Regardless of what happens in this year’s election, Ted Cruz will not be elected President in 2020 after his endorsement of Donald Trump. Further, unless Cruz completely re-invents himself, he will never be President of the United States.
Cruz’s endorsement itself isn’t a fatal problem. Many politicians are making the expedient move to back Trump. Not all of them are doomed, particularly if Trump loses. Most voters will move on from the 2016 election. Those who don’t go off the deep end in backing Trump will be able to wiggle out from under the embarrassment, particularly if the country is suffering through a Clinton administration. In that case, the evils of a Trump victory will be more distant and theoretical while those of Clinton will be actual real life facts.
It’s the way Cruz has endorsed Trump that will do immeasurable damage to any future White House plans the junior U.S. Senator from Texas has. Had Cruz endorsed Trump in Cleveland halfheartedly it wouldn’t have harmed him much at all.
However, he didn’t. He refused to endorse Trump, was booed on national television for it, and then delivered this defense of his lack of support:
“The day that [pledge to support the nominee] became abrogated was the day that became personal,” Cruz said, referencing Trump’s comments about his family during the primary. “I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father. And that pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you slander and attack Heidi I’m going to nonetheless go like a servile puppy dog” and stick to the pledge anyway.
His response angered some key donors as well as supporters such as Richard Viguerie who criticized him in the harshest way possible for putting something like family ahead of the Party winning. Since then, much of Cruz’s apparatus and staff have backed Trump while Trump continued to give credence to the idea that Cruz’s father may have had something to do with the assassination of JFK, threatened to spend $10 million to have Cruz defeated and publicly encouraged Rick Perry to run against Cruz in 2018. The endorsement comes shortly after RNC Chairman Reince Priebus threatened to bar candidates who didn’t endorse Trump from running again.
Endorsing Trump at the convention may have caused Cruz some short-term damage with #NeverTrumpers, but this is far worse. Those who supported Cruz and were angered by his refusal to back the party nominee at Trump’s Convention in Cleveland are unlikely to be appeased by this move. At the same time, Cruz’s decision is disconcerting to many #NeverTrump conservatives.
More importantly, Cruz looks like he caved under pressure either for fear of a primary challenge because Trump threatened to form a Super PAC to defeat him or Preibus’ threatened to bar him from running or because he couldn’t stand up to the displeasure of his donors. For whatever reason it appears that Cruz was willing to abandon the honor of his wife and father when sufficient pressure was applied.
This is fatal to Ted Cruz’s White House hopes because he’s established a brand in four years in the Senate. His image is as the man who doesn’t compromise or back down ever. He doesn’t care what the establishment threatens. He’s Ted Cruz and he will stand firm no matter what.
That’s all gone when Cruz compromises in a way that makes it look like he buckled to Reince Priebus’ and Donald Trump’s threats. It goes against everything he’s presented himself to the American people as being since entering the Senate. This week, Cruz looks less courageous and principled than John Kasich. If Ted Cruz can’t stand firm, what good is he?
There are already two groups of Ted Cruz supporters who can’t be counted on for a future run. At the same time, Cruz’s post-defeat actions haven’t impressed those who didn’t back him in the first place. The math of subtracting some supporters while gaining no others is ominous for a once and future national political candidate.
Cruz may run again in 2020 if Trump loses because he’s “next in line,” after finishing second (ask Rick Santorum how that works out,) but he will not be elected because his image has been tarnished and voters are left unsure who Ted Cruz really is.