Ted Cruz, the most prominent resistance to Donald Trump since his remarks in Cleveland, endorsed Donald Trump today in a Facebook post. “I’ve made this decision for two reasons. First, last year, I promised to support the Republican nominee. And I intend to keep my word. Second, even though I have had areas of significant disagreement with our nominee, by any measure Hillary Clinton is wholly unacceptable — that’s why I have always been #NeverHillary.” It’s a lengthy statement, as is fitting of Cruz’s linguistic approach – he goes on to list six different policy disagreements between Clinton and Trump that led him to the decision.
What’s really going on here, of course, is that Cruz made a decision to short Donald Trump’s chances in Cleveland. Cruz made a stand on conservative ideology, but couldn’t bring himself to endorse a man who had called his wife ugly and implied that his dad shot JFK. In the time since then, the Trump campaign had – despite Trump’s public comments – put a great deal of pressure on Cruz to endorse and get behind him (I assume one of their chief arguments being that he is the only candidate who can defend the country against the continued threat of skilled assassin Rafael Cruz, who still roams the earth unrestricted).
But the fact is Donald Trump is fundamentally no different than he was in Cleveland as an actual candidate. Sure, he’s modified a few policies and moderated his tone – but all the misgivings Cruz had about Trump as a potential president and Commander in Chief are still in place. What has changed? Two things: Hillary Clinton’s strength as a candidate has degraded significantly, and Cruz’s political standing was damaged far more among his Texas base and among the donor community than he anticipated by the “vote your conscience” stand.
Had Cruz gone onstage in Cleveland and backed Trump, I would not have been surprised. He would have done so following endorsements by the likes of Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio. Indeed, at the time his speech was released to media, I assumed Cruz would add a line near the end stating his individual commitment to vote for Donald Trump. When that line didn’t come, he leaned into a chorus of boos and, the next morning, a cacophony of attacks from the Texas delegation. The assumption he was making: that Donald Trump would lose, that he would lose big, and that Ted Cruz would be there to lead as the de facto spokesman for the principled conservative movement going forward.
The real degradation since then, though, came due to those who had been some of Cruz’s most prominent backers. The Mercer family and Peter Thiel played critical roles in elevating Cruz from a virtual unknown in the state of Texas to knocking off a popular Lieutenant Governor in an extremely competitive primary. Now they are prominent backers of Donald Trump, and the threat of a well-backed primary campaign for Cruz in 2018 was increasingly real, with Rep. Michael McCaul and former Gov. and DWTS star Rick Perry showing themselves to be very competitive against him. Cruz’s former media backers had turned on the populist, and the potential for a well-backed challenger against Cruz in Texas was real. Had Trump lost narrowly to Hillary Clinton, as seems the likeliest outcome today, the timing of Cruz’s race would’ve made him public enemy number one among the Trump crew.
A move by Ted Cruz to endorse Trump in Cleveland wouldn’t have satisfied anyone already opposed to Cruz, but it would’ve seemed like par for the course among all the Republicans who’ve lined up to back the nominee, which now includes all the candidates this cycle except for Jeb Bush and John Kasich. The move to endorse now seems ideologically baseless, because it is. It seems like an act of political self-defense, because it is. And it seems opportunistic, because it is.