Unexamined Premises

In the Wake of Cruz's Defeat, 'Never Trump' Movement Ponders Its Next Moves

Adios, amigo (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Decisively defeated by Donald Trump in today’s Indiana primary, Ted Cruz has announced that he is suspending his campaign, clearing the way for Trump’s nomination at the July GOP convention in Cleveland and effectively putting an end to the #neverTrump movement. Said Cruz:  “We are suspending our campaign, but hear me out: I am not suspending our fight for liberty.”

Bold words. But after all the talk about a contested convention, Trump dispatched his rivals, who also included John Kasich, with ease, winning 53 percent of the vote with almost all the votes now counted. Cruz has 37 percent, and Kasich 7 percent. Nevertheless, Cruz vowed to fight on to uphold the movement-conservative principles of his campaign, including smaller, more limited government and lower taxes.

Meanwhile, on the Democrat side, Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton, 53-47, dealing another blow to the former first lady and dinging her aura of “inevitability” once again. Indeed, despite an uphill battle against a nominating process that really was rigged for Clinton from the outset, Sanders’ recent string of victories has party regulars questioning whether Hillary is the best candidate to go up against Trump in the fall; a Trump-Sanders race would offer the nation the starkest choice between capitalism and communism in the nation’s history.

This unlikeliest of unlikely GOP races has been marked by acrimony and insult, as Cruz — the sole legitimate surviving alternative to the brash billionaire (if such he really is) from New York City — at first tacked behind Trump, avoiding the devastating field of fire that took out more than a dozen other candidates, and sheltered behind the Queens-born bulldozer. But in the end, Trump turned on Cruz, saddling him with one of his pet insults (“Lyin’ Ted”), and dismantling him in a string of recent primaries in New York, New England, the mid-Atlantic and, today, the Midwest.

Were Trump’s tactics –including, most recently, the bizarre allegation that Cruz’s evangelical preacher father, Rafael, was somehow “linked” to the Kennedy assassination — below the belt? Of course they were. But, as Mr. Dooley famously said, “politics ain’t beanbag,” and nice guys (Scott Walker, take a bow) really do finish last. Marquess of Queensberry rules apply in boxing, not in politics.

Worse, however, has been the sustained acrimony between the anti-Trump movement, which never was able to coalesce around a single champion, and the far larger pro-Trump electorate, who continue to trade barbs even after the issue has been settled. There is brave talk at the moment about a third-party candidate (Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor who is likely to be the Libertarian party candidate this fall), but a vote for Johnson would simply be for spite, as the loopy libertarian has no realistic hope of success.

So the question now becomes: whither the no-Trumpers? Many of the younger critics, now in a professional mid-life crisis, came of voting age during the Reagan administration or even the Bush I administration, and have mistakenly assumed that what they call the “conservative movement” is synonymous with that era. (Others are essentially clueless millennials.) But that is a total misreading of both the past and the future. If the two Obama administrations have taught us anything, it’s that “smaller government, lower taxes” is a losing proposition at the ballot box, with takers now outnumbering makers: tell the American people you advocate those principles and what they hear is that you’re going to take away their free stuff. And many of them — half the country — pay little or nothing in income taxes in the first place. Such conservatives have not earned their “movement” principles, but merely inherited them; they should consider what just happened a well-deserved time-out to reassess what conservatism is in the first place.

Of more import is the fate of those on the Right who have staked their personal and professional fortunes on stopping Trump. No matter what you think of The Donald, what was the upside to opposition once the outcome was clear, as it has been since New York? Do you really want four (or eight) more years of Democrats? Moral preening is one thing; defiant words of “Never!” have a nice ring to them. But what is their practical application? Their open contempt for Trump supporters will not be forgotten for a very, very long time.

Meanwhile, this is happening:

Americans love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser, as General George S. Patton, Jr., famously said.

Is Donald Trump — of all people! — the ideal candidate? Of course not. But the very fact that he was able to undertake a successful hostile takeover of the Republican Party speaks volumes about the ineptitude of the GOP and how little its “leadership” understood the mounting anger of the electorate it repeatedly betrayed. The defeat of Eric Cantor didn’t register with the GOPe, nor the toppling of John Boehner; did they really think they could fob folks off with the glib Twitter pieties of Paul Ryan, a man who let a gibbering Joe Biden whup him on national television? Those who blithely assure you that Trump has no chance against the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua know no more than anybody else — and probably a good deal less.

So the GOP is now reaping what it has sown; as the big number in Chicago goes, they had it coming.

Serves them right.