It seems like it wouldn’t take much bravery to stand up to Donald Trump, a man afflicted by a terminal case of full-blown moral and political cowardice, but the state of the GOP in 2016 suggests that it’s harder than that: only a handful of prominent Republican politicians and pundits have bothered to mount a resistance to this repugnant little man.
The onetime-fiercest critics of Trump have fallen in line behind him; the political class that once championed small-government conservatism has thrown their support in favor of a man who is antithetical to both.
In a sense I understand it, insofar as I understand it is hard to go against the grain: you’re supposed to support the nominee of your political party, even if you don’t particularly agree with everything he stands for, even if you fervently preferred some other fellow over the one who eventually succeeded.
But one is supposed to draw the line at a person like Donald Trump, who not only hates everything the Republican Party stands for, but mocks, slanders, debases and openly despises the people who both run the party and vote for it.
Add in the fact that he is a shockingly unbalanced narcissist, an unapologetic conspiracy theorist, a demonstrable bigot, someone who promises to upset the fragile global order based on nothing more than his own primitive and monosyllabic whims, and perhaps the most ignorant person to have ever sought a federally-elected position in the history of this magnificent country, and you have to admit: opposing this guy is a no-brainer.
It’s so incredible easy. It’s like opposing a wasp’s nest under your pillow, or an appendectomy without anesthesia.
Still, most people are unwilling to do it.
We have a dearth of political bravery in Washington and a surfeit of cowardice.
Which is why Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement of Trump is all the more astonishing and commendable. On the one hand, it again seems like a no-brainer: Trump insulted Cruz’s father and insinuated that he’d been involved in the Kennedy assassination, and he also made some veiled threats towards Cruz’s wife, factors which would generally disqualify an endorsement from the person so aggrieved.
But this is the 2016 election season, and some point this season Trump snuck up behind most of the GOP establishment and carefully snipped off their testicles.
Marco Rubio, once an anti-Trump American Hero, instead endorsed the man;
Rick Perry, who once called Trump a “cancer” on conservatism, has offered to help Trump in whatever way he can;
Ben Carson, to whom Trump once thinly compared to a child molester, has become Trump’s new best buddy.
I am not sure if Chris Christie ever had balls in the first place, but in any event earlier this year he went full Ephialtes in a desperate attempt to get the VP pick. That he was passed over for Mike Pence has to be one of the great political insults of the 21st century, and a stinging affirmation of his own self-evident cowardice and political opportunism.
Even Paul Ryan—a good, honest, admirable man with young children for which to set an example—is behind Trump.
Only a few strong holdouts remain, but Ted Cruz’s gambit was the boldest of them—he walked into the RNC, which is essentially the Trump Weeklong Media Spectacle and Worship Ceremony, and refused to bow down to the man of the hour in a stadium full of people who had already done so.
It must have greatly confused Trump; he said he had read the speech beforehand, but since there is no indication that he can actually read all that well, much less that he has any interest in reading anything at all, I doubt it.
It surely caught Trump off-guard; it caught Trump’s family off-guard; it caught the whole place off-guard, and probably doubled if not trebled the shame felt by the majority of the Republican establishment.
Here was Ted Cruz, the most hated senator in Washington, D.C., doing the one thing none of them could bring themselves to do, refusing to bow and scrape before the proud ignorance and pompous, orange-faced vanity of the worst Republican nominee of the past one hundred years.
It was the best part of a dismal election year, and a heartening (if bittersweet) reminder that Ted Cruz could have won this election handily; he could have turned the corrupt, comical failure of the Clinton candidacy into a smashing electoral victory without even trying all that hard.
But we are not so lucky.
And so instead we have to be content with this: Cruz is still out there, along with the holdouts who refused to stain their integrity by endorsing Donald Trump.
Most of the Republican Party this year chose partisanship over patriotism, dumbly convinced that “BEATING HILLARY CLINTON” was somehow more important than keeping a mentally unstable, avowedly vindictive and deeply, deeply stupid person out of the most powerful elected office in the most powerful country on Earth.
Trump may yet make it to the Oval Office.
Whether or not Trump or Hillary is the victor in November, we must not forget: there are still people out there like Ted Cruz, imperfect but of honest heart and solid integrity and excellent principles, willing to clean up the mess after a Clinton or a Trump Administration is done with whatever disasters they will inflict on the United States.
Many people claim that this year spells the end of the GOP, and they may be right.
But last night, I think, was the beginning of something else, and we would do well not to forget it over the next four years.
Daniel Payne is a writer living in Virginia. He publishes regularly at The Federalist, where he is a senior contributor; his work has also been featured at National Review, Reason, Front Porch Republic and elsewhere. His spare time is spent building compost piles and reading Midatlantic colonial history.