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July 25, 2016

A Gathering of Elephants

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Last week, the National Republican Convention drew party faithful to Cleveland, Ohio, like moths to a flame. Luckily, the only one who got burned was anarchists, whose flame jumped to their own clothing from the American flag they were trying to burn, and to their fellow protestors.


Good news for the flaming activists? The Cleveland Police Department had fire extinguishers with their riot gear.


That wasn’t the only flame in Cleveland, though.


Sen. Ted Cruz, a vanquished former presidential candidate, was given a prime time speaking slot on Wednesday night. Safe to say that most convention-goers, even those who voted for Mr. Cruz as late as Monday’s roll call of the states, expected a magnanimous gesture of endorsement from the Texas firebrand.


Quoting fictional Marine Corps Private Gomer Pyle: “surprise, surprise, surprise.”


No endorsement was offered. The closest Senator Cruz came was when he exhorted the crowd to “vote your conscience.” This came after a lengthy speech defining the core values of freedom, respect for the Constitution, and preserving our liberty. But he stopped short of encouraging votes for the nominee of his own party.


He probably thought his reputation, built over years of fighting the dreaded establishment, would hold, that his status as a party outsider would allow him to focus on his own political future without mentioning Donald Trump.


He thought wrong.


As he reached the crescendo, the final paragraphs in his speech, convention delegates put 2+2 together and came up with no endorsement. The boo-birds sprang to their feet, and Mr. Cruz’ last few words were drowned out by chants of “Trump.”


Paul Manafort, Trump’s professional convention handler, sensing a moment, pushed Donald Trump out into the Quicken Loans Arena. Delegates caught sight of their presidential nominee and went crazy, cheering, clapping and stomping in unbridled joy.


Juxtapose that with Ted Cruz, slinking away from the center stage podium spotlight, a thoroughly and fully vanquished former rising star of the GOP, now the subject of scorn and derision.


Political pundits twisted themselves into knots trying to make sense of the strategic thinking behind the Cruz non-endorsement. There’s just no explaining some things. Breaking it down into bite-sized chunks is tough, but here goes:


1. Senator Cruz is a genius – By refusing to endorse Mr. Trump, he is hedging his bets that if the nominee loses in November, come 2020, he would be perfectly positioned to assume the mantle of party leader.


2. Senator Cruz is a narcissist fool – Regardless of winning or losing, the party convention is traditionally a place where unity unfolds. Failing to unify means you’re placing self above party. In a binary choice election like 2016, that isn’t even a real option.


3. Senator Cruz overestimated the value of his brand – There were more votes cast in Monday’s roll call against the eventual nominee than at any convention in the modern era. Ergo, Ted Cruz thought those Cruz delegates, and the voters they represented by extension, would stay with him even if he committed a party convention sin like refusing to endorse the nominee.


4. Senator Cruz is a bitter and disgruntled loser – Until after his speech, his actual motivation for failing to endorse Donald Trump was merely a matter of second-hand speculation. It wasn’t until Thursday morning’s Texas GOP Caucus breakfast that Mr. Cruz explained his actions. Following a question from a fellow Texan confused about his refusal to endorse, Ted Cruz explained that he wasn’t going to endorse a candidate who had offended his family. Earlier in the primary, Donald Trump had disparaged Heidi Cruz’ appearance, and Mr. Trump also hinted that Mr. Cruz’ father might have been seen in a photo with presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald just prior to JFK’s assassination.


So, we know the real reason. Ted Cruz is still angry about the brutal GOP primary season. Understood. Seems a little petty, but it’s at least understandable.


The bigger question is what will be the impact of Senator Cruz’ recalcitrance to support the actual nominee of his party? What happens if the values and conscience voters, those sympathetic to Mr. Cruz and his ideology, take a walk in November?


Assuming the worst, and acknowledging a Hillary Clinton victory, one has to assume that she will get to nominate 1,-2, (or many more) Supreme Court justices, several dozen (or more) federal judges, and U.S. Attorneys across the country. The federal judiciary would change dramatically, from defending the Bill of Rights to facilitating a shift in social policy to the far left.


Is that a legacy that Senator Cruz is willing to have hung around his neck for generations to come? The attendees at the gathering of elephants in Cleveland last week surely didn’t seem to think it was.


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