Example number 3,432 of how utterly bizarre the Republican presidential primary has become is a sentence that appeared on the conservative National Review website today, in an article reporting that Sen. Ted Cruz will soon announce that as many as four (unnamed) fellow senators have agreed to endorse his run for president.
“The forthcoming endorsements,” the article concluded, “are a sign that the members of the upper chamber are beginning to abandon their personal grievances in order to preserve the Republican Party of old.”
Sit with that thought for a moment: With Donald Trump leading in the race for the presidential nomination, Ted Cruz is now seen by some as the protector of the legacy GOP.
This is the same Ted Cruz, remember, whose colleagues dislike him so intensely that he is regularly refused common legislative courtesies in the Senate. The same Ted Cruz who called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky a liar on the floor of the chamber. The same Ted Cruz who engineered a government shutdown in 2013 for which the Republican Party was widely blamed.
If Cruz is to be the defender of the “Republican Party of old,” it’s hard to see just which version of the party we’re talking about. It’s not the GOP of the old bulls in the Senate. McConnell is said to casually detest Cruz. John McCain of Arizona, the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2008, has called Cruz a liar and even gave some oxygen to Trump’s claim that the Texas senator is ineligible to run for president because he was born in Canada (to a mother who was an American citizen.)
It’s not the Republican Party of George W. Bush, the most recent Republican president, who last year confessed to a crowd of GOP donors that he personally dislikes Cruz and finds his candidacy opportunistic. (Cruz, in a book published last year, was highly critical of Bush’s record in the White House.)
It’s also not the party of retired Senator Bob Dole, one-time Senate Majority Leader and the GOP’s presidential nominee in 1996. In January, Dole told The New York Times that a Cruz nomination would lead to “cataclysmic” losses for the GOP in November.
“If he’s the nominee, we’re going to have wholesale losses in Congress and state offices and governors and legislatures.”
Dole also suggested that even Trump would be a better president than Cruz, if only because he would be able to work with Congress. The same can’t be said of Cruz, he added, because “Nobody likes him.”
Now, it could be argued that these are examples of personal disagreements, and that the party elders would unite behind Cruz despite their personal feelings because Republicans have similar views on how to run the country.
But even that isn’t obviously true. Cruz’s take-no-prisoners, accept-no-compromise style is the exact opposite of how the GOP has operated for more than a generation. Ronald Reagan, to whom Cruz regularly compares himself, was a champion of compromise who worked with Democrats all the time. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich cut deals with the Clinton administration, and more recently former speaker John Boehner infuriated Cruz by compromising with the Obama administration.
Being unwilling to settle for anything less than everything he wants is Ted Cruz’s brand.
He regularly delivers slashing attacks on his own party for being willing to compromise with Democrats. Whether it’s on immigration reform, funding Planned Parenthood or a host of other issues, Cruz has consistently presented himself not as a custodian of the GOP’s heritage but as the guy who wants to break into the clubhouse and start smashing furniture.
And now, we’re told, some in the establishment are thinking it might be a good idea to just hand Cruz the keys as a way of forestalling a Trump candidacy that would shatter the GOP brand for a generation.
The thing is, Cruz’s nomination might achieve the same thing only by a different route. While Trump could sink the GOP through bigotry, erratic behavior and incoherent policy, Cruz could do it by associating Republicans with levels of dysfunction in Washington that would make the last few years look like a Golden Age.
Editor’s Note: This story appeared as a commentary on a report from National Review and stated that Sen. Ted Cruz was preparing to announce as many as four endorsements from fellow senators. The National Review went on to suggest that the senators backing Cruz appeared to be part of a trend in which Republicans who were originally reluctant to support him had come to view Cruz as the candidate with the best chance of saving the Republican Party from the danger of a Donald Trump nomination.
The National Review has since retracted its report, making these observations moot.