Ted Cruz’s Guilty ‘Conscience’

‘The Washington cartel supports amnesty and I think amnesty is wrong and I salute Donald Trump for focusing on it.” So said Ted Cruz last July when Mr. Trump’s nascent campaign was building momentum and Mr. Cruz was trying to slip-stream in the businessman’s wake to stay in the front tier of the GOP presidential pack.

That month the Texas Senator also called “Donald” his friend and said “he’s bold and brash and he’s willing to speak the truth.” As late as December, Mr. Cruz tweeted: “The Establishment’s only hope: Trump & me in a cage match. Sorry to disappoint—@realDonaldTrump is terrific. #DealWithIt.”


Donald Trump and Ted Cruz meet in Trump Tower, July 15, 2015. Photo: Twitter

All of this is worth recalling now that some are hailing Mr. Cruz as a conservative hero for refusing to endorse Mr. Trump in his convention speech Wednesday night. Instead, the Texan pointedly didn’t mention Mr. Trump when he said “we deserve leaders who stand for principle, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect from everybody.”

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Editorial Board Member Joe Rago on why the senator refused to endorse Donald Trump for president in Cleveland. Photo credit: European Pressphoto Agency.

Therefore, he added, “vote your conscience” for “candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom, and to be faithful to the Constitution.” Delegates figured out the sly anti-endorsement and hurled boos and catcalls at the stage.

Mr. Cruz’s sudden burst of “conscience” would be more believable if Mr. Cruz hadn’t played Tonto to Mr. Trump’s Lone Ranger for most of the primary campaign. When it mattered last year, when Mr. Trump still might have been stopped, Mr. Cruz was lip-syncing the businessman’s lines.

While other candidates were opposing Mr. Trump on immigration, Mr. Cruz was imitating him and even moving to his right. Mr. Cruz wrote an op-ed in this paper with Paul Ryan supporting trade promotion authority. After Mr. Trump opposed it, Mr. Cruz came out against the bill right before the Senate vote.

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It’s true that Mr. Cruz changed his tone as Mr. Trump targeted him and his wife with insults and smeared his father. But that was long after Mr. Trump had done the same to other Republican contenders. Mr. Cruz was praising Mr. Trump when others were the targets.

If Mr. Cruz doesn’t want to vote for Mr. Trump, fair enough. But then he should have stayed off the convention stage like Jeb Bush and John Kasich. His stage-managed refusal to endorse looks less like a matter of principle than it does a gambit to position himself for running again in 2020 if Donald Trump loses in November. He’ll pretend he warned Republicans about nominating Mr. Trump, while Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Mr. Ryan endorsed the New Yorker.

Mr. Cruz also managed to steal the day-after headlines from Mike Pence, who gave an excellent acceptance speech as the vice presidential nominee on Wednesday. Mr. Pence offered a message of Reagan-like optimism about how to move America forward. The contrast of his modesty with Mr. Cruz’s self-interested calculation is a lesson to remember for 2020.

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