Why I Believe Nominating Ted Cruz is a Mistake

Since I've seen a huge increase of interest on my social media pages in Senator Ted Cruz for President, I thought I'd just give my two cents on why this is a mistake.

I'll just say at the outset that on paper Senator Cruz and I would agree on a great deal. I'd be comfortable voting for him, were he the nominee. That said, there are number of things that greatly concern me.

1. Cruz's message is almost entirely negative. Ask him for a 30 second stump speech, you will get thirty seconds of all the things he will undo. Essentially, he's promising to restore America back to the pre-Obama era. That's the speech. It may be a speech that wins him the nomination, but it loses a general election.

2. Maybe you'll say that Senator Cruz will "pivot" his message for a general election. I'm afraid he will not, because he's staking his campaign on the misguided belief that victory rests on simply unifying conservatives. He really believes that there is a conservative majority just waiting to rally around a strong candidate, a majority that failed to materialize for Mitt Romney. I'm sorry to break it to you, but there is no such majority. And the "4 million evangelicals stayed home for Romney" line is a myth. A dangerous, losing myth that Ted Cruz believes.

3. Cruz's message sometimes strikes me as frivolous. Ask for that 30 seconds, again, and you'll hear him promise to, for example, move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. That doesn't strike me as a particularly pressing issue, but it does indicate to me he's pandering to a very specific set of evangelical voters.

4. An important aesthetic point: Cruz is abrasive to my ears. And I'm agreeing with him, most of the time. Not a good prospect for winning converts in a general election.

5. I fear that Senator Cruz gives the illusion of leadership much more than he does the real thing. He's devoted his time in the Senate to frequently going out on limbs, only to be abandoned there by everybody. There is a significant set of conservatives who view his scorched earth treatment of his own colleagues (which he groups in with the "Washington cartel") as a net plus for him; as in, a job qualification, not a detriment.

This is a dangerous mistake. 

Let me tell you what leadership looks like. It looks like everybody not hanging you out to dry. That Cruz has been left hanging so many times tells me a great deal about his apparent leadership deficit. Leadership looks like, to give an example, Newt Gingrich in the late '80s and early 1990s. A back bencher from Georgia, and ardent opponent of his own party's leadership, he did not go into the House of Representatives and alienate everybody. Instead, he made friends. He formed groups. He shared ideas. He gave speeches. He cast a vision. He got people to buy into his agenda. He wrote the agenda ("Contract With America"), and got all of his colleagues to sign it. By the time the race for Speaker came around, there was no race for Speaker. Newt was the leader. Period. Oh, and by the way, the race for Speaker came around because Newt Gingrich was the architect of the most impressive electoral victory in U.S. history.

Quite a contrast to Senator Cruz's modus operandi. Just what are his accomplishments? I know what he believes, or says he believes. What has he done? And don't tell me he hasn't been able to do anything because of the wilting lilies in his own caucus. Listen: at a bare minimum, leadership involves the ability to persuade your own colleagues. Absent any evidence whatsoever that he's able to do that, I see no reason to trust that he can be an effective leader for his political party. Ask yourself this: how effective will he be if, upon the unlikely event he wins a general election and becomes President, he has no friends left in the entirety of the legislative branch? Not very effective.

I have no doubt Senator Cruz is a fine man. But I also have no doubt he's got major liabilities other candidates do not share.

A Collection of Quality People

I recently took the time to watch the Presidential Family Forum, an event that involved a number of Republican Presidential candidates sitting around a Thanksgiving table and talking about issues near and dear to social conservatives. I would highly recommend it to you. Do not let its length turn you off; in our "soundbyte" day and age, you rarely get the opportunity to see in-depth, substantive political conversations. (You can skip the first 30 or 40 minutes of the video, however. There's a lot of event "warmup.")

A few general takeaways:

1. Frank Lutz surprised me. I cannot stand his "focus group" thing, but on the whole he asked substantive questions. Only once did he request a "show of hands" from the candidates. And they refused! It was completely fabulous.

2. I am not a fan of asking deep theological questions of candidates. I do not expect the President of the United States to be a theologian, and Frank's question, "Where was God on 9/11?" strikes me as unfair, even if it was revealing. Asking a candidate to give an account of theodicy (or, the "problem of evil") is sort of ridiculous. Be that as it may, the contrast between the two candidates who answered was very interesting. Ben Carson gave an all-too-common "free will" defense: God values our libertarian free will to such an extent he's incapable of preventing evil. I know lots of people (a majority?) are somehow satisfied with this answer, but it doesn't really answer what it thinks it's answering. On the other hand, Marco Rubio decided to wade in and go the opposite direction: God is sovereign. He is alway reigning. Jesus was on his throne on 9/11. He is moving in mysterious ways. We may not understand God's purposes in human suffering, but he has grand purposes. And that's why we call it faith. A refreshingly Augustinian (and biblical) approach to a complicated question. I wanted to reach through my screen and pinch Marco Rubio: are you real? I mean, I've never seen Marco stumped by any question, anywhere, at any time, but of all questions liable to trip him up, I would've thought it would be the problem of evil.

3. I cannot imagine the Democrats having such a discussion. What would they talk about? The chasm between the parties and their competing visions is staggering.

4. I did not like everything everyone said. But taken as a whole, my overall takeaway is that we have an incredible group of quality people running for President. It is an embarrassment of riches, really. None of the candidates come across as phony in any way (well, a couple of times I thought Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz had moments of "veneer"), and many of their testimonies to what God has done in their lives were deeply moving.

These are people of character. That's been in short supply in American leadership for a long time. I'm thankful for them.