No, it wasn’t. Cruz surrendered what’s left of his integrity to Trump in order to keep his Senate seat but he’s under no illusions about who Trump is. There’s no way he believes a critic of Trump’s as fierce as Mike Lee is actually in line for a Supreme Court seat. I doubt that Trump has ever, in any capacity, rewarded one of his critics without converting them to a supplicant first. Are there any examples of him, for instance, hiring a building contractor who’d criticized him publicly simply because he admired that contractor’s work? To the average person there would be wisdom in doing that, putting the quality of your project above your own petty feelings. Trump, I think, would see it as pitiful weakness absent a groveling apology from the contractor first. His entire moral code seems to be that those who praise him are good and those who criticize him are bad, and Lee falls into the second category. Why would President Trump put a bad man on the Court?
Adding Lee to yesterday’s SCOTUS list was an obvious pretext to get Cruz’s endorsement. It wouldn’t surprise me if Cruz himself suggested it in his meeting with Mike Pence last week. “I’d love to climb down and endorse, Mike,” he may have said, “but I need some sort of transparent-garbage excuse from Donald that I can point to and claim that I’m acting out of principle.” If he endorsed Trump with nothing having changed between the convention and now except Trump’s polling, he’d have no way to justify his reversal apart from raw expedience. Having Lee turn up on Trump’s list gives him a way to say that Trump is evolving into a conservative and that that’s what won Cruz over. No one believes that, but this is what Cruz has been reduced to. He had no leverage left to extract a meaningful concession from Trump so he accepted a meaningless one to save a tiny bit of face.
You know what would have been a nice concession for Cruz? An apology from Trump to his wife and father for personally insulting them. But Trump doesn’t do apologies — see the point above about weakness — so Cruz had to decide whether to let the insults stand and endorse anyway or stick with his “vote your conscience” position and possibly lose his Senate seat. He chose ambition over honor because, hey, Ted Cruz.
In recent days, strong signals emerged that the two rivals were warming to one another. Privately, Cruz huddled with Mike Pence last week. Trump backed Cruz’s effort on a legislative play involving internet regulation, then floated close Cruz ally Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) for the Supreme Court. Cruz praised Trump on Twitter.
Those moves by Trump, a source familiar with the process, were what made the difference for Cruz.
“Trump’s willingness and decisive action to release a list of conservative jurists, particularly including Mike Lee, with the promise to choose from that list, was a top factor in Cruz’s ultimate decision,” the person said on Saturday morning.
Trump already released a list of 10 solid conservative SCOTUS nominees in May. Cruz didn’t care. Now his buddy’s on the list, coincidentally at the same time Cruz’s numbers are tanking in Texas while Trump’s are climbing nationally, and suddenly Court appointments are a big deal. The idea that a piece of paper with Lee’s name on it might have actually mattered to Cruz is insulting to everyone’s intelligence, including and especially Mike Lee’s. Lee knows Trump would never reward a political enemy for a reason as flimsy as that he’d be an excellent jurist for the country for decades. He’s a pawn in this game between Trump and his “friend” Cruz, and he obviously doesn’t want to participate:
While Lee’s inclusion played a leading role in Cruz’s decision, the list will make no difference for Lee. In a statement to the Washington Examiner on Cruz’s decision to vote for Trump, Lee indicated that the new list from Trump and pledge of support from Cruz would not make Lee change his mind.
“I consistently follow certain criteria when deciding whether to endorse any candidate pursuing a federal office. Those criteria focus on each candidate’s grasp of — and willingness to work tirelessly to restore — federalism and separation of powers,” Lee said in a statement. “I am always eager to support any candidate willing to make those structural constitutional protections a priority. In this race and in every other, I will continue to use the same criteria.”…
“The Supreme Court is very important and I appreciate being considered,” Lee said in a statement. “Right now I’m focused on my job in the Senate, where I’m in a good position to defend the Constitution by fighting against government overreach. Both lists that I’ve seen from the Trump campaign are fantastic. While my brother and I might disagree as to which list is better, they’re both great.”
Ben Domenech wrote a nice piece yesterday on how Cruz lost his convention bet against Trump, but these two tweets summarize his predicament more elegantly.
Before today Cruz needed Trump to lose big or win slightly, because that would have made Cruz either right, or leader of loyal opposition.
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) September 24, 2016
Now Cruz needs Trump to lose narrowly. If he wins Cruz leads nothing. If he loses big Cruz looks even more foolish than others.
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) September 24, 2016
Cruz assumed in July that, by not endorsing, his own political stock would rise as Trump’s inevitably collapsed this fall. That’s the second time in less than a year that he gambled badly on Trump’s support disintegrating; his bromance with Trump last year was premised on the idea that populists would eventually desert the boorish amateur and stampede towards the other anti-Washington guy in the race, Cruz. (That in turn was part of a much bigger and even more foolish gamble by Cruz that most populist conservatives really are conservative and would back him against Trump if forced to choose.) Instead Trump’s stock rose and Cruz’s fell, leaving Cruz in a dangerous position in which Trump might lose narrowly this fall instead of by a landslide and all of his new enemies within the GOP would rush to blame him and his non-endorsement for the defeat. So he rolled over.
Needless to say, after all of this, the idea of Cruz leading some sort of conservative resistance to President Trump in the Senate is up in smoke. The grim lesson of yesterday’s surrender is that Cruz’s donors own him as much as any establishmentarian Republican is owned by their own donors. At a minimum, he’ll play nice with Trump now until he’s safely past any primary challenges in 2018. And if Cruz is still serious about running for president again someday, he’ll go on playing nice after that. There’s no basis anymore for believing that he’d win a primary challenge against Trump, no matter how awful and left-ish Trump’s first term might be. Key factions of the GOP, including grassroots conservatives, have chosen Trump over Cruz at every turn. The same logic that’s used now by Republicans to justify sucking it up and voting for Trump — the Democrat is worse! — would be used as a reason to crush any primary challenge by Cruz. (“He’s weakening President Trump with the Democrats set to pounce!”) Cruz will politely disagree with President Trump as needed, but there’ll be no long filibusters or government shutdowns in protest of his initiatives because Cruz doesn’t have a base anymore that will tolerate that. He’ll keep rolling over, biding his time until Trump has passed from the stage and the GOP needs a new nominee. He left himself with no choice.