In 1976, Gerald Ford—the then sitting President—narrowly defeated former California Governor Ronald Reagan. As is common after a narrow defeat, the GOP called upon Reagan to deliver a speech to unite the party under the standard bearer. Reagan’s speech focused on political philosophy and the importance of the party platform: that individual liberty and freedom are two important virtue that cannot be compromised in the war against the Soviet Union. Something Reagan did not do was actively endorse Ford. Instead, he opted to generally speak:
We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: There is no substitute for victory, Mr. President.
Last night, Ted Cruz attempted to channel that same atmosphere. Cruz—who lacks Reagan’s stage presence for not lack of trying—provided an interesting narrative to frame our modern struggle. The enemy is no longer the Soviet Union. The enemy is the force that value chaos over order. The enemy is the force the believes that religious freedom—for all people—is unnecessary. The enemy is the force that rejects the free enterprise system that brought about more freedom and international stability than any other system preceding it. In this, he concludes, we must judge the candidates for ourselves because, to use Regan’s words from 1976, there are two possible ends:
Will they look back with appreciation and say, “Thank God for those people in 1976 who headed off that loss of freedom, who kept us now 100 years later free, who kept our world from . . . destruction”?
And if we failed, they probably won’t get to read the letter at all because it spoke of individual freedom, and they won’t be allowed to talk of that or read of it.
Ted Cruz told the Trump campaign that he could not, based upon Trump’s words, deeds, and positions, endorse Trump. He could only generally endorse the conservative movement. Conservativism in its purest form—a form the GOP rejected this year—is worth endorsing year round. The Trump campaign allowed this non-endorsement and approved his final speech. Trump then channeled the media to paint Ted Cruz as disloyal. But Ted Cruz’s loyalty was never to the GOP. It was to his understanding of conservatism. And this year’s GOP—whether it is regarding international trade, domestic economics, immigration, religious liberties, or foreign policy—has drifted away from American conservatism.