Ted Cruz: Vote Your Conscience – Just Kidding

In an interesting turn of events, Ted Cruz has now endorsed Donald Trump.

That’s right – after boldly refusing to do so in front of millions of viewers at the GOP convention, Cruz has warmed up to The Donald.

I should confess up front that Ted Cruz was never my guy. I have long found something vaguely repellant about the man, though it is tough to articulate what exactly seems amiss.

I think the “constitutionalist” label is overblown – sure, he went to Harvard Law, and undoubtedly knows constitutional law well, but he’s been a selective defender of the Constitution at best. He has a shaky record on the 4th Amendment, waffling back and forth between pro- and anti- surveillance positions depending on the direction the political wind is blowing.

And to tag him as the “next Reagan” always seemed silly. His fellow Republican colleagues in the Senate don’t even like him. The idea of Cruz becoming a great national unifier seemed far-fetched.

All that being said, I gained a newfound respect for him because of the stand he took at the convention.

When he accepted the invitation to speak, Cruz faced a dilemma. If he backed Trump, his reputation as a dependable conservative would have been in jeopardy. If he refused to support him, he would open himself up to criticism and possibly sanctions from the party. Either way, he was likely going to alienate a segment of the GOP.

It would have been understandable if he reluctantly endorsed Trump onstage for the sake of keeping his political career alive. Other candidates had done so.

Instead, Cruz refused to capitulate, and justifiably so. After all, Trump had insinuated that he wasn’t a citizen and that he cheated on his wife. As if that was not enough, Trump also attacked his wife’s appearance and implied that his father was connected to the JFK assassination.

In light of all of that, Cruz had good reason to make his stand. It was a potentially costly decision, but an admirable one.

The politically expedient move would have been to decline the invitation to speak or to offer a terse and halfhearted endorsement. But Cruz didn’t choose either of those paths. He set out to prove that he was unwavering in his convictions, and drew the ire of the media and party leaders in the process.

Pro-Trump conservatives hammered Cruz for his convention speech, but at the very least, he came away looking like he had stuck to his guns. It may have made him even more unlikeable in the eyes of Trump fans and GOP elites, but it reinforced his brand – Cruz, the steadfast conservative Texan, was holding on to principle at the expense of popularity.

One must wonder, then, what could possibly have motivated Cruz to endorse him now? I’d imagine that he has been pressured by party officials to throw his weight behind Trump, but that was to be expected. He should have seen that coming when he chose not to endorse during his convention speech.

Cruz claims that Hillary Clinton is just so awful that Trump, despite his faults, is clearly preferable. That’s a reasonable position. But Trump was running against Clinton in June, and she was awful then too. The #NeverHillary argument doesn’t work if you hogged the spotlight during the GOP convention and refused to endorse the nominee then.

At this point, all he did was torpedo his own career and reputation. By reversing course this late in the game, Cruz selected perhaps the only possible way to alienate everyone.

He’s not going to wind up in the good graces of the Trump crowd. Sheepishly backing him now doesn’t undo the damage done by his defiance in Cleveland.

And anything commendable about his convention speech has now been entirely negated. In fact, he winds up looking worse than if he had just endorsed him early on. He seized his opportunity in the limelight to draw attention to himself at Trump’s convention. He had his moment, and scored his “vote your conscience” soundbite. But in the end, he fell in line and endorsed the man that waged a vicious smear campaign against him and his family.

Ted Cruz, “principled” conservative, played the political game in the name of self-preservation.

What once passed for principles now looks instead like shrewd self-promotion. He made himself the center of attention in Cleveland, but ultimately came around to Trump when it served his interests to do so.

The narrative that Cruz is almost universally hated in Washington because he’s just so darn principled is starting to sound absurd. Maybe he really is a shameless opportunist as so many have alleged?

If there’s a takeaway from the Cruz-Trump saga, it’s that even the most apparently sincere candidates act in self-interested ways and we should maintain a degree of skepticism toward them all. The borderline idolatrous Cruz diehards were just asking to be let down when their political messiah proved to be all too human.

About Jacob Richards

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Jacob Richards resides in Phoenix, Arizona, where he is a student at Arizona Christian University and a Ronald Reagan Policy Fellow at the Goldwater Institute. Previously, he worked as a Koch Summer Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California. Jacob was a 2015 ISI Honors Scholar and is a 2016 recipient of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Richard and Helen DeVos Freedom Center Leadership Award. His chief intellectual interests lie at the intersection of libertarian and conservative thought in American politics. Follow him on Twitter: @JacobRichardsAZ