You'll have to forgive me for using such a lethal metaphor in that title, but I did not actually come up with the comparison myself -- that dubious honor goes to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. One month after he ended his own presidential bid, Graham addressed the question of which GOP frontrunner he could support, in pretty graphic fashion: "If you nominate Trump and Cruz I think you get the same outcome. Whether it's death by being shot or poisoning, does it really matter?"
Graham went on, in the same interview, to bemoan the lack of a "normal" GOP candidate. He further showed his frustration with the top two candidates in his party, by suggesting a better alternative than either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz would be to "just pick somebody out of the phone book if we have to." He had several scathing things to say about both Trump and Cruz, including lumping them both in with Democrat Bernie Sanders: "If the past is any indication of the future in terms of these three people, I think America would be in trouble."
That was then, this is now. The entire Republican establishment has now clearly made its choice. They prefer being poisoned (Cruz) over being shot (Trump). Consider the progression in the past week or so. Six days ago, Lindsey Graham endorsed Cruz and announced he'd be fundraising for him. After saying some pretty nasty things about Cruz ("If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you," for instance), Graham is now on board because the alternative of backing Trump is so unthinkable.
Mitt Romney was the other major GOP establishment figure to reluctantly back Cruz ahead of the Utah caucuses. Romney initially tried to play it cute, by essentially endorsing a candidate named "Anybody But Trump," but was forced to fully back Cruz in his beloved Utah, since John Kasich had zero chance of winning the state. And now today, Jeb Bush is in the news for throwing his weight (light though it may be) behind Cruz as well.
So, it's official -- poison is the way to go! Getting shot should not be seen as an option. Glugging down the hemlock that is Ted Cruz's campaign is the preferable choice, for a Republican Party that is reduced to choosing which way to commit suicide. Again, don't blame me for the harsh imagery, blame new Cruz-backer Lindsey Graham.
I have to admit, I'm as astonished as everyone else at the movement of the GOP establishment to the Cruz campaign. Mostly because I predicted exactly the opposite last month:
To put this another way, what happens if the current status continues and the Republicans are faced with a two-man race, between Trump and Cruz? What happens if there just is no viable "establishment candidate" at all?
This is where some very hard choices will need to be made, in the proverbial smoke-filled back rooms of the GOP. If they only have Trump and Cruz to choose from, will they support Trump in the hopes that some sense can be talked into him once he enters the Oval Office, or will they decide that Cruz has at least spent some time in the Senate and knows how Washington is theoretically supposed to work? That's about as politely as I can put it, especially in the case of Cruz.
Ted Cruz, as Trump has taken to pointing out, doesn't have many friends in Washington. He has been extraordinarily successful in making enemies, though. So much so that I really don't think it'd even be all that tough a choice for the establishmentarians to make. Most of them hate and fear Cruz with a passion. Trump will be the lesser of two evils for them -- one who has not personally annoyed them in the way Cruz has during his time in the Senate.
As the past week has shown, I was utterly and completely wrong about all of that. Republicans are now holding their noses and backing Ted rather than holding their noses and backing The Donald. What's even more amazing about this development is that most of them know it is bound to fail. What they're really hoping for is Cruz to deny Trump enough delegates to force an open convention, where they can (in their wildest dreams) somehow pull a magic establishment-friendly candidate out of the hat and deny the nomination to both Cruz and Trump. The chances of this happening are approximately the same as Abraham Lincoln's corpse rising from the grave and accepting the 2016 GOP nomination, it bears pointing out. But, at this point, it's all the establishment has left to hope for.
Getting into bed politically with Ted Cruz might lead to an even more nightmarish scenario for the Republican Party further down the road, although few at the moment seem to realize it. If Trump wins the nomination and then goes on to spectacularly lose the general election in November, then Ted Cruz is perfectly positioned to be the Republican candidate in 2020. He'll be able to brag about all the establishment support he's now getting, and he'll point out that he was the second-strongest candidate the last time around. A Ted Cruz nomination would be just as devastating for the Republican Party as a Donald Trump nomination, but we may actually see both by 2020.
What this means is rather stunning -- even more stunning than the spectacle of establishment figures now desperately trying to find something positive to say about Ted Cruz. Because, in almost Rasputin-like fashion, the Republicans may end up drinking the poison now only to be shot in November anyway -- and then being forced to swallow the very same poison, four years later. If this week is any indication, what will happen in both cases (should this scenario play out) is that the establishment Republicans will grit their teeth and back their party's nominee in November (in a desperate attempt at some sort of elusive "party unity"). This, obviously, could very easily lead to eight more years of a Democrat in the White House. By swallowing the poison of Cruz now, the party elite might actually be guaranteeing that their political nightmare lasts longer than just this election season.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
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