Why Boehner's 'Lucifer' jab at Ted Cruz shows Trump is winning

Often, the preferences of party insiders prove pivotal in deciding on a nominee. In 2016, 'the party decides' model is turned on its head as Republican elites have refused to rally around one candidate.

Darron Cummings/AP
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, accompanied by vice-presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, speaks in Indianapolis on Friday, April 29.

John Boehner’s comment that Ted Cruz is “Lucifer in the flesh” says a lot about the persistent importance of personal relationships in Washington. As to the outcome of the 2016 campaign, it’s an example of something else: The Republican Party as an institution has failed to agree on how (or even whether) to stop Donald Trump.

In other words #NeverTrump is itself a faction of Republican elites. In this election cycle the party has decided to not decide. 

“The party decides” has long been a political science mantra. It’s a theory that holds that presidential nominations are decided by party establishment/elites/insiders writ large, often long before voters cast ballots.

The Democratic race seems to be fitting this theory pretty well. Hillary Clinton won the endorsement of hundreds of elected Democratic lawmakers prior to primary season, and reaped millions from top party donors. That’s helped her survive a surprisingly strong challenge from a proud democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders.

But the Republican 2016 experience has called it into question. The larger GOP – loosely defined as elected officials, lobbyists, ex-officials, donors, policy experts, partisan media, and local party poobahs – did not rally early around a consensus nominee, as happened with George W. Bush in 2000.

Jeb! Bush might have been the problem. He amassed a huge pile of money and pressed hard for the position of presumptive party favorite, shunting other potential contenders (such as Mitt Romney) aside. But insiders held back, sensing the GOP voters weren’t eager for more Bushes. The former Florida governor's performance in the primaries indicates they were right.

As the primaries rolled along lots of pundits (us included) expected the GOP to rally around an insider’s choice to block the rise of Trump. Marco Rubio was the obvious pick. But actual voters did not agree. Senator Rubio tanked in his home state of Florida and quit. 

Mitt Romney finally got things off the starting block in March, publicly proclaiming that Trump was a “fraud,” a “phony,” and lots of other bad stuff. The GOP’s 2012 nominee said he’d personally vote for Senator Cruz in the Utah primary.

But #NeverTrump waited too long. Cruz has proved a flawed choice for an establishment champion. Perhaps too flawed.

John Boehner showed that with gusto. As an ex-Speaker he has a life membership in the GOP elite. He knows that at this point many of his fellow insiders are trying to mount a last stand around Cruz. He picked Trump instead, calling the billionaire a “texting buddy” and saying he’d vote for Trump in a general election match-up.

Yes, Cruz was the quarterback for the oust-Boehner faction in the House. Boehner’s resentment about this appears to have overwhelmed larger political calculations.

“At the very moment that anti-Donald Trump forces need the party to turn against Trump, it’s turning against Ted Cruz instead,” said ABC political director Rick Klein Friday.

Not that Cruz is helping himself at the moment. The Cruz/Kasich nonaggression pact to divide forthcoming primaries into spheres of influence appears to be falling apart. 

“There is no alliance,” said Cruz on Thursday. He then declined to say whether he would pull resources out of Oregon, as he’s supposed to do under the agreement announced last week. 

Wow. Maybe John Kasich will make a U-turn and start campaigning again in Indiana. Withdrawal from the Hoosier State, which votes next week, was his part of the bargain.

He’d be hurting himself as much as Cruz, since both need to block Trump and force a brokered convention, notes right-leaning Allahpundit at Hot Air on Thursday. But that might be par for the course, he says.

“It’d be a perfect microcosm of the wider party’s impotence and strategic idiocy all year long in failing to stop Trump,” Allahpundit writes.

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