Trump or no Trump. Ted Cruz’s time to choose.

voteyourconscience

 

Good day Austin:

(Note: Since this First Reading was originally filed this morning, Politco is reporting that a Cruz announcement that he plans to vote for Trump is imminent.)

Sen. Ted Cruz’s one-on-one interview Saturday with Texas Tribune editor-in-chief and CEO Evan Smith ought to be one of the highlights of the Texas Tribune Festival.

Smith can be expected to give Cruz a thoroughly Jesuitical, or perhaps Talmudic, cross-examination on the question most on people’s minds about Cruz: Will he or won’t he endorse Donald Trump for president.

On the one hand, Smith may ask Cruz, if you don’t endorse Trump, are you not breaking your pledge, made during the primary campaign that you would back the eventual nominee? And, if you believe, as you say, that Hillary Clinton must not become president, don’t you have an obligation to do what you can to affirmatively back the only realistic alternative? Why play games?

On the other hand, he may ask, if you do now, belatedly, endorse Trump, aren’t you putting party above principle by endorsing a man you believe to be so wholly unfit to serve, and so dangerous the national well-being? What would you tell your wife, your father, your daughters?

From my story of the last day of Cruz’s presidential campaign in May.

Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz made a swift and graceful exit from the Republican presidential race before a dispirited group of supporters Tuesday night, his hopes of carrying his campaign against Donald Trump to a contested national convention crushed by Indiana voters he hoped would be too level-headed to be wooed by Trump.

Hours earlier, Cruz had let his pent-up animus toward Trump burst forth at a remarkable press conference that cast doubt on whether he could ever back the man who by day’s end would be the presumptive Republican nominee.

Infuriated by Trump’s wild implication that his Cuban-born father might be linked to John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Cruz for more than 10 intense minutes at a press conference in Evansville, Ind., unleashed a furious and personal attack that dismissed Trump as desperately insecure and amoral — a pathological liar who would degrade the presidency and disgrace the nation.

As he vented, Cruz appealed to Hoosier decency and common sense, telling voters that this a better country, that they are better people, and that, as the last checkpoint before Trump got his passport stamped for the GOP convention, they just had to say “no.”

“If Indiana does not act, this country could well plunge into the abyss,” Cruz warned. “I don’t believe that’s who we are. We are not a proud, boastful, self-centered, mean-spirited, hateful, bullying nation.”

Infuriated by Trump’s wild implication that his Cuban-born father might be linked to John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Cruz for more than 10 intense minutes at a press conference in Evansville, Ind., unleashed a furious and personal attack that dismissed Trump as desperately insecure and amoral — a pathological liar who would degrade the presidency and disgrace the nation.

As he vented, Cruz appealed to Hoosier decency and common sense, telling voters that this a better country, that they are better people, and that, as the last checkpoint before Trump got his passport stamped for the GOP convention, they just had to say “no.”

“If Indiana does not act, this country could well plunge into the abyss,” Cruz warned. “I don’t believe that’s who we are. We are not a proud, boastful, self-centered, mean-spirited, hateful, bullying nation.”

But instead of being a galvanizing moment, Cruz’s attack was the last gasp of a dying campaign that, for all its success and fortitude, had fallen short.

Cruz, — who was unique among the large Republican field for having cheered Trump’s early ascent as good for the party and what he saw as their shared brand of outsider politics — had long ago soured on the relationship with the man who had come to relentlessly call him “Lyin’ Ted.”

For months, with increasing urgency, Cruz had sought to brand Trump a bearer of New York values, Clinton’s liberal flip side, a political fraud, a pretender making “chumps” of his champions.

But, until Tuesday, Cruz had held in reserve the full depths of his revulsion at virtually everything about Trump and what he represented.

“I’m going to do something I have not done for the entire campaign. I’m going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump,” said Cruz, flanked by his wife, Heidi, and Carly Fiorina, his choice for vice presidential running mate — both of whom have been subjected to personal attacks by Trump.

“If any of you have seen the movie, `Back to the Future II,’ the screenwriter says that he based the character of Biff Tannen on Donald Trump — a caricature of a braggadocious, arrogant buffoon who builds giant casinos with giant pictures of him wherever he looks. We are looking potentially at a Biff Tannen presidency,” Ted Cruz said.

Cruz asked if his listeners could imagine a president who “talks about how great it is to commit adultery” and “described his battles with venereal disease as his own personal Vietnam” on the Howard Stern Show.

“I will tell you, as the father of two young girls, the idea of my daughters coming home and repeating any word that man says horrifies me,” Cruz said

It is a really interesting situation Cruz finds himself in, and not one with an obvious, or at any rate a universally agreed-upon answer.

