“It’s like being shot or poisoned. What does it really matter?”
These were the words of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in January, when questioned on the choice between Texan Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
Yet it is late March and Graham has endorsed Ted Cruz for the Republican nomination. The hard truth is that for Republicans who detest the idea of Donald Trump running as the Republican nominee in 2016, the first line of defence is Ted Cruz.
In the aftermath of Super Tuesday and the March 15th primaries of Ohio and Florida, the story in American politics has been how Republicans are forming around Ted Cruz. The Senator has earned endorsements from across the Republican Party, most notably from former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush.
It has not been an easy transition: Ted Cruz is an unpopular figure within the Republican Party. He is viewed as a selfish politician, putting his own ambitions before what is best for the Party, or indeed the nation. In 2013 he insisted on inserting a provision to repeal Obamacare from the annual spending bill, resulting in a government shutdown that damaged the Republican Party’s image nationally, but boosted Cruz’s popularity within Tea Party ranks.
Added to which, his rudeness and willingness to attack fellow Republicans strikes at one of Ronald Reagan’s fundamental creeds that conservatives do not attack each other. Most infamously, he called his Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar over a dispute concerning the Export-Import Bank.
Ted Cruz symbolises the obstructionist, crude, and destructive wing of the Republican Party that places ideological purity above all else, despite the implications, and absolutely refuses to engage in debate or compromise.
Despite a manifesto of anti-Cruz sentiment, the 45 year old Senator is still preferable to Donald Trump. Simply put, Ted Cruz has shown that he is the only candidate capable of defeating Donald Trump in the primary contests.
Cruz has 465 delegates as of March 26th, compared to Trump’s 755. Cruz has scored victories in nine states, compared to Trumps’ twenty one. While he remains behind the boisterous billionaire, the Texan firebrand is the only candidate within striking distance. Despite a hiccough in South Carolina, Cruz’s anti-government, staunchly conservative message continues to win him votes, particularly among his evangelical base of support.
Bush, Graham, and other Cruz-backers hate Trump: he is perceived as an ill-informed, demagogic rabble rouser, lacking true Republican ideals and spouting intensely divisive vitriol. Cruz is marginally preferable, partly because, despite all of his flaws, he is ideologically committed to conservatism.
The internal conflicts of the GOP will have ramifications beyond this year: at some point Republicans need to devise a strategy to appeal to minorities, younger voters and single women. In the mean time Republican stalwarts are resorting to Cruz as their first way to deny Trump the chance to hijack their movement, and bring their party into disrepute and disgrace.