One familiar refrain that has echoed through just about every one of the speeches given at the Republican National Convention so far this week: voters are sick of “politics as usual.” Career politicians who say one thing, only to completely change their tune months later. Power-hungry frauds who hop from one politically expedient cause to another as the winds of public opinion change. Breaking up this political status quo has supposedly been one of the major reasons that Donald Trump is where he is today.
For months, Trump took aim at his primary opponents with an unprecedented brand of ruthlessness and crassness. From Bobby Jindal to Marco Rubio to Rick Perry, anyone who dared to speak out against Trump or threaten him in the polls immediately found themselves in the crosshairs of Trump’s vitriolic jabs. These candidates, in turn, constantly warned of the dangers of a Trump presidency and practically begged voters to turn away from him.
That is, of course, until Trump became the nominee. This week, most of these same candidates lined up to kneel at the foot of the RNC’s new gilded altar. How Trump could be unqualified and dangerous in November, only to become a fine choice for president less than a year later in July, is unimportant. After all, it’s not about Donald Trump, or his presidential prospects. It’s about playing it safe. It’s about using your primetime slot on the grand stage to let everyone know that you still exist, that you are still relevant, and that you have a political career that needs support, so you are willing to throw yourself behind whatever product the party has decided to sell. It’s about maintaining a status quo.
In the closing months of the primary, when Ted Cruz stood as the last line of defense against a Trump nomination, he became the target of Trump’s most callous and brutal attacks. From insinuations that the senator was not an American citizen, to charges of serial adultery, to sophomoric social media jabs at his wife’s appearance, to wild-eyed conspiracy theories linking his father to the Kennedy assassination, Trump’s smears against Cruz were as cruel as they were relentless. And yet somehow, someway, every pundit and party leader believed that Cruz would fall in line and deliver a key endorsement to the nominee last night. It would, after all, be in the “best interest” of the party. And since Cruz has a political career to maintain, what’s in the best interest of the party is certainly in the best interest of Ted Cruz, right?
But then he took the stage.
The senator gave a rousing, informed policy speech, stressing the importance of freedom, family, and the Constitution. But as the convention hall prepared for Cruz’s inevitable embrace of the nominee, he delivered this simple message: vote with your conscience. He was greeted with a chorus of jeers and hisses while his wife was hurriedly whisked away from the angry mob. Every talking head and elected official in Cleveland searched for a camera and a microphone where they could declare that Cruz had just committed political suicide.
The grandest irony of all in this 2016 campaign season is that, in an election season where Republicans supposedly wished to upset and upend the status quo, only one man had the audacity to do so in front of a hostile convention crowd. Trump may have changed politics as usual for the Republican Party, but rest assured they will change again once he is gone. The same familiar faces who inexplicably evolved from Trump critics into Trump cheerleaders will change with it once again. By definition, the status quo is easy to stick by. Principles and integrity, however, are often much more difficult to stand on.
This election has brought about dramatic and fundamental changes to the Republican Party. And yet as his party changes, Ted Cruz steadfastly remains the same.