Like a lot of people, I’m trying to figure out what led Ted Cruz to give a confusing speech with mixed signals at the Republican Convention, and why he added to these mixed signals at an even more confusing and contradictory press conference today.
If you’d like my interpretation from a psychological perspective, it’s passive-aggressive behavior. In this case, it stems from wanting to have it both ways.
Cruz had several options. One was to sit out the Convention altogether, remaining silent, like fellow former candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich did. Another option was to sit out the convention and condemn Donald Trump, as the Bushes and Mitt Romney did. Another was to go and show support, however tepidly, as Marco Rubio did (via video) and others have done.
Ted Cruz, who’s not generally known for being indecisive or unprincipled, did a little bit of everything. He congratulated Donald Trump on winning the nomination. He refused to endorse Trump. Yet he gave a speech at a convention whose open and stated goal was to crown Donald Trump as the nominee. By the time of his speech, the nomination was already official. Cruz certainly was under no obligation to support Trump; but if he didn’t want to support him, why give a speech at the convention? And when giving that speech, why leave it vague and open-ended as to whether he thinks you should vote for Trump, stay home in protest, vote for Hillary Clinton or perhaps the Libertarian candidate?
Cruz did none of these things; and all of these things, at once. He seemed to want the benefits of going to the convention and seeming magnanimous, and supporting the Republican Party (Trump and all) against the unacceptable alternative of fulfilling Hillary Clinton’s lifelong power lust; and — in contradiction, and at the same time — also have the benefits of distancing himself completely from Donald Trump.
But you can’t have it both ways.
If Ted Cruz believes Trump is a bad man and a terrible mistake for the Republican Party, then the best thing he could have done — for himself and his supporters — was stay home, and to roundly condemn Trump as the wrong man for the job. At his press conference today, which I listened to, it sounded like Cruz wanted praise for doing the “brave” thing, by going to a convention and facing the hostile majority who wanted Trump to be the nominee. I can see this logic if he came, gave the speech, and came out with the shocking revelation that he does not approve of Donald Trump, and doesn’t think Republicans should support him. But Cruz didn’t do that. I’m not saying he should have; but if he had, he would have been justified in calling it a courageous thing, and he would have been consistent, at least.
At his press conference, I heard Ted Cruz speak of what he felt as an obligation or duty to come to the convention. This is when I thought about passive-aggressiveness. When a person is passive-aggressive, he does something that he feels obliged to do, but doesn’t really believe is the right thing to do, or would rather not do. As a result, the person ends up handling matters in a contradictory and confusing way, one that often angers people for good reason.
Cruz apologists will call his move a “brilliant,” strategic move, not because they can defend it, but merely because it’s different. But just because something is different does not make it brilliant. Sometimes different is just plain stupid.
Some, like Chris Christie, I believe, have called Ted Cruz “selfish” for acting this way. It is selfish and self-interested, in an entirely good way, to stand by a principle you objectively know to be true. Cruz has done that by standing against Obamacare and in favor of limited government in many instances. He has been a hero to many, including myself, when he stood up to the hypocritical and lying Republicans in Congress (Paul Ryan, for instance) who run on one set of ideas and practice completely opposite ones, once in office. Sure Ted Cruz is selfish — and in that context, those of us who support things like limited government are right to applaud him. But in this instance, Cruz was more just like any other politician. He wanted to have it both ways, and so what we got was a mixed and confusing theme. He hasn’t helped anyone, including himself, not in the short-run or the long-run, even if Trump does end up losing the election.
Cruz claimed we should all vote our conscience. Well, what does that mean? Vote for Trump? For Hillary Clinton? He ruled out that option, though not until today’s press conference. For Gary Johnson, the libertarian? A write-in? Please say what you mean, Ted. Don’t leave us in the dark. Stop trying to prepare for several scenarios at once — one where Donald Trump wins, in which case you can claim you didn’t refuse to support Trump; or another scenario where Trump loses, in which case you can claim greater credibility for a run in 2020. I expect this behavior from a Clinton, an Obama or a Bush, but not a Ted Cruz.
If you ask me, Ted Cruz, in this instance, was not acting in a principled or a particularly emotionally healthy way. In fact, he looks a whole lot like just any other politician.
Now for the really sad part: If Donald Trump does win, he almost certainly will never have Ted Cruz in line for Secretary of State or Defense, a role that would have been immensely valuable to the causes Cruz claims to believe in. If Cruz really does believe in everything he has always said he does, then I don’t know how selfish — rationally speaking — his actions really were.
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