Ted Cruz on the Carrier deal: Americans are pleased to have a president who'll fight for jobs

Well … yes, that’s fine. But surely “Mr. Conservative” has more to say about the deal than that. Or does he?

THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Senator Cruz, do you have any thoughts on the Carrier deal?

CRUZ: For eight years we’ve had a president who has refused to stand with the American worker and indeed who has presided over massive new taxes and regulations that have driven jobs overseas and driven down wages. I think the American people are gratified to have an incoming president, an incoming administration, that will fight to keep jobs here in America and reduce the burdens on small businesses and job creators so that we see millions of new high-paying jobs and wages rising across the country.

That’s from John McCormack, who hit Cruz with the obvious follow-up: Isn’t the Carrier deal also an example of crony capitalism, using sticks and carrots to pressure a particular company into behaving how you want instead of insisting on a level playing field in the form of a new regulatory regime for everyone? Cruz was stepping onto an elevator as that question was asked and didn’t answer.

But he had something to say about it back in April, before the Indiana primary, as McCormack later remembered:

“Big-government liberals — like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — all try to use the power of government to bully and abuse and punish those who don’t do what they want.

“Donald has a long history of threatening government retaliation against any company that moves jobs overseas — exactly like Obama and Hillary do. I think that’s exactly backward. It is a tragedy that Carrier is moving so many jobs to Mexico, but it is responding to the disaster that is the Obama-Clinton economy. It is the federal government that has driven Carrier out of Indiana and is driving jobs away from America all across this country.

Retaliation against Carrier’s parent company, whether explicitly or implicitly threatened, almost certainly did play a role in the deal and Cruz must know it. Yet all he had to say to when put on the spot was a prosaic restatement of his (correct) point that the best thing the feds can do to keep jobs here is to lighten the regulatory load on business. Sarah Palin, who chose populism over conservatism when she endorsed Trump over Cruz and is allegedly under consideration for a cabinet position at the VA, nonetheless found the nerve to politely scold Trump for ad hoc policymaking with the Carrier deal, a precedent that’ll lead to cronyism if replicated. Weird that Cruz didn’t think to make the same point. Any theories why?

Watching him grapple with Trumpism is going to be one of the most entertaining, and probably ultimately depressing, sideshows of Trump’s first term. He’s the party’s most famous ideological purist, a guy who came to fame meteorically by attacking John Boehner and Mitch McConnell as lousy RINOs, and now he’s at the mercy of a Republican president who’s a far bigger RINO than Boehner or McConnell ever were and yet has Cruz’s populist base cheering him on. The political ice underneath him is too thin right now for him to make trouble for Trump. Texas voters were mad at him for not endorsing Trump at the convention and, maybe more importantly, so were his very rich friends the Mercers, who now have enormous power within the GOP thanks to their early support for the president-elect. If he pulls the “Mr. Conservative” shtick on Trump and Trump hits back, he could end up with a primary challenge in 2018 in a worst-case scenario and even less influence in the Senate than he has now even in a best-case scenario.

That is to say, the reason Palin’s jabbing at Trump while Cruz isn’t is that Palin has little to lose by doing so. (Whether she’s really being considered for the VA or that’s just something Team Trump is saying publicly as thanks for her endorsement this spring is an open question.) He’ll pick his spots in challenging Trump until he’s safely reelected two years from now, and then he’ll take the lay of the political land. If Trump is popular, if he’s pushing a protectionist agenda and has most of the party applauding, then Cruz will need to think hard about how much longer he should hang on to his Reaganite identity if he wants to run in 2024. Plenty of “conservatives” will end up as nationalists by 2020 if Trump’s polling is strong; some, like Stephen Moore and I guess Mike Pence, already are. If Trump isn’t popular come 2019, well, then Cruz can start speaking up again for “conservative values.” Does he want to double down on his own brand, in other words, or does he want to try to coopt parts of Trump’s brand, which starts with prioritizing job creation/preservation and not thinking too hard about what government might need to do to make that happen? That’s the question he’ll spend four years wrestling with. His Carrier answer is a small hint that he’s already thinking ahead. Remember, Cruz always has a plan. A bad plan, usually, but a plan.

Here he is today talking about nachos or something.