So, some weeks ago, Donald Trump decided to find new lows to sink to by attacking Ted Cruz’s wife on Twitter. This caused Cruz to be (naturally and understandably) outraged, and to dispense with any notions that there could be anything resembling peace and harmony between him and Trump. As longtime spectators of the dumpster fire that is the 2016 presidential campaign are aware, Cruz had resisted efforts on the part of others to get him to attack Trump, but every person has a breaking point, and Trump helped Cruz find his by . . . well . . . by being Donald Trump for longer than Ted Cruz could be patient and indulgent.
It is good and fine that Cruz has discovered that Trump is a threat to the republic. And I am glad that the candidate whose campaign I endorsed is finally going to war against Trump. But it would be nice if Cruz would admit that earlier efforts to make nice with–and appease–Trump were both a waste of time, and a profound misjudgment that helped give Trump more breathing space with which to wreak havoc on the Republican party.
On this point, I turn over the microphone to Jim Newell:
“If you look at a number of the candidates that took on Donald Trump early on,” Sen. Ted Cruz told Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes on Wednesday, “they ended up as roadkill.”
These comments mark the first public occasion of Cruz describing the rationale behind his roughly seven-month strategy of kissing Donald Trump’s ass. Seven months ago seems like a quaint and gentler time in American politics, considering that Trump and his allies are now, for example, pushing the message that Heidi Cruz is Thomas Eagleton without the looks. These garbage attacks, which are really happening, worked the usually self-possessed Cruz into a lather on Thursday, culminating in Cruz calling Trump a “sniveling coward.” (He was not so enraged, however, as to rule out supporting Trump should he become the nominee. Country comes first.)
“Our objective was simple from the beginning,” Cruz continued in his conversation with Sykes. “It is to win this race, to win the nomination, and then beat Hillary Clinton and turn this country around.”
“And not be roadkill,” Sykes said.
“And not be roadkill,” Cruz added. “I am very strongly committed on the anti-roadkill approach.”
This gets some recent history wrong. More importantly, it doesn’t cut it as a morally exculpatory explanation for his behavior last year.
Cruz is a smart, calculating politician, and surely from the beginning he recognized that Trump was a nightmarish fraud. The reasoning here that he didn’t go after his principal rival for the nomination because he was worried about Trump trouncing him confirms cowardice on his part. It also promotes a causal myth about why those other candidates who did go after Trump became “roadkill.” Worst of all, it portrays the relationship that Cruz sought with Trump too innocently. He wasn’t making an end-run around Trump so much as he was using Trump as a tackle to clear his own lane through the field.
[. . .]
What’s most inexcusable and morally shameful about Cruz during this time—and he would probably agree—is the way he stood down during some of Trump’s vilest moments. When Trump insulted Sen. John McCain’s war record in July, Cruz refused to criticize Trump and instead blamed the media for trying to incite “Republican-on-Republican violence.” When Trump, following the first Fox News debate in August, said that moderator Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her—wherever,” Cruz again refused to take a stand. “I’m not going to engage in the back-and-forth on personalities,” he said. “I get the media loves that. That’s what you want to cover, is the soap opera of back-and-forth.”
Alas, this critique is on point. And while Trump is now considered so objectionable that the silly and insane pledge to support the GOP presidential nominee no matter what is no longer operative, it should never have been agreed to in the first place. All of the sane and responsible Republican presidential candidates should have taken the hammer to Donald Trump early on in the campaign, when it was clear that his frontrunner status was no passing fancy. The failure of Republicans to do so has led to the circus that is now the Republican nomination contest.
So, three Bronx cheers for Ted Cruz. I am sorry that Heidi Cruz was attacked–she is, by all accounts, a decent and intelligent lady who has done nothing to merit being the target of Donald Trump–and I am glad that Cruz is standing up for her. I would have expected no less from him. But he should have stood up for the Republican party, for the country, and for basic human decency months ago. That he did not, reflects badly on him.
I suppose all of this also means that I should alter my endorsement. I wrote previously that “Ted Cruz is the candidate best positioned to stop Donald Trump from getting the Republican presidential nomination. For that, he deserves the support of all Republicans who care about their party and their country.” I still believe that statement to a significant extent, and stand by it. In upcoming primaries and caucuses, if Cruz is the leading candidate against Donald Trump, then Republican primary and caucus voters should vote for Cruz.
But if John Kasich is the leading candidate against Donald Trump in other upcoming primaries and caucuses, then Republican primary and caucus voters should vote for Kasich. And if the nomination fight goes to Cleveland, and takes longer than one ballot to settle, then I hope that Kasich becomes the Republican presidential nominee instead of either Cruz or Trump. Cruz still has much to recommend him, and I would back him in a general election contest. But Kasich has at least as much to recommend him as well, plus more experience governing than Cruz has, plus a better chance of winning a general election contest against Hillary Clinton. And of course, the fact that Kasich did not spend months making nice with Donald Trump is another point in favor of supporting the Ohio governor’s candidacy.