Is Ted Cruz Reagan?

Cruz may not be Reagan, but what we need at this moment of looming authoritarianism from both parties’ candidates is not Reagan, but Cato, willing to face the jeering mobs and stand for the republic and the Constitution. If Cruz committed political suicide, then he joins Cato as a patriot who gave himself to the republic, for the cause of liberty.

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By Mitchell Baxter | July 22, 2016

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Ted Cruz is the American Cato, refusing to kiss Caesar’s ring. As to political suicide, in the end, Cato’s opposition to Caesar in defense of the republic led to his imminent military defeat and actual suicide, but he died for a principle — the republic.

Trump is a budding authoritarian, and after watching his long-winded “I will fix everything” speech, there remain many Americans no more inclined to vote for him than before.

Cruz didn’t say “don’t vote for Donald.” He said, “Vote your conscience, vote for the candidate who will support liberty and the Constitution.” That statement is a Rorschach test for the listener. Those who were booing Cruz know in their hearts that Trump is weak on liberty, the Constitution, and respect for our legal processes; he wants power to impose his will, and “Daddy,” as Milo and the alt-right call him, will fix everything.

For now, this writer intends to vote the Republican ticket from the bottom all the way to the verge of the top, and withhold final judgment on the top of the ticket pending Trump showing some sincere evidence that he understands, and cares to preserve and advance constitutional republicanism.

We don’t have the legal means which Rome had to install a temporary dictator, followed by a reversion of power to the Senate. The seizure of executive power continues to be a one-way ratchet, and Trump so far only promises to work that ratchet wrench harder than any president in history.

What’s forgotten in our age is that the Founders held the dour republican Cato as their ideal, not Caesar. Washington and his officers staged a performance of Addison’s Cato (the most popular play in the American colonies) during the long winter at Valley Forge, and every soldier in the Continental Army believed he was fighting for liberty, not his leader’s glory.

Washington himself chose the play to send a clear message that he was leading the fight for the cause of liberty, not his own glory.

The architecture of our political system was designed to prevent a Caesar from taking power, but now the party which claimed to stand for the Constitution has nominated the most un-humble man of our age, who aggrandizes himself at the expense of everything else.

Ronald Reagan gave his 1980 acceptance speech in front of a banner reading “TOGETHER A NEW BEGINNING.” Reagan gave his 1984 acceptance speech in front of a blue curtain, which changed to a stars-and-stripes mural at the conclusion.

Trump gave his acceptance speech under giant letters reading “TRUMP,” as if the convention were nothing more than one of his casinos or hotels.

This is Atlantic City vulgarity writ large, and a reminder that the sum and substance of this entire election and campaign is Trump himself; not the republic, not liberty, not the Constitution. TRUMP. TRUMP. TRUMP.

Cruz was a reminder that this was the Republican convention, not the Trump convention. He was the lone voice speaking to and for those many Republicans who are appalled by Trump, reminding them that even if they can’t bring themselves to vote for the nominee, they’re still needed in November to prevent a looming down-ticket catastrophe brought on by Trump’s single-minded focus on himself.

The Republican Party and the conservative movement need to hedge their bets against the risks inherent in both a Trump loss and a Trump victory. Unfortunately, if Trump loses, we get Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately as well, if Trump wins, we get Trump.

He is not the party, but only its standard bearer for the moment. There are thousands of other Republicans on state and federal ballots who need votes to hold the line against an anti-Trump wave that could sweep the GOP out of the majority in Congress, statehouses, and state legislatures.

Trump has not given a thought to any of them, and many of them are distancing themselves from him out of self-defense.

Trump and his followers demand “unity,” yet the only terms they propose are Trump’s. There’s no deal-making from Trump here, no concessions on his part, no olive branch. There’s only the hard line of kiss-Trump’s-ring-or-else.

The Trump-supporter narrative is that Cruz is merely in a snit because Trump said a few unkind things. The reality is that Trump crossed a line of propriety in mocking the appearance of another candidate’s wife, and crossed every imaginable line by citing to the National Enquirer as a credible source, and passing along their claim that Ted Cruz’s father was Oswald’s co-conspirator in the plot to kill JFK.

In the America of a better time, crossing those lines would have required Trump to retract his words, or stand in a duel. Instead, he just continues to mock and spread rumors like a schoolyard bully who has a pack of fans cheering on his latest antics.

Donald J. Trump is the perfect low-information candidate for a low-information electorate which forwards “facts” on social media and email without ever vetting them. The candidate and his followers are “informed” by Twitter and Facebook memes, not by poring over and sifting through a multitude of journalistic sources to piece together an accurate picture of the world.

Cruz spoke to the rest of the Republican party and voters; if Trump and his equally thin-skinned followers can’t live with one voice of implied dissent urging people only to vote “for liberty and the Constitution,” then win or lose, Trump is leading us into dangerous territory.

Cruz may not be Reagan, but what we need at this moment of looming authoritarianism from both parties’ candidates is not Reagan, but Cato, willing to face the jeering mobs and stand for the republic and the Constitution.

If Cruz committed political suicide, then he joins Cato as a patriot who gave himself to the republic, for the cause of liberty.


Mitchell Baxter is a policy analyst, writer, and attorney. Mr. Baxter is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.