Ted Cruz put his name into the history books last night.
He took a major political risk in refusing to endorse Donald Trump in such a public fashion. By now, many other Trump-hating Republicans have reluctantly offered their unenthusiastic endorsements. But not Ted Cruz. He became the first runner-up in living memory not to endorse the candidate of his party.
Leading into his non-endorsement, Cruz said, "I want to see the principles our party believes prevail in November." He continued: "We deserve leaders who stand for principle, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love. ... If you love our country, and love our children as much as I know that you do, stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom, and to be faithful to the constitution."
The message could not have been clearer: We deserve better than Donald Trump.
The seething hatred the RNC and the Republican establishment have for Cruz has always been palpable. They believe his brinksmanship has exacted a political cost on their caucus. They believe, with justification, that Cruz helped to legitimize Trump early in the race. The former Republican House speaker called him "Lucifer in the flesh." And it was clear by the end of the Republican primary that Beltway Republicans could not bring themselves to stop Donald Trump's takeover of their party if it meant embracing Cruz.
Now they will hate him all the more. The Republican apparatchiks will despise Cruz out of their own envy, because he demonstrated the courage to do what they would not: resist Trump to his face. They resist him only through their mealy-mouthed endorsements. They will hate Cruz for making them trash a vote of "conscience" while they defend a Trump candidacy they loathe. Cruz has provoked defense hawks like Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) to denounce him strenuously as "not a true conservative," on the same night Trump put into question the whole NATO alliance in a tossed-off interview in The New York Times. Cruz has caused Trump's useful idiots to out and embarrass themselves further.
When you become outraged at a man who encourages you to abide by your conscience, it means your conscience has already condemned you.
No one thinks Cruz's self interest was absent from his decision. But giving Trump a hearty endorsement would have made Cruz look like a dog, to borrow a phrase. Throughout the primaries, Trump nicknamed him "Lyin' Ted" and called his wife ugly. He accused Cruz's father of being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Trump refused opportunities to apologize for his public words, and for encouraging the tabloids to plant nutso stories about Cruz. All of this prompted Cruz to call Trump a narcissist. "The man is utterly amoral," Cruz said. "Morality does not exist for him."
Historically, I am not a Ted Cruz fan. But it is hard not to admire a man who stands by his wife's honor, and his father's name, in a moment when he was under the heaviest political pressure to cave to the man who defamed them.
Yes, this dramatic move carries significant risks. Cruz may have a very tough time for the foreseeable future. He has seemingly volunteered to take the blame for Trump's loss, to be the face of conservative disloyalty. But look at it this way: The Trump-compliant Republicans have made a bet that the party can contain and shape the damage of the Trump candidacy. Cruz, on the other hand, is betting that it cannot, and knows that Donald Trump will commit fresh, unanticipated outrages that will make it clear Trump authored his own demise.
In the long run, Cruz made the winning bet.