Blog No. 89. Trump and Cruz: Republican Scylla and Charybdis

We had hoped to begin 2016 on an optimistic note, but after waiting until the eleventh hour and beyond, it seems to have eluded us. For RINOs, the continued presence of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz atop the Republican leaderboard is singularly depressing. We do not accept that the nomination of either is inevitable, but it is more of a risk than we can understand or accept.

We have repeatedly made it clear that we regard Donald Trump as utterly unacceptable as a nominee or as president.  A December 22 Quinnipiac poll was widely reported to have discovered that 50% of the electorate would be embarrassed by having Trump as President. Our immediate reaction was “What’s the matter with the other 50%?”  But we experienced our own embarrassment when we dug a little deeper and found that only 20% of Republicans would admit to embarrassment by a Trump presidency. What would it take to embarrass the rest, we wondered. Turning, as we must, to alternatives, the recent surge by Senator Cruz makes it inevitable that increasing attention will be paid to comparing his candidacy with Trump’s

In a recent column in The Washington Post, Ed Rogers posed the Republican dilemma in these terms:

Another question now being asked in Republican circles is, “What happens if the choice comes down to Trump or Cruz?” Plenty of Republican regulars are using that potential match-up to start thinking about how they might be able to be for Trump. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has made enemies of so many Republican leaders that many in the GOP think it says something important about Cruz and they just can’t see themselves supporting him. Republicans are also questioning who would be the most electable: Cruz or Trump? Republican leaders are beginning to say that perhaps Trump has “tapped into something,” suggesting that the “something” could somehow be fashioned into something positive for the Republican prospects in November. I will entertain the Trump-Cruz hypothetical match-up for the moment, and say that I wouldn’t have any problem supporting Cruz over Trump. I believe Cruz is a conservative and a Republican, and I will just leave it at that for the time being.

While we appreciate Rogers having posed the question so neatly, we must disagree with his conclusion. In answer to the question of whether Cruz is more acceptable (or less unacceptable) than Trump, our answer is a reluctant but firm “not really.” Like Scylla and Charybdis, the mythical sea monsters on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina, they are equally frightening.

Thus far, Trump and Cruz have largely avoided attacking one another, but in the fashion of the Hitler-Stalin pact, that accord is not destined to long endure, and at some level we look forward to the ensuing combat. We are reminded of the story of the trapper who shared a remote cabin with a very large and ill-tempered spouse. Returning to the cabin one day, he found his missus locked in a physical struggle with a marauding bear. Looking on, he could only exclaim “Go it, wife, go it, bear.”

Cruz, we will acknowledge, does not share Trump’s penchant for astonishingly crude remarks and, in that sense, he would be less embarrassing. As to fundamental matters of persona and policy, however, he offers no improvement. To begin with, the intense dislike of Trump by Republican leaders did not just happen. Cruz got it the old-fashioned way: he earned it. His disruptive tactics in the Senate, including his affection for government shutdowns, have been widely reported and need not be reprised here. One of the criticisms of President Obama, and one in which we have joined, has been his inability to work effectively with Congress, often including even members of his own party. But Cruz’s record suggests that he would eclipse that negative legacy in very short order.

While Cruz’s rhetoric is not as vulgar as Trump’s, it is often equally inflammatory. He called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a “liar” on the floor of the Senate.  Responding to Supreme Court decisions he disagreed with, Cruz attacked the appointment of Chief Justice Roberts as a “mistake” and referred to “judicial tyranny.” Carried along by his own eloquence, Cruz also proposed that justices be required to undergo retention elections every eight years. George Will found it “especially disheartening that Cruz, who clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and who is better equipped by education and experience to think clearly about courts, proposes curing what he considers this court’s political behavior by turning the court into a third political branch.”

On immigration, Cruz’s position is less dramatic and far-fetched that Trump’s (build a wall and make Mexico pay for it; deport all illegal aliens) but is essentially no less extreme. Recalling George Wallace on segregation, Cruz recently proclaimed “I oppose legalization … today, tomorrow, forever!”  Whether this is a change from Cruz’s position in 2013, as claimed by Senator Rubio, or whether his earlier statements were a disingenuous political maneuver, has drawn considerable discussion but is not particularly important. The essential point in our view is that Cruz’s present position is wrong as a matter of policy and potentially fatal as a matter of politics.

Cruz’s positions on matters of national security are less toxic politically but equally wrong-headed. Concerning Syria, a December 30 editorial in The Washington Post exposed the weakness of the argument by Cruz (and Trump) that we should abandon any attempt to remove Assad:

Mr. Cruz is arguing for a stridently anti-American and nakedly genocidal dictator who sponsored terrorism against U.S. troops in Iraq and serves as a willing puppet of Iran. The notion that Mr. Assad could be nudged into reforms or compromise with his opposition was tested in 2011 by actors ranging from then-Sen. John F. Kerry to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and was found to be delusional.

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Mr. Cruz faults the Obama administration for attempting to train those rebels but fails to acknowledge that it tried his proposed policy of fostering local resistance to the Islamic State rather than Mr. Assad. The tactic was a failure because Syrian Sunnis as well as Sunnis from other states proved reluctant to fight the Islamic State while the Assad regime remained in power. President Obama has acknowledged that the Islamic State cannot be defeated as long as the Assad regime stays.

