There are probably a lot of people out there wondering why the Republicans hoping to stall Donald Trump's seemingly unstoppable journey to the 2016 presidential nomination haven't done the logical thing and rallied fervently around Ted Cruz, the only man who's given Trump an even nominal run for his money.
On Wednesday, former House Speaker John Boehner provided all the evidence you'll ever need as to why the Cruz train has never left the station.
Cruz, Boehner told a crowd at Stanford, was "Lucifer in the flesh." He added, “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.” For good measure, he said that he would vote for Trump but would never vote for Cruz.
Now, it's not like the world was unaware of Cruz's powerfully repellant qualities. Cruz's ascendancy has been accompanied by statements of hatred from people who have encountered him at every stage of his life. ("A nightmare of a human being" is a typical phrase.) But to be compared to Satan by the man who was, until recently, the highest-ranking Republican politician in the country is still, shall we say, noteworthy.
More importantly, Boehner neatly summed up the thing that has prevented Cruz from uniting Republicans around him. It's not only that they loathe him with near-religious fervor. It's that they loathe him so much that some of them would rather have Trump.
Cruz has made his career out of opposing Republican leaders in Congress, so it's easy for him to portray Boehner's animus as the fulmination of an elite whose day is done. The problem for him is that you can't do that and then expect any help from the party. Even though Trump is currently burning the GOP down, just a handful of Cruz's congressional colleagues have backed him. A more common stance is that taken by Rep. Peter King, who recently announced, "I hate Ted Cruz, and I think I’ll take cyanide if he ever got the nomination."
It's not every day that you see people threatening to poison themselves if a serving United States senator wins a political contest, but that is the special brand of misery that Ted Cruz induces.
Republican elites must also think that there's no particular reason to assume that Cruz wouldn't lead the GOP into just as deep an electoral ditch as Trump is likely to. It might be a more ideologically sound, fire-and-brimstone sort of a ditch, but a ditch is a ditch.
Meanwhile, there's plenty of evidence beyond Boehner's intervention that the GOP establishment is warming quickly to Trump. His foreign policy speech on Wednesday was met with approving noises from key senators. Sen. Orrin Hatch, the very definition of a GOP grandee, all but confirmed to Politico that he'd be hopping on the Trump bandwagon soon. "He’s going to have revamp things he’s doing, and I think he’ll be able to," he said in an interview. "He hasn’t won it yet, but if he does, I’m going to support him."
People watching the 2016 race should pay attention to these signals not just for what they say about the upcoming general election, but also for what they potentially say about the primary still—still!—going on. There's been lots of talk about a possibly contested Republican presidential convention. Obviously, Trump can avert that scenario by getting the number of delegates he needs before July. But even if he just gets very close, it's not unthinkable to imagine the party converging on Cruz and John Kasich in June and begging them to stand down and hand Trump the victory he's almost certain to get a month later. It's very difficult to identify the forces that Cruz would need to propel him past Trump and all the people who voted for him, since—did I mention this before?—almost everyone hates his guts, and it's a safe bet that his new "running mate" won't help sway a single person.
Better to try and bump him off as early as humanly possible. Or, to put it in terms that John Boehner might use: better to send Lucifer back to hell.