So, what do you do with your very successful strategy for securing second-ballot support at the Republican National Convention if your opponent’s first-ballot commitments make it all moot? If you are Ted Cruz, it seems, you plan a platform fight to preserve the conservative movement’s grip on the soul of the GOP even if the barbarian Donald Trump temporarily owns its body.
On Monday, Cruz, along with delegate-wrangler Ken Cuccinelli and Christian-right warhorse Tony Perkins, held a conference call with the faithful to inform them that while they have no intention of challenging Trump’s nomination, they will act as guardians of the militantly conservative party platform and maybe add some planks to address items of cultural hysteria like bathroom labeling.
It seems a major motive for the call was to keep Cruz supporters from making other plans for the week of July 18 (delegates typically have to pay their own way to conventions, as well as their expenses at them, and some aren’t enthused about running up the credit-card balances to participate in a Trump coronation). Cruz campaign leaders also want their troops to make an extra effort to win the two seats on the platform and rules committee to which each delegation is entitled. Perkins, for example, has already won a platform-committee spot from Louisiana.
It’s unclear what, if any, rules activities Team Zombie Cruz will undertake, though there may be a symbolic effort to modify the famous rule 40(b) to loosen up qualifications for having one’s name placed in nomination at future conventions — and perhaps as leverage to ensure Cruz gets a big speech slot in Cleveland this time around.
On the platform, however, Trump’s cavalier attitude toward many holy tenets of movement conservatism provides an excellent excuse for sounding the alarm. The Cruz people being who they are, the focus is on cultural issues. Here was Cuccinelli’s message to Cruz supporters, according to the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin:
“This is about protecting movement conservatism,” he said, pointing to party planks on abortion and saying the delegates should consider language regarding transgender bathroom access.
“We want to have girls go in girls’ bathrooms,” he said, highlighting an issue on which Mr. Trump has broken with social conservatives by supporting the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.
There is no evident effort so far from Trump to change the platform’s traditionally draconian language proposing a no-exceptions national ban on abortions. Multiple nominees in the past have chosen to ignore the no-exceptions part of the abortion plank without the universe crumbling, and beyond that, Trump seems like the kind of guy who would have zero problems conceding the entire platform to others; it’s not like he’s going to let himself be bound by it.
As it happens, there is a non-Trump-related campaign that’s been under way for a while to change the platform to eliminate or at least soften the militant 2012 language opposing same-sex marriage, financed by such billionaire investors as Paul Singer. A significantly more likely platform change involving sexual orientation is a toughening of language protecting the “religious liberty” to be homophobic, an issue where certain Republican pols have gone squishy under pressure from business interests. And as Cuccinelli has indicated, the fight over North Carolina’s new bathroom labeling law could provide a nice high-profile litmus test of the GOP’s willingness to embarrass itself out of fidelity to its base.
Speaking of embarrassment, the prospective platform fights could produce the spectacle of a convention that seems torn between hysteria over immigrants and Muslims and the GOP’s more traditional hysteria over reproductive rights and fixed gender roles — all culminating in the nomination of a candidate who terrifies a goodly share of whatever remains of the swing-vote population at the moment. No wonder Paul Ryan’s thinking about giving it all a pass.