If you think you’ve entered a through-the-looking glass world, where Ted Cruz is a man of principle, think again. The Texas Senator would certainly like you to think that his unprecedented speech at the Republican National Convention last night was a model of political ethics. After all, Cruz is one of only a handful of Republican leaders who has been willing, even obliquely, to call Donald Trump out as unqualified to be president.
In Cruz’s case, that took the form a pointed non-endorsement during prime time. For his troubles, he was booed loudly by delegates. Of course, Cruz takes pride in being loathed. In fact, he’s made it a hallmark of his career and a badge of honor, even if the vitriol is coming from his fellow Republicans. Booing won’t hurt his feelings. In fact, within twelve hours of his speech, Cruz was out there again, courting the enmity of his own state delegation.
Cruz has not been shy about his intentions to run again in 2020. What he did with his speech, and his subsequent doubling down, was position himself for the fallout from a Trump defeat. When Trump does down in flames, Cruz will be one of the few Republicans who can say, I told you so.
But it’s not just Trump’s failure as a candidate that Cruz is setting up. Cruz is already establishing the narrative for Trump’s failure. By telling the convention to “vote your conscience,” Cruz was telling the assembly that Trump was not faithful to the conservative ideals of the party. Cruz is preparing to argue that the party keeps failing because it refuses to nominate a true believer. Like himself.
The raucous televised speech obscures the behind-the-scenes work that Cruz has been doing at the convention. He’s got a strong contingent of backers at the convention, who are doing their best to make their presence felt. You can see their handiwork in the party’s platform, a compendium of antigay, religious right tropes that are exactly in line with Cruz’s beliefs.
Trump couldn’t be bothered with the platform, just as he couldn’t be bothered to ensure his wife’s speech wasn’t plagiarized and the runner-up didn’t publicly humiliate him. The convention is a mess because Trump’s campaign is disorganized and unprofessional.
No one will ever say that about Ted Cruz. His hateful positions aside, Cruz is a clever politician. He ran a smart–actually the smartest–and most professional campaign. He knew exactly what he was doing on the podium last night. And it wasn’t about principle. It was all about Ted Cruz–as always.