I really ought to write more on zancarius.com since it is the domain of my online moniker that I’ve had for almost my entire life on the Internet (going on close to 20 years), but I’ve never had any idea what to do once I moved my primary content to bashelton.com. As of now, politics works as well as anything.
Disclaimer: I’ve been in the political tank for Trump for quite some time. I’m completely aware his public persona paints him as a total jerk, but I think it’s wrong. Privately, Trump is not the man the media gleefully portrays (undoubted with some cultivation from Trump himself). I can’t vouch for this from the basis of personal knowledge, but through observation of his children and their successes, his close friends and associates, and people who have worked for him, the relationship between the real Donald Trump and the media Donald Trump is a complex web of branding, business, successes, failures, and, perhaps more so than anything else, necessity.
Of course, that’s not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this Thursday, July 21st because of the speech Ted Cruz delivered last night, and I think it’s important to offer some insight into why I think Cruz was booed off stage, why Trump supporters felt immense disappointment, and what this means for Cruz’s career. Before I start, I’d like something from you as well, dear reader: I want you to approach this post with an open mind. Many of Cruz’s staunchest acolytes (of which there aren’t many) have been both busy and vocal on Twitter and elsewhere, spinning Cruz’s speech–and more importantly, the reaction to his speech–in a futile effort to defend their general routed in the waning hours of his campaign. I can understand their emotions, but I have a difficult time empathizing with their continued attacks. The campaign is over. Go home.
There are three or four common talking points among the self-described “Cruz crew” currently making their rounds on social media. They are, with some varying degree of importance: 1) He has no obligation to endorse a man who attacked his wife and father; 2) booing Cruz was shouting down his principles, freedom, and the constitution, rather than his lack of endorsement; 3) he’s a man of principles and will not support someone who he feels is neither conservative nor a Constitutionalist; and (somewhat rarely) 4) a reiteration of his encouragement to vote one’s conscience, usually with the implication that “voting one’s conscience” is synonymous with “writing in Ted Cruz” (both disastrous and stupid). Of these, the first two are the most commonly parroted and intellectually dishonest.
Senator Cruz is under no obligation to endorse a candidate in this race. Whether that’s a reflection of his personal feelings and convictions (or his ego) is between him and God. However, I can fully appreciate his lack of endorsement following brutal primaries and personal attacks (from both sides). When one’s family is dragged into a campaign, it’s difficult to ignore attacks targeting them, and it’s certainly unfair to them as citizens who are not running except by way of association. Believe me: I wish US politics weren’t always so dirty, but it does make for incredible entertainment. That’s not just my analysis–record setting ratings and viewership across the board for all media suggests (sadly, perhaps) US politics are more exciting the uglier they get. I’m not attempting to justify it; the truth is what it is.
Cruz admitted during breakfast with the Texas delegation this morning that at least part of his refrain from endorsing Trump was due to the attacks on his wife and father. I understand his sentiments, but I find it somewhat surprising given the actions of his campaign and their associates. Cruz’s supporters refuse to acknowledge this, but his campaign, his PACs, and many of his campaign’s foot soldiers were by no means entirely aboveboard or as pure as the wind-driven snow. Everyone can acknowledge that Trump’s campaign was, at times, brutal, but I’ve run into few Cruz supporters who will admit that their own candidate was responsible for instigating at least some of the mud-slinging. Where Cruz supporters are quick to point out Trump’s retweet comparing Melania Trump to Heidi Cruz as a personal attack on the latter’s looks (and let’s admit: The photo of Mrs. Cruz was unflattering), they’re less inclined to recall the Utah ads paid for by a pro-Cruz super-PAC showing Melania Trump posing in her birthday suit next to a few lines of unsavory text. In the rare event they do remember the ad, they usually believe it was justifiable. After all, not only should no woman pose in the nude for a photo shoot, but she most certainly cannot be forgiven if she does. (Curiously, the inability to forgive others has been an ongoing theme within the Cruz campaign.)
