Ted Cruz Plays Charades

Sargent Shriver is the answer to a trivia question. I’ll give you the question at the end of this post.

Last Tuesday, Ted Cruz was soundly defeated in five primaries in the Acela corridor, falling further behind Donald Trump in the Republican delegate count and guaranteeing that it will be mathematically impossible for him to secure the first ballot nomination of his party. So the next day he introduced Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running mate. Like just about everything else in this primary contest, Cruz’ act of pretend defied not just conventional wisdom but wisdom itself. In making the announcement, the also-ran candidate conceded, “It’s tradition that a vice presidential nominee is announced at the convention.” Cruz conveniently omitted that it is also tradition to wait until one receives the presidential nomination of one’s party.

Several days after the faux Cruz/Fiorina ticket began campaigning for Indiana’s 57 delegates in Tuesday’s winner-take-most event, the New York Times was up with a piece about how pretty much no one in the Republican establishment wants to be considered for the second spot on a potentially real Republican ticket with Donald Trump, which as of this writing appears to be a far more likely possibility than any option involving Ted Cruz. The Times article lists Jeb Bush, John Kasich and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as prominent Republicans prepared to run as far away as possible from a Trump ticket. The article even quotes an aide to Scott Walker as saying the Wisconsin governor “has a visceral negative reaction to Trump’s character,” a statement I will simply leave for you to process as best you can.

It isn’t hard to understand these reactions. The uncertainty around Trump’s behavior and the certain difficulty he will have appealing to voters outside the Republican primary bubble make him a bad bet for anyone who harbors ambitions beyond 2016. Paul Ryan can run with Mitt Romney and face a four-point defeat without damaging his national standing. It’s never a bad thing to be the heir apparent in a party energized to recover from and avenge a stinging loss. But running with Trump risks being part of a wipeout and being forever saddled with everything Trump says and has ever said. No one with real ambition would risk that. And with the Republican Party divided between conservatives and reactionaries, no one can predict how shattered the party will be after it is forced to confront its divisions at this summer’s convention. Who would want to be positioned to pick up the pieces of a party that’s likely to find itself very badly broken?

In the interest of balance, the Times searches for Republicans who say they are open to being Trump’s running mate. It’s instructive that the best they can do is Newt Gingrich, Ben Carson and Chris Christie—a has-been, never-was, and desperately-wants-to-be. Joining a Trump ticket makes sense for all of them. Gingrich doesn’t have to worry about protecting his presidential prospects because he doesn’t have any. Carson seems willing to stretch his allocated fifteen minutes in the spotlight to half an hour because it can only boost his motivational speaking business. And no one craves attention more than Chris Christie, whose place on a presidential ticket would give him relevance for a few more months. Besides, it would get him out of New Jersey.

In the meantime, Ted and Carly carry on with their road show in the hope that someone—anyone (voters? Republican leaders?) will warm up to the prospect of these two most unlikable characters as preferable to the pairing they are likely to get in the event that Trump ends up atop the ticket.

This brings us around to Sargent Shriver, the answer to the trivia question,”Who was George McGovern’s running mate in 1972?” But a more apt question might be, “Why was Sargent Shriver George McGovern’s running mate in 1972?” The answer: Because McGovern was turned down by every prominent Democrat of his day, including Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Ted Kennedy, Edmund Muskie, Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana and Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, leaving McGovern to settle in haste on Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri.  When Eagleton subsequently withdrew from the ticket after word spread of his repeated bouts with depression, McGovern had to scramble again to find a running mate, this time under even more frantic circumstances, and settled on Shriver, the low profile former Peace Corps director and Kennedy in-law whose willingness to join a lost cause had everything to do with his complete lack of ambition for national office.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to see the moral in this story. For Republicans, pretend running mates may be easier to find this year than the real thing.