On Wednesday Ted Cruz continued consolidating the support of the Republican establishment. Yes, that is a true sentence I just wrote.
At least it’s true inasmuch as a Republican establishment even exists anymore. And said support is qualified to the point nearly of illusiveness, which I’ll get to in a second. But for the moment, in a primary season that has given us enough weirdness to fill out three dozen sequels to “Bulworth,” the sight of Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham gritting their teeth through endorsements of a man so unlikable that his freshman roommate from Princeton still regrets not smothering him in his sleep has to rank right up there in a list of jarring sights.
Endorsements of Cruz’s candidacy by establishment figures likely don’t mean much at this point, beyond signaling a grudging acceptance that the Texas senator is the last chance to keep Donald Trump from grabbing the nomination. And therein lies another irony. The only person the institutional Republican Party loathes more than Cruz is Trump. And yet, they are the last two men standing.
(We’re not counting John Kasich, who has taken up the Marco Rubio strategy of winning the nomination in a convention floor fight, which should work out as well for him as it did for the Florida senator.)
What’s most entertaining about this is that these endorsements aren’t coming about out of some principled belief in Cruz’s conservative politics. Nor are they coming about because the Texan has earned the respect of his fellow Republicans. It was just last month, after all, that Graham suggested that someone could murder Cruz on the floor of the Senate and none of his colleagues would blink an eye. Even more tellingly, no one in the famously clubby Senate came forward to suggest Graham was wrong. Sure he was joking, but can anyone imagine any Democrats saying something similar about Bernie Sanders without one person giving them a public flaying?
Or look at Jeb Bush’s less-than-glowing endorsement, released on Wednesday. In it, he said that Cruz has “demonstrated the ability to appeal to voters and win primary contests.” The rest is standard boilerplate about how terrible President Obama is, fear of an ISIS planet, and a reminder that “we must overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena or we will certainly lose our chance to defeat the Democratic nominee.” Nothing else about Cruz being a good candidate or a potentially great president, or even any pablum about getting to know each other on the campaign trail, growing to like Cruz’s lovely family, or any of the other standard bullshit with which endorsers usually lard up such statements.
No, what Graham, Bush, Mitt Romney and other more moderate figures are engaged in is a desperate attempt to save their party from the growing scourge of Trumpism. Which is why Romney, for one, didn’t frame his argument as a vote for Cruz being a vote for a conservative standard bearer. Since Trump’s large delegate lead makes it nearly impossible for Cruz to catch up, Romney and others are instead arguing for strategic votes to deny the New York billionaire the nomination. As Romney wrote on Facebook:
The only path that remains to nominate a Republican rather than Mr. Trump is to have an open convention. At this stage, the only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible. […]
I will vote for Senator Cruz and I encourage others to do so as well, so that we can have an open convention and nominate a Republican.
Note that Romney didn’t say he hoped to also vote for Cruz at this theoretical open convention. Which makes this exercise all that much sadder. The vehicle for stopping Trump at this point is so disliked and uninspiring he can’t garner more than halfhearted support from people who desperately need him to succeed. Is it any wonder that, so far, Republican voters are less than enthusiastic about these “Stop Trump” schemes?
All of which raises one more question: What exactly is it that Graham and Bush and Romney are trying to save here? Sure, they are loyal to their party. They may even genuinely believe in some of the same conservative principles as Cruz; though even Graham, who never met a bombing campaign or an invasion he didn’t want to launch yesterday, must surely know that Cruz’s foreign policy team makes Curtis LeMay look like a peacenik.
But surely these men know there is a good risk that denying Trump the nomination could result in a permanent split in the Republican Party they claim to be saving. If a compromise nominee comes out of the convention, Trump supporters may not turn out in the fall to vote, which costs the GOP not just the White House but seats in Congress as well. Polling indicates Trump at the top of the ticket would be a disaster for candidates down the ballot, to the point where some analysts are now muttering the GOP’s control of the House of Representative might actually be at risk. Yet, if Trump still emerges from Cleveland as the nominee, he’ll be a terribly weak candidate in the general election, and there will be no walking back their statements about him.
In short, the GOP might be seriously screwed either way. Perhaps Bush and Graham and Romney have calculated they might as well go out fighting. But this seems like the equivalent of a kamikaze mission against a ship that is already on fire and half-sunk beneath the waves.
This all must be secretly galling to Cruz, deep in that charred and desiccated cinder that lives where a normal human’s heart is usually found. Here he is, so close to his life’s dream, only to find the way blocked by a racist tangerine, and with his colleagues almost openly promising to use him just long enough to yank the nomination away from Trump, before they turn around and find someone else whose name is not Ted Cruz to hand it to. It almost makes you feel sorry for the guy. Almost.