Assuming Donald Trump loses, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will need to make some decisions if, as most everyone assumes, he wants to run for president again.
Right now his poll numbers look poor, and it wouldn't be shocking to see him leave the Senate in 2018 to begin a presidential do-over campaign. If, however, his polling bounces back (as I suspect it might after the rubble is cleared away from Trump's candidacy, which Cruz would not endorse) he might decide it's advantageous to maintain his perch in the Senate. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., certainly found out that it is harder than one might imagine to maintain visibility without elected or appointed office, and even harder to make big money if you don't want to run with a record in investment banking, corporate boards, lobbying or such.
Whether Cruz decides to leave or to stay in the Senate he has a more serious concern. Trump and his fickle sycophants have basically exposed some unpleasant truths for candidates who fashioned themselves as impresarios of conservative orthodoxy. First, a lot of the positions that have made up the far-right hymnal have been blown up by a pro-gay rights, immigration realist, big government spending candidate. Who really believes in ideological purity (other than Heritage Action) at this point? Second, the evangelical Christian right on which Cruz banked so heavily for support turns out to be a paper tiger, one that will buy just about anything from any candidate and lacks intellectual and spiritual rigor. It makes no sense to shape one's political profile to meet the approval of an increasingly powerless segment of the party. Third, the play to the non-college educated white males is a loser demographically. To win or even come close, a Republican must win over college educated whites, women and/or some significant share of minority voters. A stringent diet of anti-immigrant, know-nothing politics might get you elected in a deep red state but it won't get you to the White House.
In other words, like many Republicans, Cruz is going to have to decide what kind of Republican he wants to be. Cruz got the first decision right -- repudiate Trump who intellectually and temperamentally stains virtually everyone with whom he comes in contact.
The next decision is harder: Does Cruz become a wonkish, problem-solver in the vein of Rubio and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.? Alternatively, Cruz could morph into a dedicated libertarian who wants less and less government and is satisfied leaving social issues to the states and individuals. That approach suggests a more hawkish version of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., although Paul's lack of success sheds doubt on the viability of a strictly anti-government libertarian within the confines of the GOP (outside Kentucky, that is).
Nearly as important as the issue mix for Cruz will be his tone. Perhaps the experience of being out-crazied on the right by someone more intemperate than he was enough to shake him. As a very smart man with two Ivy League degrees, maybe he should stop the wild-eyed pandering and stinging attacks on fellow Republicans. A more mature tone, one sobered by election defeat and the example of Trump, might prove more productive. Trying to monopolize the market for anger and irrationality won't work in the future anymore than it did in 2016. There will always be someone willing to be more extreme and less responsible than Cruz.
For guidance, Cruz might take a careful look at Senate Republicans running outside deep red locales -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire. What do they sound like? What's their approach to putting conservative principles into action? Cruz could learn a lot about how to survive and prosper outside Texas. His old routine just won't cut it.