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.