Wednesday night’s debacle with the booing of Ted Cruz’s nonendorsement speech was bad for Donald Trump. But that does not necessarily mean it was good for Cruz.
The emerging consensus among the punditocracy is that Cruz set himself up well for 2020. If Trump loses badly, Cruz will say that he had moral and strategic clarity while other Republicans acquiesced to Trump and that he is the man to lead the party in a non-Trump direction.
I disagree. I believe that Cruz hurt himself with his speech and that his action will alienate primary voters in 2020.
The problem with Cruz’s apparent strategy is that the rebuttal to the argument he will presumably make when he runs in four years is obvious and devastating.
Here’s what Cruz’s opponents will say:
Before Cruz shivved Trump in front of the whole party, he spent 2015 building Trump up, calling him “terrific” and saying he “speaks the truth.”Cruz played footsie with Trump because he wanted to sit back and watch Trump destroy the rest of the field, letting Cruz face Trump one-on-one. This plan didn’t work, and it led to the elimination of a lot of candidates who could have beaten Hillary Clinton.Once the monster Cruz helped create got the nomination, he sat on the sidelines. Then he undermined the party in front of a huge national audience, helping to ensure Trump would lose by a wider margin. At the same time, other candidates were being good soldiers, trying to stop the bleeding and reduce the magnitude of losses in Congress.
Cruz’s opponents will say he put his own electoral interests ahead of the party’s electoral interests, and they will be right. I do not believe that will help him in four years.
Remember, in the 2020 Republican presidential primary, candidates will presumably be running to take on incumbent President Hillary Clinton. They will be talking constantly about why she is terrible and needs to be replaced. Arguments that Cruz helped get her into the presidency in the first place will be powerful.
So why did Cruz do it? One possibility is that he is miscalculating. Another possibility is that I am miscalculating.
I would also like to float a third possibility: Maybe Cruz is furious with Trump for beating him, for insulting his wife’s physical appearance, for accusing his father of having helped to assassinate JFK, and for promoting a National Enquirer report that (baselessly) accused him of having five extramarital affairs.
My first assumption about politicians, and especially about Ted Cruz, is that they act in their own cynical interest. But it is also possible that Cruz simply saw an opportunity to take revenge on Trump, and he took it.