Last summer the GOP establishment came up with a perfect idea. The party would force all
248 17 candidates for the party’s nomination for president to literally sign a loyalty pledge.
I [name] affirm that if I do not win the 2016 Republican nomination for president of the United States I will endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is. I further pledge that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party.
This was the establishment’s best idea for how to stop Donald Trump from being nominated. People were worried the populist candidate would take his supporters and run as an independent, harming GOP efforts to win what should have been an easy race against the scandal-ridden Hillary Clinton.
It’s really a shocker that it failed, given that all the best minds were behind this fail-safe Washington DC establishment plan. For what it’s worth, I condemned the pledge idea in September, saying that if elected officials truly wanted to save the GOP, they should pick a big policy idea and actually get it passed. That would require not just good legislative skills, but good communication skills to build public support. They chose the pledge instead.
Last night, Ted Cruz took his set of titanium huevos and walked onstage at the Republican National Convention. He gave a rousing defense of Republican principles and policy ideas and told everyone to vote their conscience up and down the ticket, helping anyone who supports the Constitution.
In a stunningly self-indicting move, Trump supporters interpreted this call to vote one’s conscience as a call to not support Donald Trump. Trump campaign manager Paul “I can handle things! I’m smart! Not like everybody says… like dumb” Manafort orchestrated a public booing fest.
The message from the Trump campaign should have been, “Thank you, senator, for that rousing speech. We appreciate your support of our shared values and principles. Let’s go beat Hillary.”
Instead the message was sent that Cruz asked people to vote for candidates who will defend the Constitution, and the Trumpian crowd responded back, “Screw you, we will vote for Trump instead.” Trump himself repeatedly highlighted the contrast between him and Cruz.
Republican leaders who got behind Trump over the course of his campaign, consciences panged, have been letting the epithets fly. Many are calling him an “a–hole.” Former Speaker of the House John Boehner said, “Lucifer is back.” One senator also told a reporter Cruz wasn’t allowed to sit in GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson’s suite because, “he’s a piece of sh–.” Sen. Dan Coats, Mike Pence’s buddy in Indiana and a fat cat lobbyist, called him a “self-centered, narcissistic, pathological liar.”
One of their main talking points is that Cruz backed out on his pledge to support the nominee no matter who he or she might end up being.
It’s kind of a weird complaint on multiple levels. For one thing, congratulations were the first thing Cruz offered in his speech. “I want to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination last night,” were his first words.
Highlighting his lack of endorsement wasn’t something the campaign needed to dwell on. After Trump campaign officials sent word out that they’d like to punish Cruz for his speech (a speech they’d seen before he gave it), he did tell Texas delegates that his pledge to endorse the eventual nominee was “abrogated” when Trump lied about his father and demeaned his wife. Fine.
Trump himself backed out of the pledge in March. “Donald Trump rescinds pledge to support eventual Republican nominee,” is the headline from March 30.
Good for Trump. And good for Cruz! The pledge was always stupid. Bill Kristol, no Trump fan, encouraged Trump not to sign the pledge last September. Instead, he said, Trump should say, “I pledge loyalty only to my country. I hope to support GOP candidate, but it depends what the GOP stands for. Unlike some others perhaps, I’m a patriot, not a partisan.” That was the speech Cruz gave last night.
Trump has taken over the party. And the Republican Party leadership have worked to ensure his success as party leader, going so far as to shut down parliamentary-approved dissent using strong-arm tactics. They are demanding loyalty to him.
But pledges are stupid. Pledges are a sign of weakness. Anyone can demand loyalty, using bullying tactics or force. But great leaders and institution receive loyalty out of respect and gratitude.
Think of it like the head of a household. He or she can use emotional manipulation or violence to demand that children do things. But the parent who governs the household with love and wisdom tends to receive the type of loyalty that is faithful and far stronger.
Cults of personality are dangerous. Cruz’s speech supported various aspects of Trump’s stated policy goals, such as the need for strong border security. He gave a history of the Republican Party as the institution founded on the fight to end slavery. He tied its founding principles to the founding of the country and our greatest ideals, such as religious liberty. He congratulated Trump but didn’t bow down. So? The party needs unity around ideas, not individuals. And if it is going to unite around an individual, it can pick someone far better.
Politicians are only good for a party insofar as they embody the organizing values of the party and advance its agenda. Loyalty to a politician over and against virtues and ideals is a dangerous idea.
Pledges are a short-term response to serious problems. The Republican Party is suffering because its voters have had enough of GOP leaders’ incompetence and cowardice. Fixing what ails the Republican Party requires resolve and a strength of character that is in short supply. Pledges that none of the leading contenders, including Trump and Cruz, held to are not a solution. Yes, the pledge kept Trump in the party, probably. It may have been the solution the party deserved, but it’s not the solution the party needed.