Donald Trump never claimed to be a gracious loser. So you can’t really blame him for failing to congratulate Ted Cruz after the Texas senator trounced him in Wisconsin. But the GOP front-runner’s Tuesday night “concession” statement was unsportsmanlike, even by his own belligerent standard.
As with most of Trump’s works of prose, this statement offers much to ponder. But the stipulation that “Lyin’ Ted” is “worse than a puppet,” since he is, in truth, a “Trojan horse,” deserves special attention. At first this might appear to be a mere rhetorical flourish, but it actually highlights an important nuance in Team Trump’s critique of Cruz: The problem is not that the Establishment’s least-favorite senator has sold out to the Washington Cartel. After all, Trump doesn’t begrudge anyone the right to make a deal. Rather, he accuses his rival of having been artless in that deal-making — of allowing himself to become a pawn in the party bigwigs’ sick game.
Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson clarified this point in an interview with Fox News Wednesday.
“The Bush people are now running Sen. Cruz’s campaign — Neil Bush, who’s spent millions of dollars invested with Common Core, and all of these other special interest groups like Goldman Sachs, like hedge fund managers,” Pierson told the network, referring to the Bush brother on Cruz’s finance team. “This is going to be a very serious problem if Sen. Cruz continues to go down this path and then neither Trump or Cruz becomes the nominee.”
Pierson went on to explain the nature of that “very serious problem.”
“When you have the establishment backing you so reluctantly, to the point where you have people endorsing you that said that you would get murdered on the Senate floor and nobody would care and the difference between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is being stabbed or shot, their loyalty is not with Sen. Cruz,” she said, referring to past statements from Cruz “supporter” Lindsey Graham. “However, Sen. Cruz has now made himself that Trojan horse to push this to a contested convention, where the GOP and the RNC have no intention of supporting either one of them.”
Pierson isn’t arguing that “Lyin’ Ted” has revealed himself to be just another puppet of the Establishment. Rather, she’s saying that he remains so far outside the Establishment, he’s only setting himself up for betrayal on the convention floor. Lindsey Graham doesn’t want Cruz to be his president; he just recognizes that Cruz is best positioned to deny Trump a majority of delegates. Once Cruz fulfills this purpose, the GOP’s career politicians and party pooh-bahs will toss him aside and nominate Mitt Romney or some other hater/loser. Essentially, Pierson is saying to Cruz voters: A vote for Ted is a vote for the RINO squishes — not because your favorite candidate is one of those, but because the RINOs have outsmarted him.
As both analysis and a political appeal, the Trump campaign has produced much worse. As my colleague Ed Kilgore has written, there are multiple Republican Establishments. While Cruz is the darling of the conservative movement’s institutions and bigwigs, the party’s political Establishment is deeply hostile to unruly ideologues. There’s no question that many GOP leaders hope Cruz will prevent Trump from achieving a majority so that they can then engineer Paul Ryan’s nomination from the convention floor. After all, just a few months ago, the party pooh-bahs were telling reporters that Trump may actually be preferable to the Texas senator. Thus, if a Cruz voter’s No. 1 priority is to ensure an “outsider” gets the nomination, pulling the lever for Trump is their best bet.
However, there’s good reason to think that Cruz knows exactly what he’s doing. As Nate Silver notes, Cruz is much more likely to win a contested convention than Ryan, or any other Establishment wild card, as he appears to be really popular with the sort of folks who attend the local conventions where most delegates are nominated:
Cruz won nine of the 12 delegates chosen at county conventions in Wyoming (Trump won one), and Cruz has gotten six of six picked so far at congressional district conventions in Colorado (more Colorado congressional districts will choose their delegates this week). In North Dakota, delegates are technically unbound, but Cruz got a highly favorable slate of delegates approved at the state convention on Sunday; only one or two delegates of the 25 chosen appear favorably disposed to Trump.
Maybe the Establishment thinks that Cruz is their Trojan horse. If so, they should probably check that horse’s belly: It appears to be full of Cruz-loving delegates.