WASHINGTON — Did Ted Cruz’s decision to stand on stage at the Republican convention and urge delegates to vote their conscience doom his next presidential bid?
But with each fresh outrage or misstep from the nominee, Cruz may be cementing his position as the one big-name Republican nervy enough, or savvy enough, or with enough integrity, to show up and snub Trump rather than quietly avoiding the convention or loyally setting aside misgivings to deliver the “I support the nominee” incantation.
Even so, it took an extraordinary amount of chutzpah for Cruz to take the stage in Cleveland knowing full well, according to aides, that he would face blowback when delegates realized he was refusing to endorse.
There were other formulations Cruz could have chosen to avoid all this blowback.
He didn’t have to say “vote your conscience.” That’s a weighted phrase that echoed slogans from the “Never Trump” activists who maneuvered, without success, to block the New York mogul from collecting the prize.
Instead, Cruz could have taken the path of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the party’s last vice presidential nominee, or Sen. John McCain, its 2008 presidential nominee. Both have said they’d support the party’s nominee, while carefully avoiding such sentences as “I like Donald Trump,” or “I support Donald Trump” or “I think Donald Trump would make a great president” — any of which would invite a lightning strike in Cruz’s vicinity.
Were the boos and jeers of Cruz organic or instigated as the speech wore on and it became apparent that he wasn’t going to go any further than he had at the top, when he congratulated Trump on becoming the nominee?
Hard to prove, but journalists on the floor witnessed convention whips stirring up delegates to boo Cruz.
Trump knew what was coming. He decided to make the best of it by discrediting his rival and inflicting as high a price as possible; he’s a politician who sees value in enemies and foils.
But consider the possibility that Cruz, too, got exactly what he wanted out of that episode.
Sure, he alienated many Republican stalwarts by refusing to show fealty to the party and its nominee. He angered some of his own constituents and key donors.
But whether Trump wins or loses, Cruz is the guy who kept his hands clean.
Before the night when an ovation turned to catcalls, he was the most popular Republican in Texas. He can weather the 2018 primary for re-election to the Senate.
By the time the Iowa caucuses roll around in early 2020, either President Trump will be riding high and Cruz will have no choice about sitting on the sidelines anyway — or the junior senator from Texas will be cast as the conservative Republicans should have picked in 2016. If only they had listened.
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