Two Views: The Key to Saving the Republican Party
Bloomberg View columnists Ramesh Ponnuru and Megan McArdle discuss what they are seeing at the Republican convention in Cleveland and what it could mean for the future of the party. (Here's a link to part one of their exchange.)
McArdle: We left off talking on Wednesday about the fate of the Republican Party after Trump. Following Ted Cruz's bombshell non-endorsement speech last night, which ended with the crowd booing him off the stage, it seems appropriate to talk about the 2020 race, and who is coming out of this convention well positioned for that race.
Since I don't expect Trump to win, it seems to me that whoever runs in 2020 will, more than Trump, affect the shape of the party for years to come.
Cruz has taken a very high-risk, potentially high-reward strategy, positioning himself as the one man who stood up to Trump rather than shame-facedly urging Republicans to pull together, or staying home to wash their hair. I confess I don't think it will work. Half of the people whom this impresses are moderates who aren't going to support Cruz in the next primary, no matter how splendidly they applauded him on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, some in his natural base of true-blue conservatives are going to be mad that he divided the party in the face of a potential Hillary Clinton presidency. Washington types have been screaming for years that Cruz is a pig-headed, narcissistic jerk who doesn't care what he does to his party, or the country, as long as Ted Cruz gets a lot of airtime.
The base saw this as the biased judgment of craven insiders who just hate Cruz because he stands strong for the principles they'd so easily abandoned. I'm pretty sure that on Wednesday night, a lot of those true believers rethought their assessment, and moved to something closer to the opinion of his Senate colleagues.
If Cruz took the high road, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took what must be the low road in this now slightly strained analogy. Of the three likely 2020 candidates who spoke last night, he was the most enthusiastic in his endorsement of Trump, while considerably lighter on actual praise than you'd normally expect.
Walker gave a rabble-rousing stump speech that inspired the crowd to great enthusiasm as they periodically shouted back the punch line to his attacks on Hillary Clinton: "America Deserves Better." I suspect he made a lot of friends among the base with that speech.
And Marco Rubio, as he disastrously did with his primary campaign, split the middle. He supported Trump, but did the absolute minimum needed to make it count as an endorsement. He didn't even show up, speaking instead by video; he said nothing nice about Trump that would make a good clip for an attack ad four years hence; and his demeanor lingered somewhere between somnolent and shame-faced. The crowd's reaction was as tepidly polite as Rubio's invocations of Trump's name.
Which of these three has best positioned himself for 2020? My money's on Walker or Rubio. Where are you laying yours?
Ponnuru: Yesterday morning I asked a Republican senator how he thought the convention was going. His first words were, “I’ve been wrong for a year.” He was one of the many, many people who never thought Trump would be the nominee in the first place, so he doesn’t want to make confident claims about future political events. With his example in mind, Megan, I’m not making any bets.
Cruz, Walker and Rubio, on the other hand, are. I think that one of the downsides for Cruz that you mention -- conservatives turning on him for putting himself before the party -- will materialize only if a) Trump wins and then governs successfully, or b) Trump loses narrowly. If Trump loses big, the number of people who blame Cruz for it will be small. (I think! I refer you again to that senator.)
But you put your finger on another problem for the Cruz strategy that would have existed even if he had stayed away from Cleveland, and for that matter has also bedeviled Republican politicians other than Cruz. Anti-Trump Republicans are split. One group thinks Cruz helped pave the way for Trump by delegitimizing party leaders among conservatives, saying nice things about Trump, and pandering to nativists. Another group thinks the party leaders paved the way for Trump by disappointing conservatives, dismissing the concerns of Trump’s followers, and taking more liberal stands on immigration than Republican voters wanted.
The two anti-Trump Republican factions disagree, in short, both about how we got here and how we should move forward. The disagreements are, of course, rooted in the battle, which has been going strong for most of the Obama presidency, between what most of us have taken to calling “the Tea Party” and “the establishment.”
A successful center-right majority coalition would have to knit together the Tea Party, the establishment and the working-class nationalists who made up Trump’s base in the primaries. It does not look as if Trump can do that, and I don’t know if Cruz, Rubio or Walker can either. I’d feel more hopeful about the Republican Party’s future if I were convinced that any of its leaders understands that’s what they need to do.
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