Cruz was alone among Republican candidates and other Republican leaders in declining to criticize Trump’s call for banning all Muslims from entry into the United States. And, like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich, we disagree with Cruz’s support of legislation that curtailed the NSA’s metadata program.

With respect to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Cruz’s position mirrors that of Hillary Clinton: he initially supported it but now, like Hillary (and Trump), opposes it. We continue to support TPP as do Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich.

In the end, we can see only one reason for preferring the nomination of Cruz rather than Trump. We believe that either will be decisively defeated in the general election, perhaps by margins similar to those suffered by Barry Goldwater and George McGovern, and costing Republicans control of the Senate and quite possibly the House. If Trump is the nominee, some will attempt to explain away his defeat on the grounds that he was not a sufficiently ideological conservative (or that the public had simply tired of his uniquely peculiar personality). In Cruz’s case, however, no one should be able to question his credentials as an articulate voice for “true” conservatives and his defeat might put a stake through the myth that the Republican path to success is by the nomination of such candidates. In our view, however, the failure to field a credible candidate against Hillary Clinton is too high a price to pay for that lesson.

Just before Christmas, a friend presented us a sweatshirt bearing a handsome likeness of a rhinoceros and the inscription, “Rhinos are just chubby unicorns.” RINO, of course stands for Republican In Name Only and does not include an “H.” On the other hand, if Trump or Cruz is the nominee, we may add an H for “Happily.” As for the comparison with chubby unicorns, we have no comment.

Happy New Year to all and best wishes for a healthy, prosperous and (more) peaceful 2016.RHINO is chubby unicorn tee shirt

9 thoughts on “Blog No. 89. Trump and Cruz: Republican Scylla and Charybdis

  • George Port said: “It may be that there really is no Republican Party but a collection of people who are not democrats but collectively do not know what they are only what they are not.”
    Well said. Sadly I have to agree and perhaps put myself in that group.

  • So, is Trump an aberration, or an example of where the GOP has been heading? Paul Krugman thinks so. He points out top GOP candidates are all “deeply ignorant about policy, having a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error.” There is a grain of truth to what he says even though I hope he’s wrong. I’m reminded of W with his Iraq invasion and his refusal to acknowledge the errors. Then, there was McCain’s selection of the intellectual giant Sarah Palin as his running mate. Does this kind of remind you of Yakov Smirnoff, the Russian comedian who said; “Is this a great country or what?”

    • Reply to Bob Peffers: You will not find an argument on these pages that the Republican Party is without flaws. That’s not what we’re about. On the contrary, a principle part of our mission is to acknowledge such flaws and try to lead the party away from them. Paul Krugman, on the other hand is a Democratic polemecist whose partisanship is undiluted. He probably believes in a two-party system as a matter of theory, but would like see one party centered roughly around the views of Hillary Clinton and the around those of Bernie Sanders and Eleanor Warrren. It would be an interesting exercise for a grad student to pore through Krugman’s writings and see if he has ever written anything favorable, or even respectful, about any Republican

    • I would hold the Republican party against the Democratic Party any day of the week. The Republicans have a true diversity of ideas (from Ron Paul to Donald Thrump), candidates (a woman, an Indian-American, two hispanics, a black, and even some old white men) and ages. Match that up against what the Democratics are offering old men and woman with barely a difference between them.

  • Well I felt much the same as you all on this web site. But one cannot be but amazed at what The Donald has accomplished on this campaign. Against all odds and predictions, he has out performed everyone: when the RNC was plotting against him he shut them down with his threat to run as an independent, when the other candidates would trash him, it had no affect and when he trashed them back it hurt them, when Hilary pulled out her bully and sexism charges he fired back with Bill’s peccadilloes and effectively shut her down. He has been two steps ahead of everyone and amazingly effective.

    As I mentioned I was put off with his bluster and inarticulateness but what are we looking for? a cool, calm, articulate loser like Obama or someone that can rewrite the rules of the game to his favor and win. I am starting to be a fan.

  • Like most political observers, I join those absolutely amazed by Trump’s continuing popularity in spite of his substance-free, bluster-ridden campaign, and surprised to find a candidate as far removed from the Republican mainstream as Cruz as the most likely alternative. The extent to which the Republican voter base has been taken over and consumed by right-wing and anti-government extremists, while evolving incrementally, has perhaps reached full fruition, to the consternation of Party leadership, mainstream conservative voters, and any moderates remaining in the party. Hopefully, those actually voting in Republican primaries may differ from people responding to polls, and someone other than Trump or Cruz may emerge. If not, the other party may be receiving a lot of votes from people fleeing their own party. RINO’S are obviously in the forefront of taking notice!

  • I’m trying hard not to despair over the front running GOP candidates….but finding it harder and harder as the caucuses close in on us. Why, oh why, are we shooting ourselves in the feet by getting behind those that are unelectable to the general population? And we have such viable alternatives this time around! Rubio, Kasich, and Jeb are all far superior candidates that Republicans seem only passingly interested in. If the GOP does run Trump or Cruz, I fear the Republican Party will become a footnote in history. Perhaps the opposition party that emerges will be smarter, sharper, and better able to craft statesmanship for our country….but will an electorate with over half of the population in need of government support for living expenses even care? I guess despair was a little closer than I was willing to admit!

  • The fact that you felt compelled to compare Trump and Cruz is a sad reflection on the state of the GOP at this point in time. It may be that there really is no Republican Party but a collection of people who are not democrats but collectively do not know what they are only what they are not. Happy New Year

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