Former Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri told me this week that Cruz’s failure to endorse Trump was “always a lose-lose for Cruz.”

“If Mr. Trump wins, he is president of the United States and it doesn’t look like it’s the best political move to anger a future president,” Munisteri said. “And if Mr. Trump were to lose, there would be some in the party who would blame him.”

As I wrote earlier this week:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, faulted Cruz this week for his failure to jump aboard the Trump train.

In his comments on Laura Ingraham’s radio show Monday and on Mark Davis’ radio show Tuesday, Patrick, who chaired Cruz’s Texas presidential campaign during primary season and is now chairing Trump’s general election campaign in Texas, took pains to frame his criticism of the senator as looking out for Cruz’s best interests.

“I stay loyal to my friends, and Ted’s a friend, but obviously I’m disappointed,” Patrick told Ingraham, a conservative radio host who backs Trump.

“I’m hoping there’s still time for him to come forward, or I think he and all the other people you named (who have failed to endorse Trump) will be left in the rearview mirror of the Republican Party moving forward,” Patrick said. “So I’m hoping Ted comes forward. I’m visiting with him on that issue, of course.”

“If Trump loses, it will be a close race,” Patrick told Davis, a conservative Dallas radio host. “If he loses it could be a state or two, and Ted could make a big difference in those states.”

“I think Ted is secure for his Senate seat,” Patrick said. But, he added, “Ted is a young, passionate, bright conservative with a great future, I mean a long-term future, and nationally, he has definitely taken a hit. He knows it, everybody knows it, at the convention and now by not supporting Trump even at this late date.”

In his comments on Laura Ingraham’s radio show Monday and on Mark Davis’ radio show Tuesday, Patrick, who chaired Cruz’s Texas presidential campaign during primary season and is now chairing Trump’s general election campaign in Texas, took pains to frame his criticism of the senator as looking out for Cruz’s best interests.

“I stay loyal to my friends, and Ted’s a friend, but obviously I’m disappointed,” Patrick told Ingraham, a conservative radio host who backs Trump.

“I’m hoping there’s still time for him to come forward, or I think he and all the other people you named (who have failed to endorse Trump) will be left in the rearview mirror of the Republican Party moving forward,” Patrick said. “So I’m hoping Ted comes forward. I’m visiting with him on that issue, of course.”

McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called it “unconscionable” for any good Republican to sit on the sidelines and let Hillary Clinton become commander-in-chief.

Patrick has eschewed future interest in any elective office other than the one he now holds, but McCaul has been mentioned as a potential Cruz rival.

McCaul didn’t directly answer when Ingraham asked if he planned to challenge Cruz for his Senate seat in 2018.

“There’s been a lot of talk and buzz about that,” McCaul said, before launching into his criticism of Cruz’s behavior in Cleveland.

McCaul is very unlikely to actually challenge Cruz for renomination.

The same is even more true of Patrick. But Patrick’s remarks were really an exquisite example of deftly inserting the knife and twisting it, all in the name of looking out for Cruz and his best interests.

“If Trump loses, it will be a close race,” Patrick told Davis, a conservative Dallas radio host. “If he loses it could be a state or two, and Ted could make a big difference in those states.”

“I think Ted is secure for his Senate seat,” Patrick said. But, he added, “Ted is a young, passionate, bright conservative with a great future, I mean a long-term future, and nationally, he has definitely taken a hit. He knows it, everybody knows it, at the convention and now by not supporting Trump even at this late date.”

And then this line from Patrick, which stands as rebuke not just of Cruz’s failure to endorse Trump, but of the whole raison d’etre of Cruz’s Senate career and political ascent.

The key is that f Trump wins, he’s going to turn to the people that helped him win it in terms of senators and congressman that he works with. I don’t want Ted to be an outsider. He’s too sharp and too bright to be on the outside looking in.

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Rice University Mark Jones doesn’t think Cruz has much to lose by withholding his endorsement.

“I think Cruz will be just fine,” Jones said. “I think Cruz likes being an outsider.”

“I think Ted Cruz has shrewdly calculated the odds, because he only loses in the scenario that Trump wins and has a successful presidency and pursues a conservative agenda,  and I think the odds of that are relatively low,” Jones said.

“I think a lot of Texas Republicans are, let’s support Trump just enough so we won’t take blame for his loss  – he’ll win Texas, so let’s not take any blowback but let’s get through the election, we’ll win Texas and then we’ll put Trump in the rearview mirror. It will be a one-off, an unfortunate event and we’ll focus on the future.”

