Tonight’s big question at the Republican National Convention is: will he or won’t he? At one time, Ted Cruz offered the most generous and collegial assessments of Donald Trump among all of the presidential-nomination contenders. Since losing to Trump, however, Cruz has pointedly withheld any endorsement of the party’s nominee, despite repeatedly taking The Pledge to do so. According to Eliana Johnson at National Review, Cruz won’t take the pledge tonight either:
When Ted Cruz takes the stage here on Wednesday evening, what he doesn’t say will be as important as what he does: Though he accepted a primetime speaking spot at the convention that officially nominated Donald Trump on Tuesday, Cruz will not endorse the Republican nominee, according to two sources familiar with his plans.
The Texas senator has largely kept a low profile since exiting the presidential race in May, but he will be front and center on Wednesday. His speech will serve both as a formal reintroduction to millions of party faithful, the majority of whom did not support Trump in the primaries, and as the first public step in another presidential campaign. So while Trump uses Cruz’s appearance to project a semblance of party unity, the Texas senator will do his part to underscore the deep divisions in the GOP on the eve of Trump’s coronation — and to suggest tacitly that he, not Trump, is the face of the party’s future.
Johnson suggests that Cruz wants to take a page out of Ronald Reagan’s playbook from 1976 in his speech tonight, when Reagan wowed the crowd and set himself up as the presumptive leader of the post-Ford party. There are only two problems with this analogy, one of which Johnson points out herself — Reagan actually did endorse Ford. As I recall, he also put that support into practice in the general election, perhaps in part to make sure he had a viable party to lead four years later.
The second problem goes to the issue of Cruz rather than Trump. Simply put, he’s not Ronald Reagan. He has many similarities to Reagan ideologically, of course, and that should be what matters most. As communicators, though, Cruz and Reagan are two very different people. Reagan had an appeal that impacted people outside of Republican and conservative circles, while Cruz’ rhetorical appeal struggles to attract people even within those circles. Part of this is the hard-edged ideological appeals that Cruz makes, contrasting with the more visionary and even poetic rhetoric Reagan used, and part of it is just about charisma. Reagan charmed even his ideological opponents; Cruz has difficulty in expressing that kind of charm. If he wants to be Reagan, he’ll need to do more than to cold-shoulder a nominee and give a speech about conservatism at a convention.
In this context, Cruz’ decision looks less like Ronald Reagan in 1976 than it does Pat Buchanan in 1992. And even Buchanan spent most of his speech extolling George H. W. Bush. Here’s part of Buchanan’s endorsement on the floor:
But tonight I want to talk to the 3 million Americans who voted for me. I will never forget you, nor the great honor you have done me. But I do believe, deep in my heart, that the right place for us to be now–in this presidential campaign–is right beside George Bush. The party is our home; this party is where we belong. And don’t let anyone tell you any different.
Yes, we disagreed with President Bush, but we stand with him for freedom to choice religious schools, and we stand with him against the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women.
We stand with President Bush for right-to-life, and for voluntary prayer in the public schools, and against putting American women in combat. And we stand with President Bush in favor of the right of small towns and communities to control the raw sewage of pornography that pollutes our popular culture.
We stand with President Bush in favor of federal judges who interpret the law as written, and against Supreme Court justices who think they have a mandate to rewrite our Constitution.
My friends, this election is about much more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe. It is about what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side. And so, we have to come home, and stand beside him.
Granted, Buchanan’s endorsement was also seen widely as an attempt to do what Reagan did in 1976, and it created new headaches for Bush afterward. It didn’t help Buchanan, though, because Buchanan didn’t have Reagan’s charm either, nor his ideological reach within the party. Given the results of this primary, the second part might apply to Cruz as well.
Update: I forgot to include the link to Eliana’s piece — fixed now, and my apologies.