Trump, Cruz and the Politics of Silence

By Richard Nelson

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January 2, 2016

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The last few weeks have had GOP candidates wrestling for their position on the podium and in the polls. The current front-runner, Donald Trump, has been the singular candidate the rest of the field has sought to criticize with the hopes of distancing themselves from the New York billionaire. Trump's recent statements about temporarily banning all Muslims from entering the United States caused an uproar among the candidates left in the field. Some outright denounced Trump while others sought to disagree amicably. However, one candidate stayed conspicuously silent in his criticism of Donald Trump: Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Most likely the strategy behind the silence is that Cruz understood that he benefits the most if Mr. Trump decides to leave the race. While this is no doubt a sound political strategy, it brings up an important discussion crucial to the selection of the next president: principles. 

Is it enough to stay quiet because you sense that it will do your candidacy no good to criticize Mr. Trump? When is the line crossed? Cruz admittledly tows this line with eloquence, and there is an argument to be made that the louder Mr. Trump’s detractors clamor, the better he performs in the polls. Maybe Mr. Cruz has the correct strategy after all? Yet the question must be answered as to whether principled politics allows for silence when Mr. Trump has said things that aren’t just out of line with conservatism, but are downright abhorrent. The strategy of silence works when you jockey for position in a field of candidates volleying shots at one another within the field of conservatism. But when Mr. Trump continues to make statements that denigrate women, disrespect national allies, and flirt with a national registry of ethnic and religious groups, it is time to let politics stand to the side and let principles stand. Donald Trump is not speaking from a heritage of conservatism, and those who self-identify with conservatism should speak out against him. Perhaps there is a middle ground between pontificating your disagreement and staying silent, but I suspect Mr. Cruz has chosen more of the latter in recent days.

In a crucial election it is important that we exhaust our options and set before the American people the clearest choices for President. No doubt this will include vehement disagreement amongst the candidates, and we should welcome such debates. But what seems to be a clear pandering to one candidate in the hopes that you benefit the most if they they drop out is hardly principled. It is even worse when you are silent as Trump continues to make statements that sound less and less conservative, and more and more like a megalomaniac.  

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center