Senator Ted Cruz of Texas recently ended his conscientious hold out surrounding his potential endorsement of Republican nominee Donald Trump. Cruz, seen by many Republicans as a principled conservative figurehead, has left more liberal Republicans like John Kasich and Jeb Bush as the only remaining candidates from the Republican primaries not to formally endorse Trump. It’s worth noting that Cruz’s endorsement was rather tepid and measured: “After many months of careful consideration,” Cruz detailed in a Facebook post sent out on Sept. 23, “and searching my own conscience, I have decided that on Election Day, I will vote for the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.”
Cruz’s primary reasons for the endorsement, as described in his post, were threefold: keeping the pledge he signed to back the Republican nominee, Trump’s seeming dedication to nominating a principled, originalist Supreme Court Justice and the certainty with which a Hillary Clinton-elected progressive justice would hollow out the First and Second Amendments. Conservative radio host Glenn Beck was enraged with the move declaring, in reference to the pressure to fall in line and support Trump, that, as far as tolerance for dissenting viewpoints, “there’s no difference between the two teams anymore.”
There is a relevant distinction to draw between liberals, whose refusal to vote for Clinton stems from a notion that she is not “progressive enough,” and those on the right who feel Trump is unacceptable morally and not, foundationally, an ideological conservative. The former is embroiled with a sort of naiveté that others in our country hold differing political persuasions, as articulated by Ross Douthat, while the latter is a tethering idea that principle matters. Barring all laudations or criticisms one might hold for Clinton, she does have principles, in so far as she holds a defined set of beliefs. Those principles, while held by this author to be wrong-headed, divisive and unconstitutional, are in fact narrowly defined and ideologically consistent. Alternatively, Trump is an amorphous figure of big government populism and nationalism and in perhaps his only consistent ideological position, openly rejects foundational conservative beliefs on trade, fiscal responsibility and the role of government. Throughout his campaign, he has tarnished an already damaged Republican image with minority communities and acts as the embodiment of an agitprop caricature that mainstream Democrats have pilloried conservatives with for years. Trump is seen by some conservatives as a unique candidate who has necessitated a unique response of principled objection.
Meanwhile, the population of conservatives who object to Trump, but are unwilling to switch squads and pull the lever for Clinton — a la George H. W. Bush — continues to dwindle. Beck described this position as one that mainstream Trump-Republicans see as worthy of being “bathed in [the] blood” of a Trump loss in November. Cruz, an ideological godfather for some on the Tea Party right, now appears to those who vehemently supported him as another domino to fall in a grand delusion of the acceptability of Trump as a candidate.
At the current moment, as a conservative with a commitment to my conscience, I cannot stomach voting for Trump, as damaging as I think a Clinton presidency would be to so many of the basic freedoms engendered in the Constitution. Neither, of course, could I vote for Clinton, though to a fair point many conservatives say that not voting for either is a vote for Clinton. However, as the late president Ronald Reagan prophetically stated, “[F]reedom is never more than one generation from extinction.” If conservatism perverts itself enough to make Trump an acceptable candidate, we may lose the ideals that can prevent this generation from becoming the one to succumb to Reagan’s apocalyptic vision.