It is ironic that some of the adults in the GOP who have inveighed against dysfunction brought on by backbencher extremists like the Freedom Caucus and urged pragmatic compromise in the face of criticism from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are now acting more like the all-or-nothing crowd they once denounced. The Wall Street Journal editorial board recounts:
"Across the 2011 debt ceiling showdown, the 2013 ObamaCare shutdown that Mr. Cruz engineered, and the various budget deals, anyone who recognized the limits of political possibility with a liberal President was smeared as lacking philosophical conviction. When these gambits inevitably failed, he blamed the establishment for that too."
Fair enough. And we have no bones to pick on this front either: "Outflanked by Mr. [Donald] Trump, the Texas Senator let himself be dragged further toward positions that alienate much of the GOP and American mainstream. On immigration he criticized Mr. Trump not for mass deportation but because Mr. Trump suggested he might let some of the deported re-enter legally." But, the rejoinder must be: So what?
Unless there is some other vehicle for getting to a contested convention (i.e. defeating Trump), Cruz would argue that it is time to make one of those pragmatic decisions and vote for him in the remaining primaries. At the convention, we have argued, it is not impossible to come up with an alternative to the three current candidates, but it is unlikely.
Likewise, Carl M. Cannon reminds us:
"But for many prominent Republicans, having to choose between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is an exquisite form of torture. Cruz's colleagues find him officious, selfish, and maddening. They doubt his sincerity. They hate how he grandstands. They despise him for impugning the integrity of his own party leaders."
Who can quibble with that? And yet, Cruz is the alternative right now to Trump. ("But as the July convention draws closer with Cruz having the only chance to catch Trump in the delegate count, the Republican establishment is realizing that it does matter. [Sen. Lindsey] Graham himself endorsed Cruz, one of five former 2016 presidential candidates to do so.")
Mainstream Republicans who put up with attacks on perfectly honorable Republican leaders, with talk radio hosts spinning fiction about how they sold out the base and with holier-than-thou Beltway groups like Heritage Action impugning their conservative credentials, are understandably perturbed. But to insist on some magical solution to their Trump problem other than the only currently available choice (Cruz) would be as self-destructive as the 2013 shutdown.
Ironically, Cruz is now doing what he has decried in the past. He's talking practicalities, asking for fellow Republicans to think rationally about the race. He told the Republican Jewish Coalition over the weekend:
"Many of you started with someone else. . . . And one of the things we are working very much to do is welcome everyone who supported someone else, welcome them with open arms."
"Sixty-five to 70 percent of Republican recognize nominating Donald Trump will be a disaster and hands the general election to Hillary Clinton. If we can unite the 65-70 percent of Republicans we win. If not we lose." Asked about social issues, he said" "Tone matters a lot. . . . I am not running to be pastor in chief."
He vowed to fight on the "terrain" of the Little Sisters of the Poor (i.e. Obamacare's mandate on contraception) -- an issue on which most Americans would be more sympathetic. On gay marriage, he said he favored a "diversity of views," namely allowing states to decide. (That ship sailed with the Supreme Court, but Cruz was suggesting that he would fight smart, not in ways that would infuriate a large segment of voters.)
Cruz is now practicing what his former Republican critics preach: He is touting the value of a concrete agenda and speaking in the context of real-world choices. His past and current critics would say this is "opportunism," but one man's opportunism is another's flexibility or pragmatism. Cruz, by necessity, has learned that the inflexible, antagonistic Cruz cannot win a primary, let alone a general election. He has, as the liberals like to say, "evolved." His GOP critics are entitled to be skeptical and even annoyed, but by the same token, they should recognize that Cruz is savvy enough to adapt and adjust to changed circumstances. More important, he is the only means of stopping Trump from getting to 1,237 delegates.
While the chances of someone other than Cruz or Trump coming out of the convention as a nominee are slight, as a delegate I would ask, "Who've you got in mind?" At that point, everyone can take a shot at finagling the rules and winning over the delegates. Until then, everyone will need to get over any (understandable) resentment toward Cruz.
Otherwise Trump will be the nominee, and the results will be devastating to Republicans at all levels.