’t mean that the Republican ticket is automatically preferable. Cruz implied that it is possible – which conservatives read as preferable – to remain loyal to the GOP precisely by repudiating Trump. If Trump is not a true Republican, then saying so is probably the best thing a conservative can do for the future of his/her party – to say: “Because I love the Republican Party so much, I cannot support this current nominee.”
I call this Cruz’s greatest moment, not only because he said something I sympathize with, but because only Cruz could have said it and said it so well. Its power derived from his intellect and his association with ideological conservatism.
By endorsing Trump, he has now tarnished the memory of the best thing he ever did in politics. There is no point to him after this. And that, in the words of Trump, is “sad.”
Not for Trump, of course. He continues to tempt Republicans over to the dark side and then wear their souls like a crown. Chris Christie was one of the first – and now looks principled by comparison because he sold out so early. The Bushes and Mitt Romney continue to resist. If Hillary Clinton endorses Trump, we’ll know he really is a political genius.
(An earlier version incorrectly described the story of Daniel among the lions.)