Legally, super-PACs cannot work directly with campaigns; I will concede this much. Furthermore, I will concede that perhaps retweeting a comment written by someone else may be slightly more problematic than an ad paid for by an allegedly autonomous organization. However, I also believe this is a glaringly hypocritical double standard by the Cruz campaign and his supporters. Holding Trump accountable for comments made by his supporters, regardless of whether he retweeted them or not, and comments made by independent publications or organizations regardless of his relationship with their staff while simultaneously refusing to hold Cruz accountable for the exact same infractions is, in my opinion, an indictment of intellectual dishonesty. They will fervently disagree with this charge, of course, but it’s indisputable: Their faith in Cruz absolves him of any wrongdoing, even if he commits actions that reflect the same or similar behavior of his opponents.
It’s a bit ironic coming from a campaign whose followers often recite Trump’s quote “I could shoot somebody […] and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Sorry, Mr. Trump. I think Mr. Cruz may have you beat in terms of blind loyalty from his adoring fans.
My favorite charge by the Cruz acolytes thus far has been the implication that delegates booing him off stage were jeering against freedom, the Constitution, and the principles Cruz represents. It’s humorous to me precisely because it’s nothing more than blatant disregard of context and a little behind-the-scenes brouhaha. Actually, no, maybe it’s not humorous–instead, it’s so brazenly stupid, it cannot be anything other than malign deviousness with the intent to provoke harm. I watched the entirety of Cruz’s speech, and the booing started after his dismissiveness of the New York delegates’ chant “Endorse Trump.” It wasn’t a delegation shouting down his principles. It wasn’t a delegation shouting down the freedoms of this country. It wasn’t a delegation shouting down the Constitution, the United States, or everything this great country stands for. To advocate that the delegates were shouting down principles isn’t merely rude: It’s a slap in the face of anyone with an IQ above room temperature. It’s an expression of bitterness and anger, maybe even a little resentment. Take your ball and go home.
On the other hand, I may be wrong. It could be argued that the delegates were booing the principles Cruz holds dear if those principles are petulance, pettiness, and selfishness. I’ll have to ask for further clarification in the future. Sometimes it’s difficult to read through Cruz supporters’ smugness.
The next question is whether a man of principles, allegedly one like Ted Cruz, should support someone who is neither conservative nor a Constitutionalist. This question is a loaded question. What this means, for those of you keeping score at home, is that loaded questions are considered a form of logical fallacy. Logical fallacies are often used in a debate when the opposition has neither evidence to support a claim nor a means of logically disputing a statement with which they disagree.
First, the implication of such a question is that Trump is neither a conservative nor a Constitutionalist. This much is up for debate. Trump has a history of vacillating between political parties, and his donations have been more or less uniformly divided among Democratic and Republican candidates. There’s also plenty of anti-Trump propaganda, like the suggestion he’s donated or supported only Democrats, which is easy to counter (Trump supported both McCain and Romney in 2008 and 2012, respectively). Yet, deeper investigation into Trump’s statements, policies, and interviews going back as far as the 1980s suggests a man who was politically agnostic for much of his career. As a businessman, remaining apathetic to political divisions can be advantageous, and retaining influence through political donations is an investment tactic myriads of business owners utilize each year with varying degrees of success (usually more donations equals more success, particularly in corrupt arenas). The question would be better served if it were asked under an ethical framework rather than one of principles or political philosophy. Recall that a business is only obligated to increase value for its stakeholders. Any other concerns are ancillary to this core tenant. No, Ben and Jerry’s save-the-rainforest nonsense is not an obligation, although you could argue that “green” environmental policy increases shareholder value by reducing certain externalities, but I digress.
Second, should a man of principles endorse or support someone who may hold views counter to his own? Cruz supporters phrase this question somewhat ambiguously as a leading question, and since few have experience as attorneys, their efforts usually provoke further dissent and bruised egos (although I’m rarely sure what they expect). Yet the answer to this question is complicated and may depend more on intent than principles. If the intent is to encourage unity and promote healing after a bitter campaign, the answer is unequivocally “yes.” If the intent is to encourage further dissent and division, the answer is “no.” If one has an ego as bruised as Ted Cruz, then the answer is absolutely “no.”
