Ted Cruz’s moment last night at the Republican national convention was an excellent, if not dramatic, reminder that being a conservative is different than being a Republican. Typically, in debating political differences here in Utah, we are focused on who is the real conservative and forget, that for most citizens anyway, the real choice is principle or party.
In light of Cruz’s convention speech, many pundits hearken back to 1976, the last time Republicans really had a contested convention. Back then Ronald Reagan was the Ted Cruz figure and Gerald Ford was the Donald Trump figure. Reagan pushed hard for the nomination but, when it was clear that Ford captured a majority of delegates, Reagan acquiesced and endorsed Ford. Many critics of Cruz judge him now by Reagan’s standard then.
Just to be clear, Reagan was only allowed to speak to the convention after Ford had everything sewn up and after Reagan agreed to endorse him. Not really a magnanimous act on Ford’s part. Cruz is being excoriated for not endorsing Trump like Reagan endorsed Ford. Cruz is being called selfish and dishonest for reneging on his previous pledge to support the eventual party nominee.
But I don’t think Cruz should be criticized at all.
First, there is no obligation on Cruz to endorse the Republican nominee who so viciously attacked his family throughout the campaign. Not only did Trump get into this childish name-calling of “lying Ted,” he ridiculed Cruz’s wife, Heidi, and accused Cruz’s dad of being part of the JFK assassination conspiracy. Donald Trump behaved ungraciously and juvenile. After such a spectacle, there is no compelling obligation for Ted Cruz to honor anything about Donald Trump.
Second, there never was any quid pro quo for permitting Cruz to address the convention. Cruz didn’t cut a deal with Trump trading speaking time for an endorsement. Trump supporters might have wanted Cruz to endorse Trump but Cruz was under no gentleman’s agreement to do so. Trump is no gentleman, so there is no unwritten courtesy violated by Cruz. If anything, Trump should have acted more like Ford than Cruz acting like Reagan. Ford only let Reagan speak after Ford got everything he wanted at the convention. We can’t justifiably blame Cruz for Trump’s incompetency in mismanaging the convention.
Lastly, Ted Cruz showed that there is a difference between a conservative and a Republican. Ted Cruz was all principle and no party last night. Obviously he felt that the party got it wrong and he wasn’t about to leave principles behind. Pundits wrote off Cruz’s remarks as posturing for the 2020 presidential race, and that might be so to some degree. But Cruz’s messaging from the very beginning of his campaign was focused on conservatism. You knew what you got with Cruz. He didn’t hide anything. None of what he said last night, or didn’t say, should be surprising.
Conservative is not a political party. There are conservative Democrats as well as Republicans. It is a tone, temperament, style, structure, and way of thinking. Conservatism has been the bulwark for American freedom standing against liberal and utilitarian ideas that destroy freedom. The Republican Party was founded on a deep sense of conservative justice, lost its way mid-20th century and regained its identity during the Reagan years. With Trump, it is now gone, but hopefully not forever – and certainly if Ted Cruz has any say about it.
During Mike Pence’s acceptance speech last night, he said matter-of-factly that he is “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican – in that order.” But, to be honest, no he’s not. He’s obviously a Republican first. Anyone who prioritizes their persona as Pence did can’t possibly be what he says he is while joining the Trump ticket. The only way Pence’s comment makes sense is if he were to admit that, as a Christian, he sought to convert Trump and, as a conservative, he joined the ticket to ensure that Trump didn’t take America off the rails. But that’s not what he said nor implied.
With the rise of Donald Trump, the Republican Party has dumped the last vestiges of conservatism. Though party faithful scramble, spit and stutter to make the best of this intellectual disaster, it pains me to see so many otherwise reasonable people defending the indefensible. Mike Pence isn’t running for president. Trump’s kids aren’t running for president. Newt, Christie, Paul Ryan and other more reasonable Republicans aren’t the Republican nominee. It should tell us something that Trump’s defenders must point to people who support Trump rather than pointing to Trump himself. It should tell us something that Trump’s defenders are now constructing what Trump stands for out of the personas of his shills and not from anything Trump has said personally.
The late and great conservative Congressman Phil Crane from Illinois was one of the first converted Republicans who said the Democratic Party of the 1960s left him – he did not leave the Democratic Party. Today’s Republican Party is dangerously close to leaving behind many influential conservative voters. It already has left me behind.