"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ted Cruz and the value of loyalty in a conservative party

Edmund Burke, the grandfather of conservatism, wrote much on the nature of responsible party, as the topic relates to both to government and to the loyal opposition. While Burke was among those who held that party loyalty was not an absolute value, he did hold party loyalty in high regard. It should be no surprise that the Republican Party, as the conservative party in American politics, holds party loyalty in high regard as well. In previous election years with contested primaries, one sees the GOP unifying around its nominee, with the defeated main contenders for the nomination rallying around the man who has won the nomination. So it was when Reagan issued a rallying cry for Gerald Ford in 1976. 




And so it was in 1992 when after a bitter primary battle Pat Buchanan stood before the Republican National Convention and gave his support to the man who had defeated him, George H.W. Bush.


This election season, things have worked out differently for the GOP, as the defeated standard-bearers of that party’s Establishment have withheld their endorsements of the party’s nominee, Donald Trump. First, Jeb Bush refused to support Trump in the coming general election, and now in a speech to the Republican National Convention yesterday, Ted Cruz refused to endorse Trump, earning him the boos of a vocal contingent of the assembled delegates. And so their actions raise the question, wither loyalty?

For a conservative, party is more than simply a collection of ideological points or material interests. Party, for the conservative, is about fellow-feeling, it is about a shared commitment to the country, to being a band of happy warriors fighting to conserve the best of our civilization while advocating prudent efforts at reform to adjust the application of those principles to the changing conditions that exist for all things under the sun. Within responsible party there are disagreements and there are disputes. But at the end of the day, the party exists to bring together men and women into community — into a polis, to use the ancient Greek word — where their fortunes and futures are bound together in the common vocation of preserving the patrimony of our nation to hand on, in identifiable form, to the next generation. 

To conserve. To preserve. To reform. To bequeath. Those are the practical and prudential tasks of a conservative party that seeks to defend the Permanent Things in a broadly liberal order. 

For a conservative party to carry out this vocation there must be loyalty within the party. Petty ambition (the bane of democratic politics!) must be subsumed to the goals and leadership that the party puts forward to the voters as it seeks to to assume the mantle of responsible government. Loyalty and disciple are at the core of any party that claims the mantle of conservatism. 

Sadly, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz seem not to have learned that lesson. To read deeply in Aristotle and Burke would do both those men some good. Bush’s political career was over, of course, when his campaign self-destructed after his catastrophic showing early in the primary season, burning through over $100 million worth of donor money before finally accepting reality & bowing out of the contest. Cruz, however, has had a promising future before him, both as a senator & as a candidate who commanded considerable support during the Republican primary this season. Yet, it appears that Cruz  chose to damage his position within the party by refusing to support the man who prevailed during the Republican primary process. Cruz & Trump disagree on a good many things. But do they disagree more than Taft & Eisenhower in 1952? More than Reagan & George H.W. Bush in 1980? In each of those cases, as well as the ones mentioned previously, bitter rivals put aside their disagreements and united in defense of the party & its nominee. Cruz decided not to follow those examples, and instead set out to defend his own place in the party, rather than the party’s choice for the nomination. 



Time will tell how much harm Cruz has done to his future political ambitions with his speech. But he can only harm the Republican Party if that party decides to follow his example and fails to reaffirm its nature as a community brought together to accomplish the practical and prudential task of conservative political action in a representative democracy. To conserve. To preserve. To reform. To bequeath.

Update # 1: over at PJ Media, Roger Simon writes about the effect of Cruz's speech on his political future. Read it all: Pence 1, Crux 0. As Simon observes: 
Ironically, it was Pence, not Cruz, who put himself on the map for the presidency Wednesday night. Though it's an eternity away, if Trump fails, it would not startle me at all to see Mike Pence in the surprising position of GOP frontrunner for 2020.
In politics, particularly on the conservative side, loyalty tends to be rewarded.

Update #2: Michael Reagan, President Reagan's oldest son (and not fan of Trump), states the case for party loyalty to the nominee quite well: 
He reinforces that point in a Tweet from the Friday after the close of the GOP convention:

2 comments:

Lawrence Serewicz said...

Good post. The precedents show that Ted Cruz failed as a politician in his decision. He put his personal ambition before the party. As I am not a politician, I can speak somewhat more freely. I am not bound by a party to the same extent that a politician is in particular one who seeks that party's nomination for a future run at being POTUS.
What Cruz has done is failed as what a politician must achieve, the ability to maintain flexibility and pursue a higher good. He will not derail Trump's candidacy and he will not gain the nomination. He has gained revenge by a political act akin to cutting off his nose to spite his face. Had he delivered a powerful speech, attacked Hillary, and endorsed Trump sotto voce he could have achieved everything he wanted.
He could have come out of this disaster of a convention as a powerful alternative, a statesman who was able to rise above the insults, the pettiness, and show Trump, the party, and America what statesmanship means. He could have done this with a powerful speech that, by its brilliance, would have overshadowed Trump's pettiness, petulance, and vindictiveness. Instead, he showed us his limitations, which he made painfully transparent on a national stage.
Cruz diminished himself and sabotaged his chance to be the Party's next nominee. No matter what happens with Trump, win or lose, Cruz will not gain any benefit from this speech. For if it succeeds in derailing Trump, then he is seen to have contributed to hurting the party. If Trump succeeds, then his speech looks even more of a spiteful, petty, sore loser.
Cruz has avenged his honor, his wife's honor, and his father's honor. He has lost his dignity and his chance to be the Party's nominee in 2020 or 2024. A man of powerful talent, a man of political skill, a man who would have been. Ted Cruz RIP.

Anonymous said...

Cruz attempted to protect down ballot Republican candidates from the perceived defection of the segment of the voting public that is both very Republican and very anti-Trump. He did so in a manner that was more self serving than it needed to be. I agree that this will not help Cruz in the future unless Trump is either a tremendously horrible President (eg win scenario) OR the Trump candidacy guts the number of Republican representatives (eg lose scenario).