In case you haven't heard, Ted Cruz delivered quite a speech on Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. It riled up the crowd, inspired chants, and left controversy in its wake. Sounds familiar, right? The story of the RNC so far: Scathing, fear-mongering speeches warning of the American Dream's collapse and the perils of Hillary Clinton's possible presidency. While hate for Clinton (instead of love for Trump) seemed to unite the party, vitriolic chants of "lock her up" became the RNC's unofficial motto.
However, Cruz's speech led to chants of a different kind. Trump's main primary rival refused to offer a full-throated endorsement of the GOP nominee, instead insisting that voters "vote on their conscience." In fact, the Texas senator only mentioned Trump's name once in his entire speech, offering a simple congratulations to the New York businessman for securing the nomination. Cruz's plea to vote on one's conscience was met with a chorus of boos, and chants of "We want Trump!"
Yet, Cruz refused to back down, telling voters to "vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution."
I was actually troubled that this was the statement that the crowd chose to boo. Surely, every voter has a conscience, however numbed it may be after all the divisive rhetoric spewed at the convention. Do they not support the idea of voting on one's conscience? Will they vote, in a cloud of cognitive dissonance, for a candidate they don't morally agree with? That doesn't make much sense, but then again, the same can be said of this entire election cycle.
Let me be clear, I'm no fan of Cruz. My political beliefs and values couldn't be further from his. Yet, I fully support his bold move on the convention stage. It takes guts to hold fast to your convictions in the face of intense opposition.
While Trump himself later tweeted the non-endorsement was "no big deal," many Republicans claimed Cruz wrote his political obituary by refusing to back the GOP nominee. Arizona representative and Cruz supporter Trent Franks said he was "disappointed" in the speech, Chris Christie called it "awful" and "selfish," and Trump advisor Michael Cohen equated it to "political suicide."
I disagree. The speech wasn't so much political suicide as it was political preservation.
Cruz did something no other convention speaker did: He actually took a principled stand and refused to bow to the political pressures that other Republican titans like Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Rick Perry sold out to. He defended his family's integrity in the process, and may have set himself up perfectly for a 2020 presidential run.
If Trump loses come November, Republicans will race to distance themselves from the bombastic billionaire. Cruz can use that "reset" of sorts to say something to the effect of, "Hey, I was against Trump from the start, and I didn't back down."
Sure, some say it was rude to use an invitation to a major political convention to snub the guest of honor. Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell put aside any misgivings they had about Trump for the sake of party unity. Cruz violated his signed pledge to support the GOP nominee, so his non-endorsement puts him at huge risk of being further ostracized within the party if Trump in fact wins the election this fall.
However, I understand why he stood his ground against Trump. Trump's campaign directed heated rhetoric and personal insults at Cruz throughout the fiery latter half of the GOP primary race. Notably, Trump maligned Heidi Cruz's appearance, and made the mind-boggling suggestion that Cruz's father was somehow involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
I'm not about to elevate Cruz as some bastion of integrity and honor, but his defiance was actually refreshing to see.
If I were Cruz, I wouldn't endorse a candidate who insulted my family in that manner. Cruz said as much in an address to the Texas Delegation on Thursday, declaring, "I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father."
That is something I can fully get behind, whether or not I agree with Cruz's politics. While much of the GOP may not like Cruz, come 2020, this will play great to his supporters, and may galvanize voters who swallowed the bitter pill with Trump. I'm not saying I want Cruz elected in 2020. I don't even know whether he is planning to run. I'm simply saying his stance on Wednesday night serves him well if he does.
If Trump is defeated in November, Cruz will have a head start on his competition next election cycle. Cruz's stance preserved his character and integrity in an arena where these values seem to be at an all-time low. Urging the electorate to vote on their conscience and support candidates who stand for freedom and faithfulness to the Constitution? I don't understand why any voter would disapprove of that. Now we wait and see whether Cruz has the last laugh.