If you read what I wrote yesterday about Ted Cruz’s long-term plans, his non-endorsement speech last night in Cleveland didn’t come as much of a surprise. He’s taking a big risk. But ultimately Cruz decided to go all-in on a bet he’s making about how this plays out. Dara Lind came up with a good analogy.
But by upsetting the Republican Party of 2016, Cruz is positioning himself to be the man who saves the party after the year is over. He’s making a bet: that Donald Trump will fail catastrophically in November and the Republican Party’s next leader will be someone who wasn’t implicated in the catastrophe. Ted Cruz wants to be that someone.
Think of it like the Cabinet secretary designated to stay in the bunker during the State of the Union address. Cruz is readying himself to emerge after the nuclear disaster of an epic defeat at the hands of Hillary Clinton, survey the wreckage, and assume command of the party to help it rebuild.
We’ll see how that works out for him. One of the reasons for the rise of Donald Trump is that the GOP has been leaderless ever since the Bush/Cheney administration ended in such a disaster. All of the so-called “establishment candidates” in this year’s primary simply embraced the same failed policies that got us there in the first place. In addition, they completely missed the fever that had been ignited among the Republican base in order to fuel the post-policy positioning of total obstruction. Trump didn’t offer a policy alternative. Instead, he fanned the flames of the fever. In many ways, the party remains leaderless and in his own imagination, Ted Cruz thinks he can fill that void.
One of the things I noticed last night as this all played out is that we have been conditioned in this culture to see every situation as one with only two sides. We are required to identify who is wearing the white hat and who is wearing the black hat. But what we are witnessing right now is two bullies engaged in a cage match. I think Josh Marshall captured it pretty well. If you remember, he recently wrote that, “for Trump you are either his enemy or his property.” Here’s what he wrote about that last night:
Trump’s brand is dominance. Trump acts; others comply. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. That’s the story he’s sold his supporters. It’s the essence of his political message. Trump dominates; his enemies are humiliated. Even ‘friends’ like Christie and Pence are relegated to a golden cage of perpetual dignity loss.
In this interaction, Cruz came into Trump’s house, Trump’s party and humiliated him. There’s no other way to put it.
And then this morning there was this:
Like two zen masters facing off in a martial arts classic or perhaps two wizards doing battle in The Lord of the Rings, we have an epic confrontation between two masters who have trained for decades in the arts of assholery and bullying. But their powers equally matched, it is a stand off.
Josh actually wrote that back in December. Trump won the first round as the party’s nominee. Cruz’s bet last night is that Trump will go down in flames in November, leaving him as the only master of assholery and bullying still standing. Everything we’ve learned about Trump over the last few months points to the fact that Trump cannot let that stand. The opening round of his response is to claim that he allowed this whole mess to happen.
Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn't honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2016
That, my friends, is the state of play in the Republican Party right now…two narcissistic bullies duking it out.