But for Cruz to reverse course and endorse under political duress would not look good, Jones said.

“To do it under pressure would be to be an insider.”

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But SMU political scientist Cal Jillson thinks that’s exactly what Cruz is about to do.

“If the idea is that he was acting on principle and Trump had offended his wife and his father and therefore he could not bring himself to support him, that is about to take a back seat to his political instincts and needs I think.”

“I think he will find a way,” Jillson told me yesterday. “I read a story this morning that the fact that Trump had spoken well of Cruz’s internet initiative just might be the thing that allows him to endorse Trump. Now that is ludicrous. There are myriad major issues facing the country and that is not one of them.”

Nonetheless, Jillson said, “I think Cruz will find a way at some point, and I think it will be sooner rather than later. Sometime in the next few weeks he will find a way to make a statement, by no means full-throated, it may be a half measure, but a way to say that he did not deny Trump his support during the general election cycle.”

“I think what he can do is sort of  stop the bleeding but I don’t think he can afford to  make a full-throated endorsement and then go out on the stump for Trump. That would just be too much given the reluctance that he has demonstrated to this point and to the extent that it is a matter of principle, he has every reason to be mad and stay mad on a personal level.”

But, if the refuses to endorse, “and Trump loses, he would get part of the blame.”

“I think the hope in his convention statement was that he would get sort of a Reaganesque reaction, that he would fail to endorse but talk about conservative values and then, if Trump lost, he would be the natural representative of those values in 2020. The idea of his speech was to remain separate  from Trump on the assumption that Trump would go down and that he would pick up the flag and continue to charge up the hill.”

But instead, Jillson said, Cruz’s speech and his failure to endorse was so negatively received then and since – among his grassroots supporters, his big donors, and with Republicans across the board – “all he can do now is to inoculate himself against being blamed in the event of a Trump defeat and also not to be completely on the outside should he win.”

“Cruz is calculating continuously – and the calculation today is just very different than two months ago and I think he does have reason to try to get right with the Republican primary constituency in Texas and other Republican constituencies, all the way up to the Republican Party in Washington, so that he won’t be blamed and completely outside should Trump win.”

Of course, there is also the question of how Trump would react to a Cruz endorsement. Presumably he would accept it with some grace. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was the pollster for Cruz’s super PACs.

But, the last word from Trump on a Cruz endorsement came the day after the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

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Trump coloring book

 

 

From my story:

CLEVELAND — He didn’t call him “Lyin’ Ted.”

But at his first appearance since his generally well-regarded acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention Thursday night, Donald Trump on Friday said that Ted Cruz lied when he said the day before that he wasn’t obliged to honor a pledge to support the Republican nominee because Trump had attacked his wife and father during their bitter primary campaign.

And then Trump delivered a tirade that was way off his campaign message, returning intraparty feuding to the headlines.

I don’t want his endorsement. If he gives it, I will not accept it,” Trump said at an event with running mate Mike Pence to thank campaign volunteers in Cleveland before leaving town. “Just so you understand. If he gives it, I will not accept. It won’t matter.”

Trump also referred to the Texas senator’s potential future presidential ambitions: “I don’t see him winning anyway, frankly. But if he did, it’s fine. Although maybe I’ll set up a super PAC if he decides to run. Are you allowed to set up a super PAC, Mike, if you are the president, to fight somebody?”

Trump then gave an extended explanation of what he said and did during the campaign with regard to Cruz’s father, Rafael, and his wife, Heidi — calling attention to a National Enquirer story linking the elder Cruz to John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and retweeting a meme with an unflattering photo of Heidi — and why they didn’t merit Cruz’s outrage.

 

On Thursday, Cruz and his campaign manager, Jeff Roe, said it was still possible that Cruz would endorse Trump if he becomes satisfied that Trump has said and done things to reassure Cruz about his understanding and commitment to constitutional conservatism.

“By saying he no longer will accept his endorsement, Trump is getting rid of the escape valve for the senator,” Munisteri said, explaining that Trump has made it harder for Cruz to appease his critics in the party by eventually endorsing Trump. It also means that Trump has effectively ended any continuing effort to establish a political rapprochement between the two men.

The majority of the Texas delegation wanted and still want Sen. Cruz to endorse Trump, and this reminds people that he hasn’t, and that doesn’t help him,” said Munisteri, who was an at-large delegate to the convention and a convention consultant to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

Roe was asked Thursday whether an apology from Trump for the personal attacks on Rafael and Heidi Cruz might make a difference in enabling Cruz to eventually endorse Trump.

