Trump’s not the only guy who gave an answer last night that he needs to account for today. Rubio and Cruz each said, as you’ll see below, that they’d support Trump as nominee, which is understandable on the one hand — they took a pledge, didn’t they? — and not so understandable on the other. Cruz gave as good an answer as he could under the circumstances, saying he’s a man of his word and therefore he’ll honor his pledge, but it’s not as simple as that. A few days ago he told Glenn Beck that Trump would be a “manifest disaster” as president. This morning he told reporters that the party should unify behind him as its sole chance to stop Trump because the alternative would be a “catastrophe for this country.” Pro tip: If you’ve taken a pledge that would require you to support visiting a catastrophe upon America, maybe keeping your word isn’t your highest priority.
But if Cruz is bad, Rubio is worse. After all, unlike Cruz, Rubio has been attacking Trump lately in the strongest personal terms. He’s the one who’s made “con artist” a centerpiece of his anti-Trump messaging. (Jonathan Chait headlines his post about Rubio’s answer last night, “Trump Is a Dangerous Con Man, and He’ll Have My Vote.”) Two days ago he told NBC that nominating Trump would mean “the end of the modern conservative movement and the end of the modern Republican Party in a very devastating way.” He said this week on the trail that Trump is a sure loser in November as nominee, such that a vote for Trump in the primary is a vote for Hillary Clinton in November. Then, last night, he said he’d support Trump as nominee because … that’s the only way to beat Hillary in November. W-w-what? And on top of that, if it’s all about beating Hillary, what the hell is Rubio doing shopping #NeverTrump merchandise in his campaign store?
Five days ago, he used the #NeverTrump hashtag in one of this attacks on Trump on Twitter:
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 27, 2016
#NeverTrump means just what it says — that the person using it will never vote for Trump, even if that means staying home in November and subtracting their vote from the GOP’s total. It’s an explicit declaration that you’re prepared to sit by and watch Hillary Clinton win a close election because that outcome would be preferable to electing Trump. In that context, Rubio’s answer last night is totally incoherent. If you want to try to square this circle, your best bet is to stick with Cruz’s lame answer that having made a promise you have no choice but to keep it. Even if that means supporting an outcome you sincerely believe would be devastating to the United States.
Exit question: Will either of these guys keep their pledge come November? I think Cruz, the triangulator, will lest he offend the Trumpist wing of the party. A senator in his mid-40s with another run for president in him (or a spot on the Supreme Court) in the future needs to be careful not to alienate too many voters. Rubio, who’ll be out of the Senate next year, is harder to gauge. He has less to lose in theory by ditching Trump as nominee for a third-party conservative candidate, but if he wants to run for governor of Florida in two years, there are bound to be members of the Florida GOP wanting to know why they should line up for him when he didn’t line up for the last nominee. Having recommitted to his pledge last night on national TV, he may no longer have a choice.
Update: Well, here you go. A Kentucky radio host put this very question to Rubio today: Does #NeverTrump mean never Trump or does it mean never Trump in the Republican primary but okay Trump in the general election — which would amount to #PossiblyTrump, I guess. Just the primary, says Rubio. Lame.