Even though he dropped out shortly after this series began, given the media attention he received and the delegate count he was awarded, we’d be remiss to not discuss everyone’s favorite Grandpa Munster look-alike, Mr. Ted Cruz. Though suspending his campaign may make it seem like the matter is settled, there are still whispers of a contested convention in July (especially when things like this happen), and given that he carries the support of a significant chunk of conservative voters that Mr. Trump would need to win in November, Cruz is not entirely out of the picture yet. Which means these days things in the Grand Old Party are far from grand.

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz: Establishment Republicans’ Next Best Alternative

Born Rafael Edward (he changed the name at 13 so let’s cut him some slack on that front, OK?), the junior senator from Texas is most well-known for two things during this campaign cycle: being incredibly awkward, and not being Donald Trump. After the departure of Marco Rubio from the race for the nomination, two men remained in the ring and conservative voters found themselves faced with an incredibly difficult choice. Either throw their support behind the Donald — whose popularity is as contested within the party as it has been surprising to those outside of it — or settle for a candidate whom even fellow conservatives find disagreeable on a personal level. What to do, what to do?

Why Some People Love Him

Cruz was the Great White Hope (pun intended) for conservatives of both the political and religious stripe, although the reasons and intensity of support differed. For Washington politicos, it wasn’t as much about liking Cruz as it was about keeping the words “President Trump” out of America’s mouth, and since that isn’t a particularly inspiring level of support, most of them could only half-heartedly endorse a person they’d previously (and openly) despised. Yet for religious ideologues Cruz was the only candidate (after losing Ben Carson and Rubio) who they felt reflected their values — a branding that is viewed as ‘true conservatism’ — and whom they trusted to carry them into the White House. Despite his stilted demeanor in public leading some to view him as a bit of a doofus, he’s still recognized as a policy wonk who is able to remain calm under fire, and regardless of their initial reasons for choosing him, many Republicans found themselves heartbroken when he dropped.     

Why Some People Hate Him

Aside from personal or political preferences, one thing about Ted Cruz has been painfully clear from the beginning: he makes people feel uncomfortable. It isn’t one of those mild “Having to Give an Obligatory Gift to Someone Who Gifted You But You Don’t Really Know” or “If I Like This Guy’s Status About His Grandma Dying Will it Seem Supportive or Rude?” kinds of uncomfortable, but a stronger and more deeply seated “I Think He Might Be a Serial Killer” uncomfortable. To the point that an entire meme culture has spawned around him potentially being the Zodiac Killer, despite being an infant when the murders were committed. For political satirists his campaign trail was a gold mine littered with schadenfreude treasures. And sure, that makes for great entertainment, but few people enjoyed the thought of four (or eight) years of this man greeting foreign dignitaries and settling international disputes.

What Does This Candidacy Say About America?

This election has been a rough one for conservatives. Long-shot favorites like Rubio or John Kasich fizzled out fairly quickly, forcing party main-liners to rally around two candidates they were pretty unhappy with. The Trump vs. Cruz debate is interesting primarily because Cruz is, in many ways, Trump’s threatened actions personified. The petulance and ignorance which Trump’s rhetoric has brought to the campaign trail, while sensational, has not been surprising given who he’s been for the last four or five decades. But if Trump talks the talk, Cruz has walked the walk as a senator, and during his tenure he’s been famous for things like holding up important votespretending to filibuster, and threatening to shut down the government — twice. So what’s the difference? Why were voters so unresponsive to him, and so enamored with Trump? The answer is a little surprising given our modern conception of a “conservative” voter, but the truth is that conservative values in principle and conservative values in practice now belong to two different subsets of Republican voters — with Cruz representing the powerful but shrinking minority of Christian Republicans, many of whom can’t wrap their head around Trump’s popularity. But much to their chagrin the times are a’changin’, and what they’re selling isn’t flying off the shelves as fast as it used to, leaving the GOP with another set of fault lines now rising to the surface and begging the question: just how deeply can this party crack before it falls apart altogether?