Readers may find it surprising that the one question I find somewhat unfair is whether Cruz is beholden to his principles if he’s unable to uphold his promise to support the GOP’s nominee. On our side, this talking point has been repeated so frequently as to become ineffective, and it’s not even the right question to ask. Even if Cruz signed a pledge to support the nominee, the pledge is legally non-binding. It’s essentially a non-issue. Whether or not it’s ethical to back out of a pledge is another question, but it’s one I leave for the moralists to debate. That’s when it’s a question of whether or not Senator Cruz is acting ethically.
The problem with Senator Cruz taking a verbal or signed pledge has surprisingly little to do with the contents of the pledge. It has everything to do with his campaign. Both Ted Cruz and his campaign have portrayed the junior senator as a man of impeccable integrity and principle. If you put forth substantial effort to hone your image as a man of integrity, principles, morals, and values, but cast them (and your promises) aside the moment someone else treats you poorly, don’t expect your foundations to be free from criticism. It’s not unlike cheating on your wife because she called you lazy. It’s a testament of Cruz’s preparedness for office. If Donald Trump was able to ignite last night’s tantrum, how would Cruz have handled the Left’s relentless assaults? I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but that sort of behavior is surprisingly similar to President Obama’s (also a junior senator once upon a time).
Lastly, we come to the Senator’s plea to “vote [our] conscience.” Pundits have flagged this as a “non-endorsement endorsement,” and Newt Gingrich cleverly twisted it as an appeal to vote for Donald Trump. I suspect–but cannot prove–that this was simply lip service to the last remaining dozen or so of the #NeverTrump movement (click here to donate to the World Wildlife Fund for endangered species). Whether Cruz hoped to inspire his supporters to write in his name instead may never be known as during the course of the latter part of his speech, Cruz’s rant was beset by technical difficulties and jeering from his opposition.
Cruz’s languishing departure from the stage and his ongoing difficulties today touch on the displeasure felt by Trump’s supporters. To many, the time for primary campaigning has passed. The convention was supposed to be a time for unity, but since Monday, the #NeverTrump dissenters (no matter how few) have continued their disruption with diminishing results. They knew their efforts were futile, ugly, and childish. They knew the media would devour any signs of division. Yet, paradoxically, their autistic focus on a nebulous concept of “principles” and “values” is so tremendously important to their cause that they would rather elect Hillary to make a queerly myopic point. Let me say that again: #NeverTrump dissenters are so bitter that they would rather install 3-4 leftist SCOTUS appointments, countless other judges, and subject us to another four years of liberal rule of law simply because of hurt feelings. I’m not sure there’s enough Preparation H™ in the world to remedy this much butthurt.
I guess this is what happens when you condense your entire movement into a single hashtag.
What this means for Ted Cruz and his career remains to be seen. There’s no crystal ball we can gaze in, there’s no looking glass through which we can see the future. We know that Cruz’s ego implored him to speak yesterday, and instead of accepting an olive branch extended by the Trump campaign, he took the opportunity to hang himself. Eloquent though he may be, there is one lesson to be had from last night’s show: Trump’s shrewdness as a businessman is just as useful in politics–something Cruz underestimated. Trump knew what Cruz was going to say, and he let him say it. Trump likely knew the reaction Cruz would receive and did nothing to stop it. Indeed, there was little need: Cruz eagerly offered to say his piece, all while happily tying his own noose at the gallows.
Cruz will be up for a primary election in 2018, two long years from now. I depart from my fellow Trump supporters here and wager that Cruz will be safe during his primary election. Political memories are short. If Trump wins, there may be some unintended forgiveness. However, if Trump loses, Cruz may find himself the party’s scapegoat and be punished with a loss in his primary bid. I can’t say it would be entirely undeserved, but where his supporters will blame the “stupid” people for electing Trump, you and I will know the truth. The man who found no allies in his impressively lonely filibuster found his allies at the convention stretched thin, and a Clinton victory would likely alienate all but the small handful of #NeverTrump adherents, most of whom are old enough to be dead or in a nursing home by the time 2018 rolls around.
The irony that Cruz’s political eulogy, being a self-described man of the book, may be most dependent on his ability to forgive others isn’t lost on me. Perhaps even more damning is that he’s just another politician.