Ted Cruz did himself no favors when he declined to endorse Donald Trump Wednesday night, garnering a not unpredictable round of boos after he drew out the process almost interminably. The Texas senator seemed like a small man and decidedly not presidential. Positioning himself for a 2020 run at the presidency, should Trump lose, was reputed to be Cruz’s goal for the evening. If so, he did the reverse.
Sure Donald had hit Ted below the belt, far below actually, during the campaign, but Cruz himself had been no saint. (If you think these guys were rough, check what the Founding Fathers said about each other.) Further, as anyone paying the slightest attention remembers, for much of the beginning of the electoral season, the Texas senator played an unctuous second fiddle to Trump, backing up and even applauding practically everything the businessman said even at a time Donald was under attack by practically everyone else.
It was a slightly nauseating display on the senator’s part as the disingenuousness was readily apparent. It couldn’t have been more obvious that Cruz was setting himself up to pick up the pieces from what he thought would be Trump’s inevitable fall. When that didn’t occur, Cruz quickly changed his tune. Trump, who, as we know, does not take lightly to attack, struck back.
On Wednesday, Cruz projected rigidity and self-interest. (Chris Christie bluntly called it a “selfish” speech.) It made me think of what he have all heard about Cruz—that he is friendless in the Senate. He claims that it is because of his staunch ideological purity. I wonder.
Pure or not, Mike Pence—a movement conservative himself and not a friendless one—did himself proud on Wednesday night. I have to confess that I was wowed and (mildly) surprised. I had no idea that Pence was this good a public speaker. He was even charismatic.
Well, perhaps I shouldn’t go overboard. He was no Churchill. Almost no American politician of recent years has been genuinely eloquent or even gotten much beyond boilerplate. But Pence did quite well at what every vice-presidential candidate is supposed to do—flaying the opposition while boosting his man. (Calling Clinton “secretary of the status quo” was clever.) In the process, Pence drew on phrases of Ronald Reagan, but not as plagiarism, as homage. He adapted Reagan’s “Time of Choosing” speech by stating we were in “another time of choosing” much like 1980. No question that we are.
The Indiana governor spoke with a tone of authenticity, no rigidity, self-interest or disingenuousness. He seemed a genuine man of faith, a legitimate social conservative with no whiff of pandering. This is just the kind of social con those of us who are less inclined in that direction can readily accept, even admire.
Ironically, it was Pence, not Cruz, who put himself on the map for the presidency Wednesday night. Though it’s an eternity away, if Trump fails, it would not startle me at all to see Mike Pence in the surprising position of GOP frontrunner for 2020.
Roger L. Simon is a prize-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media. His book—I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already—is just published by Encounter. You can read an excerpt here. You can see a brief interview about the book with the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal here. You can hear an interview about the book with Mark Levin here. You can order the book here.
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