Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Trump, Reagan, Cruz and the "Eleventh Commandment"

Last Friday, the US Senate provided an electrifying moment for those who care. Ted Cruz, whose candidacy for the President I cannot currently support, took to the Senate floor and rendered an stunning rebuke of Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader. You can view that moment in the video below:

Senate Republican Leadership angrily responded. Orrin Hatch, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, took to the floor and rebuked Ted Cruz, albeit without mentioning his name:

Brit Hume, one of the talking heads on the Fox News Networks, took out his shillelagh and went after Ted Cruz. In particular, Hume assailed Cruz's character, calling him a hypocrite:

Is Hume correct? Is Cruz a hypocrite who obeyed Ronald Reagan's "Eleventh Commandment" when it suited him, and disobeyed it when the need arose?

We have become like tinder, those of us who have voted Republican with a view toward (1) shrinking government, (2) reducing taxes, (3) liberating the free market, (4) reversing the decisions of a peremptory Supreme Court.

In face of consistent, constant, and long-standing support for the candidates produced by the party, we have nothing to show for our efforts. Instead, we have Speaker Mitch McConnell LYING to the Republican Caucus on the question of whether there was a deal to bring the Ex-Im Bank question to the Senate floor for a vote. McConnell fended off a vote to defund Planned Parenthood, the unflattered object of a series of recent expose videos by the Center for Medical Progress.

We have a Speaker of the House that, if he were to die before Obama's term in office ended, would ask to have himself buried with his rear end sticking out of the ground so that Obama could have someplace to park his bike. Boehner has FAILED to defund the overreaching programs of the Environmental Protection Agency. Boehner has FAILED to impeach Obama over "executive amnesty," Benghazi, Fast and Furious, or his murder of an American teenager in Yemen, killed by an attack drone because (as Obama's spokesmouth put it, "he picked the wrong parents").

Into the dried tinder of our labors, our hopes, our aspirations, Donald Trump has breathed fire like Smaug. Of course support for Trump is erupting like wildfire. He says the things that need to be said by a candidate that wants us, the great unwashed base of the Republican Party, to give him our vote (he doesn't want our money, either, as he is financing his own campaign).

Trump does not mince words:

  • John McCain called folks that came out in droves to see Trump (and others) "crazies." In return, Trump cast doubt on portrayals of McCain as a hero. In Trump's words, he prefers heroes that "don't get captured."
  • Trump says we are not getting the best and brightest of the Mexican people when we tolerate illegal immigration from our Southern neighbor. In fact, he said we are getting murderers and rapists, and, he assumed, some good folks too.
  • After a fundraiser for Scott Walker referred to Trump as "DumbDumb," Trmp fired back on Walker, saying that Walker's Wisconsin was now a mess, "they projected a $1 billion surplus and it turns out to be a deficit of $2.2 billion."
  • Trump poked Texas Governor Rick Perry over his new glasses, suggesting they were an effort not to look stupid.
  • After Lindsey Graham accused Trump of "coming in like a wrecking ball" and risking the future of "his" Republican Party, Trump revealed Graham's personal cell phone number (a number Trump presumably was given by Graham who sought and got a campaign donation from Trump in his Senate re-election bid).
When Trump's remarks about John McCain were reported (albeit incompletely by most news outlets), some challenged Ted Cruz to join with other candidates, including Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, and others, that have criticized Donald Trump. Cruz refused, and pleaded "Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment:"

So, then, there you have Cruz invoking Reagan's Eleventh Commandment, "Thou shalt not criticize a fellow Republican." There you also have Donald Trump criticizing Republicans, both fellow candidates (Graham, Walker, Perry) and office-holders (McCain). And you have Cruz, after invoking the Eleventh Commandment to eschew criticism of Trump, exposing Senator Mitch McConnell as a liar on the Senate floor.

So, is Cruz a hypocrite?

I think not. And I think not for good reason, call it the North Carolina Corollary to the Eleventh Commandment.

When Ronald Reagan first invoked the Eleventh Commandment, he did it during his run for Governor of California, back in 1966. That run followed shortly after the 1964 election in which Barry Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson. Goldwater had been subjected to a barrage of criticism from East Coast Republicans, including Nelson Rockefeller, as too conservative

Whether it is speculation or true, the conclusion Reagan drew was that Rockefeller & Co. weakened the Republican nominee and insured LBJ's election. So, facing the same tough kinds of criticism during the Republican gubernatorial primary, Reagan invoked the "Eleventh Commandment," which he borrowed from California State Republican Party Chairman Gaylord Parkinson. In his autobiography, An American Life, Reagan later wrote:
The personal attacks against me during the primary finally became so heavy that the state Republican chairman, Gaylord Parkinson, postulated what he called the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. It's a rule I followed during that campaign and have ever since.
I voted for Reagan twice for president. I admired his service as President and appreciate his gift of Antonin Scalia to the Nation as a Supreme Court justice and his profound essay, Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation. But, the truth be told, Ronald Reagan did not follow that rule "ever since." In fact, when it was necessary, to keep his 1976 primary campaign alive, in the face of mounting primary victories by Gerald Ford, Reagan took the kid gloves off and unleashed attacks on Ford's presidency. Moreover, the tactic worked sufficiently well to turn Reagan's campaign around, resulting in wins in the North Carolina primary and others following it.

So, as it turns out, not even Ronald Reagan viewed the Eleventh Commandment as a political suicide pact. When he concluded that disobeying the Commandment was necessary to change the outcome of the 1976 Republican nomination race, he abandoned the commandment. Does that make Reagan a hypocrite? And, thus, does that mean that Cruz too is a hypocrite?


Or, perhaps, the Eleventh Commandment is subject to some bending. If you need help understanding how it is that a "Commandment" can be bent, you might consider the examples of David taking the sacred "Shewbread" from the Tabernacle and feeding his mighty men with it, or the example of Jesus' followers plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Neither David nor Jesus would stand before you and say, "Rules were made to be broken." But Jesus did say, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."

In like vein, Republicans can and should see that something like the Eleventh Commandment, which is a rule pertaining to elections and candidacies, are not "natural laws" like gravity. They exist because they have been invoked for typically good reasons. In the case of the Eleventh Commandment, the good reason is to avoid so weakening the eventual candidate of the party that the party's candidate loses to the opposing party's candidate. And, the Eleventh Commandment must be understood to include Reagan's North Carolina corollary: if obeying the Eleventh Commandment strictly means losing, think of it as the Eleventh Suggestion.