It’ll Be Cruz or Trump, Like It or Not

Neither may sew up the nomination before the convention, but don’t expect a white knight to ride to the rescue.

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz debate in Detroit.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
April 7, 2016, 8 p.m.

Whenev­er I hear Re­pub­lic­ans wax on about the pos­sib­il­ity of nom­in­at­ing someone oth­er than Don­ald Trump or Ted Cruz—talk­ing up John Kasich, Paul Ry­an, Scott Walk­er, Mitt Rom­ney, or some oth­er less po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure—it makes me won­der: Ex­actly how would that hap­pen?  

We all have mem­or­ized two num­bers. The first is 1,237, the num­ber of del­eg­ates needed to win a ma­jor­ity at the GOP con­ven­tion. The second is 40, as in Rule 40, re­quir­ing that a can­did­ate win primar­ies or caucuses in eight states to have his name placed in nom­in­a­tion. (It was ad­ded to the party rules in 2012, pushed by al­lies of Mitt Rom­ney to stifle Ron Paul.)  

Yes, the con­ven­tion rules com­mit­tee could the­or­et­ic­ally amend Rule 40, but then the change would have to be ap­proved by a ma­jor­ity vote of the del­eg­ates. Ask your­self, ex­actly which del­eg­ates would vote to res­cind the rule? Trump and Cruz are likely to have more than 80 per­cent of the del­eg­ates locked up, so which one will en­cour­age his del­eg­ates to sup­port this change? Short an­swer: neither. It would be against their in­terests, and it ain’t gonna hap­pen. Like it or not, this thing is com­ing down to either Trump or Cruz, and people ought to stop fan­tas­iz­ing about oth­er op­tions.

Right now, the ques­tion is wheth­er there is enough time and suf­fi­cient del­eg­ates left to stop Trump from get­ting to 1,237. There are two pos­sible an­swers: either that it’s too late, or that it’s al­most too late but not quite. Cruz’s im­press­ive win in Wis­con­sin is just what the “stop Trump” forces were hop­ing for, but is it enough, giv­en the states com­ing up? It surely feels as if the ground has shif­ted, that the dy­nam­ics have changed from help­ing to hurt­ing Trump, but even so the pre­vi­ous ques­tion re­mains de­term­in­at­ive. Is it too late to stop him?

The gnash­ing of teeth among es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans is now al­most deaf­en­ing. They look at Trump and see a can­did­ate who will al­most surely lose the gen­er­al elec­tion. The Real­clear­polit­ av­er­age of ma­jor na­tion­al polls has Trump trail­ing likely Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee Hil­lary Clin­ton by 11 points. Cruz runs much closer, three points be­hind the former sec­ret­ary of State, and Kasich ac­tu­ally leads her by six points. Trump is known and defined—and widely con­sidered tox­ic, not only to Demo­crats and large num­bers of in­de­pend­ents, but also to many Re­pub­lic­ans.

If Trump some­how won, he wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to gov­ern. Bey­ond hav­ing no dis­cern­ible ideo­logy, re­ly­ing in­stead on a philo­sophy centered around “I think I am the smartest guy around and I can solve any prob­lem, trust me,” his ig­nor­ance on is­sues ap­pears to be even worse than his worst crit­ics feared. After his howl­ers in re­cent New York Times and Wash­ing­ton Post in­ter­views and ed­it­or­i­al-board meet­ings, Trump would do well to steer clear of de­tailed dis­cus­sions with journ­al­ists, with the pos­sible ex­cep­tion of the staff of Weekly Read­er. Trump seems dis­in­clined to re­cruit`ex­perts or do any home­work on policy. I asked a re­cently re­tired four-star gen­er­al if he had ever heard of any of the for­eign policy ad­visers that Trump named a couple of weeks ago. He hadn’t. Wow, that was re­as­sur­ing.

Then there is Cruz. When elec­ted to the Sen­ate, he im­me­di­ately set out to ali­en­ate as many of his Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues as pos­sible. He was won­der­fully suc­cess­ful in this en­deavor. Many Re­pub­lic­ans saw his de­term­in­a­tion to shut down the gov­ern­ment as a con­spicu­ously fu­tile ges­ture that would po­ten­tially jeop­ard­ize their reelec­tions. They think Cruz is will­ing to do any­thing to burn­ish his repu­ta­tion as an out­sider will­ing to take on Wash­ing­ton in­siders. Oddly enough, in this anti­es­tab­lish­ment year, his self-re­gard­ing am­bi­tion may ac­tu­ally come in handy.

There is no doubt­ing Cruz’s bril­liance, and it isn’t hard to un­der­stand how he was a cham­pi­on­ship de­bater at Prin­ceton. The Tex­an has put to­geth­er the most im­press­ive and soph­ist­ic­ated Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial cam­paign in his­tory, and aside from not an­ti­cip­at­ing the rise of Trump and Ben Car­son (but who did?), he privately out­lined to people last year a strategy to win the nom­in­a­tion that was right on tar­get. Like him or not, it was clear early on that Cruz would be a very for­mid­able can­did­ate.

Long­time politi­cians are used to sup­port­ing people they don’t like, but rarely do they find them­selves lin­ing up be­hind someone they des­pise. The Re­pub­lic­an man­dar­ins now face a di­lemma. They fear that Trump can’t win, and that Cruz might. Many con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans won­der wheth­er Cruz is a right-wing nut or a ruth­less op­por­tun­ist, and then ask them­selves, “Which is worse?”  

Per­son­ally, I think Cruz is more of an op­por­tun­ist, and a pretty ruth­less one at that. He ran against the es­tab­lish­ment to win his Sen­ate seat. Then, en­sconced in the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment, he ran against it again in his bid for the pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion. Along the way, he ali­en­ated people he now needs to rally be­hind him.

Es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans can avert their eyes and keep dream­ing that a white knight is go­ing to ride in to save them. But in truth, the time has come for them to pick their pois­on: Don­ald Trump or Ted Cruz.

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