Cruz’s gamble for the GOP
© Greg Nash

Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOcasio-Cortez and Cruz's dialogue shows common ground isn't just for moderates Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists MORE declared war. Not on ISIS, unfortunately, but on any Republican that backs Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE. In Cruz’s primetime speech at the convention, Cruz refused to endorse the Republican nominee. Instead he advised delegates and all Republicans watching at home to “vote your conscience.” To understand Cruz’s massive primetime snub of Trump, we must look back at Cruz’s political maneuvers during and after the 2016 Republican primaries. 

In mid-August, and early September, when Trump-mania began amongst Republican Party voters, most candidates distanced themselves from the very controversial Trump but Ted Cruz was not one of them. Cruz constantly praised Trump’s policies on immigration, and opposition to the Iran deal, even appearing with Trump at a rally in Capitol Hill to campaign against the deal. Cruz’s logic behind supporting Trump early on was that he saw Trump as a temporary phenomenon among angry conservative voters who wanted a political outsider in the White House. Cruz believed that Evangelical Christians, the demographic Trump performed best with in the primaries, would ultimately come to their senses and shift from voting for a socially liberal New Yorker, Trump, to the more traditional, socially conservative Texan - Cruz. 


While Cruz’s theory on Trump’s inevitable flame-out didn’t materialize in the primaries, after Wednesday night’s speech, Cruz is now staking his political career on a Trump collapse. It is no secret that the still young first term Sen. Cruz has aspirations for running for President again in 2020. After he suspended his campaign in May, the anti-establishment, Texas firebrand refused to endorse Trump, and began making amends to “establishment” Republicans in the Senate who despise him. Cruz stuck to his guns in his speech at Donald Trump’s Republican convention because he believes whether Trump wins or loses in 2016, he was a one election phenomena, a blip on the Republican’s radar; and that in 2020 the Republican Party, the party of Reagan will return to its true conservative form. 

Wednesday night, Cruz established his base for his 2020 run, consisting of the Never Trump movement, and even old guard establishment Republicans who feel that Trump’s campaign has corrupted their party and put it on an irreversibly bad path. Cruz’s ultimate message is rooted in the idea that in this election, a true conservative loses no matter if Hillary wins or if Trump wins. 

By speaking to a convention full of Trump supporters, and into a sea of boos, Cruz sent the message to every Never Trump conservative and every establishment Republican who is hesitant to vote for Trump, that he intends to be the party’s conservative standard bearer in 2020 and beyond. While Cruz didn’t actually say it, Cruz echoed the Never Trump mantra. Ultimately, the Republican Party may be better off in the long term if Hillary wins the Presidency. As shocking as that sounds, it’s the message Cruz put out Wednesday night.

Cruz’s power play for the soul of the Republican Party is a huge gamble. There is no guarantee Cruz will gain support from his Tea Party base that seems to have thrown its support behind Trump. Many Tea Partiers and even members of Cruz’s own inner circle are very upset with his snub. Will they be willing to throw their support behind him in the 2020 election? That remains unclear. Not to mention that if Trump wins and has a successful term as President, Cruz will likely be an afterthought in the Republican Party. But Cruz doesn’t care. As we all saw Wednesday night, Cruz will stick to his conservative principles even if it means ruining his political career. 

Justin Sofer studies political science at Emory University in Atlanta.