For the Republican Party in the age of Donald Trump, resistance is now more symbolic than actual. Senator Ted Cruz, the man who came closest to challenging the billionaire New Yorker for the nomination before dropping out last week, reportedly spent time on Monday afternoon plotting with supporters about how to use the large number of delegates to the convention who support him to mount a defense of the party platform at the convention.
The platform, which few people -- Republicans included -- pay any attention to except in the 90 days or so prior to the convention, is a comprehensive statement of the principles by which the party plans to govern the nation. Every four years at the nominating convention, a platform committee crafts that statement of principles and all the delegates to the convention vote to ratify it.
By packing the platform committee with Cruz supporters, the thinking is not that the conservative element of the party can somehow handcuff Trump, preventing him from transforming the party into a less conservative entity by making a strong statement about the principles it stands for. Trump, after all, has demonstrated that he’s not exactly a man of principle.
Cruz is able to make a plausible run at influencing the contents of the party’s platform because of his primary strategy. It was highly unlikely that he would be able to get a majority of the party’s delegates and win nomination on the first ballot, so Cruz focused on getting delegates supporting him elected by state party conventions. Many will be required to support Trump on the first and possibly second ballot, but they can vote as they please on questions related to the platform and the rules of the convention.
In an email to Cruz supporters obtained by The New York Times, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a close advisor to Cruz, said it was “still possible to advance a conservative agenda at the convention...To do that, it is imperative that we fill the Rules and Platform Committees with strong conservative voices like yours.”
However, it is far from likely that Donald Trump, who frequently changes his own position on the issues within the space of the same conversation, if not the same sentence, will be bound in any sense at all by the platform adopted at the convention.
The effort by Cruz and his supporters looks more like an effort to preserve the identity of the Republican Party in the face of what they most likely view as a temporary takeover by Trump -- one that will end with a loss in November to Hillary Clinton. The idea is to put down a marker: Trump may have control for the moment, but the party’s fundamental beliefs haven’t changed.
The big question for Cruz and those who support his very conservative brand of Republicanism is just how completely Trump’s success in the primary has disproved the assumption that Cruz conservatism is really the default position of the Republican electorate.
Trump’s rise has shown that a large segment of the people the GOP has been relying on for votes in recent decades may not care quite as much about conservative orthodoxy as the party thought.