The media’s already hyping Cruz’s answer — he’s not ruling anything out! — but you need to listen to the clip below (at 4:30) to appreciate how jokey it is. Beck and his crew are laughing through the question and Cruz’s reply is arch. Remember, his campaign’s in the process of winding down; laid-off staffers are already looking for work. Even if he won Nebraska tonight, that’s a state he was always “supposed to” win. Winning it wouldn’t affect Trump’s path to the nomination, it’d just put Cruz back on the same losing path he was on after Indiana. And of course he isn’t going to win Nebraska, although he might have a better than expected showing that embarrasses Trump a bit. I’d be surprised if he cracked 15 percent.
The real news here is what he says before that, when he’s asked about endorsing Trump. Unsurprisingly, he’s in the Paul Ryan camp — not a yes, not #NeverTrump, but more of a #NotYetTrump. That’s the smart position for a conservative pol to take since it’s the only one that gives the right some leverage over Trump’s agenda in the general election. Trump can ignore the Trump fans who are already all-in and ignore the #NeverTrumpers who’ve written him off, but if he wants Ryan’s and Cruz’s backing, he won’t be able to stray too far from the GOP’s conservative party line — in theory. I, uh, thought he already had strayed pretty far, but oh well. Like Ryan, Cruz will eventually support Trump and do his Reagan ’76 shtick at the convention, but it’s understandable that he wouldn’t want to signal that today given how raw and angry at Trump the Cruz crew still is. Check back with him in six weeks, see how he’s feeling then.
Other highlights here include Cruz framing Trump’s triumph as the result of “a handful of network executives … manipulating and deceiving voters” — whoever could he mean? — and agreeing with Beck that a Will Smith/Angelina Jolie ticket seems more plausible now than it did a year ago. Damn straight. Trump’s celebrity appeal has gotten oddly lost in all the heavy breathing about populism and nationalism. He wouldn’t have won without the agenda he had, but an unknown “outsider” running on that same agenda, with none of the media reach Trump had, would have been crushed early in the primaries. What Trump proved this year is that, if you have the “right” politics and can draw round-the-clock media attention, you can compete with better-organized professionals at the highest level. Any celebrity with political ambitions would be nuts not to at least consider running after this. A mega-celebrity like Oprah, I think, would be formidable before she made her first hire.
One other point. “The conservative movement remains strong and vibrant,” Cruz insists. It’s just that the movement was divided, and when it’s divided it fares poorly. The thing is, once Rubio dropped out on March 15th, it wasn’t really divided anymore. If the conservative movement were as large and as principled as Cruz 2016 expected it to be, Cruz should have had no trouble kicking Trump’s teeth in over the last six weeks as Rubio fans switched to him. Instead he got hammered. By what measure is the movement “strong” if it couldn’t prevent a 16-point Trump win in Indiana knowing that that would all but hand the nomination to Trump? Where’s the “strength” in alleged movement conservatives deciding that as long as someone babbles enough about building the wall, he’s conservative enough to justify a vote? I realize that Cruz, as Mr Conservative, is all but obligated to take a perpetually rosy Reaganesque view of conservatism’s supposed strength but literally no one believes this anymore.