“No,” he said. “That’s playground stuff.”

Ted Cruz supporter at Republican National Convention reception at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland

Ted Cruz supporter at Republican National Convention reception at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland

So what is Cruz’s way out of this maze?

A few weeks ago I talked with Bryan Eppstein, the Republican political consultant from Fort Worth, who offered the counter-intuitive theory that Trump’s candidacy would lead to an increase in Republican straight-ticket voting in Texas. Why? Because it affords a voter a little psychological distance, a way to vote for Trump as just another part of the ticket, without have to explicitly cast a vote for Trump

So maybe that’s Cruz’s way out – say he’s voting a straight Republican ticket. Period.

“You could see how that would work for Cruz,” said Jillson, though he’s not so sure about that period.

“There’s always that hubris. He sees himself as the articulate debating champion, the thoughtful, principled guy, so I think he has to have something more to say.”

Also complicating Cruz’s moral posturing on Trump is that, more than any of Trump’s other rivals – and a time when Rick Perry was calling Trump out as a carnival barking cancer on conservatism – Cruz coddled and flattered Trump out of most transparently opportunistic self-interest.

From Jim Newell at Slate. in May.

This may be a tedious thing to keep pointing out, but Cruz spent the first six or seven months of Trump’s candidacy as Trump’s biggest booster and validator to the conservative grassroots. There’s always been some truth to the moniker of “Lyin’ Ted.” His greatest lie of all was pretending that he ever thought there was a decent bone in Trump’s body, and he went much further than that. “I’m grateful that he’s in the race,” Cruz said late last summer.

Trump Coloring Book

Trump Coloring Book

But Cruz’s culpability for Trump’s rise goes deeper than that, according to Samuel Popkin, a political scientist at the University of California in San Diego, who is writing a book on all this – The Republican Crackup.

Popkin makes the case that Cruz is singularly responsible for Trump’s rise by effectively destroying the credibility of the Republican establishment – or any Republican trying to get anything done – whether it was Cruz being a purity party of one in the Senate, or discrediting any effort by Marco Rubio or others to achieve immigration reform, or fomenting an insurrection among dissident Republicans in the House to depose House Speaker John Boehner.

As I wrote in August:

“He’s the most despised, distrusted and disliked member of the United States Senate,” said Popkin. As became apparent in the campaign just past, his colleagues in Washington have no interest in helping him either as a senator or as a presidential candidate.

By effectively laying waste to the Republican Party in Washington, Popkin said, “Cruz is the man who made Trump possible.”

“He never picked a fight that he knew he could win,” said Popkin, who studies the presidency. “He had an Alamo strategy to be the last one to die.”

He ran for president with a “now-or-never strategy. He did not have a Plan B. This was burn every bridge so you can’t go back,” Popkin said.

In Austin James Dickey foresaw the dilemma that Trump would place Cruz, himself and much of Republicandom inif he were the nominee.

From an open letter that Dickey, a Cruz delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and three other Texas delegates wrote their colleagues on the eve of the convention.

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For what it’s worth, Dickey this past week reclaimed his chairmanship of the Travis County Republican Party saying that as chairman he would back Trump, something that his chief rival, Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin political consultant whose clients include Michael McCaul, said he simply could not do.

Steinhauser, who cut his teeth as one of the national organizers of the tea party movement, believes that Trump’s political ideas are just too at odds with conservative values, and what would likely be Trump’s style of governing too at odds with the precepts of limited government.

When Steinhauser and Dickey were asked Tuesday night at the meeting of the Travis Country Republican Party precinct chairs to select a new chairman, if they supported Trump for president, there were a few gasps from those in attendance when Steinhauser said he couldn’t, and applause when Dickey said he would.

Dickey was streaming the meeting on his Facebook page, and here are some of the contemporaneous reactions to the live-stream

 

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This appearance by Hillary Clinton with Zach Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns is undoubtedly her best performance of the campaign, and was filmed on Sept. 9, the day she was diagnosed by her doctor with pneumonia.

 

Last night I saw Kinky Friedman perform at Strange Brew.

He was quite good and very funny and performed five new songs, part of what he said was his first new repertoire in 30 years. Friedman said Willie Nelson had advised him that he was depressed and that best cure was to stop watching Matlock reruns and write some music.

Oh, and Friedman, who was an independent candidate for governor of Texas in 2006, said after the show that he prefers Trump to Clinton, because Clinton won’t change anything in Washington and, “Who’s to say that maybe this guy has some real guts, maybe he makes the right call.”

“Jesus rode into town on a jackass,” Friedman said.

kinkyposter

 

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