Godfather II opens with a scene in a small town in Sicily where a young Vito Andolini is driven from his home after his parents and older brother are both murdered by a local mafia chieftain, Don Ciccio. At the time, Vito is about six years old, and he goes to America to start a new life. But he never forgets what Don Ciccio did to his family.
Last night, Ted Cruz did something that we don't see very often in politics. Frankly, we don't see if often in life. He decided that he wasn't going to "go along to get along". He decided that he wasn't going to just back Donald Trump because he was the Republican nominee and that was supposed to be "his team".
Lots of people have said that that Cruz refusing to endorse Trump was a "selfish" act. That's because the Cardinal Rule in American politics is that you support your party no matter what.
Supporting your party above all other things is what has led to such a partisan divide in American politics. For example, there are partisan Democrats who will refuse to admit that Hillary broke the law. It's not because they really believe that in their heart of hearts - they're just following the Cardinal Rule of: "Support your party no matter what".
The rationale behind the Cardinal Rule is that your party is better than the other party in matters of important policy goals, so you do whatever you have to do to win, because you can't govern if you don't win.
It's win at all costs, basically, and both parties are guilty. Just win, baby. It's why so many normal people hate politics. It's why I hate politics. It's why Brad Warthen hates parties.
Last night, Ted Cruz addressed the Republican party convened in Cleveland. Everyone who had already addressed the party had followed the Cardinal Rule and bent their knee. Christie, Walker, Rubio, Giuliani, McMaster, and countless other party members put their own principles aside in observance of the Cardinal Rule and endorsed Donald Trump.
When Ted Cruz came to the moment in his speech when he was supposed to kneel before the party and swear fealty to Trump, simply because he was the nominee of the party, Cruz broke the Cardinal Rule. Instead of saying "Vote for Donald Trump" he said "Vote your conscience." In response, the party faithful booed him off the stage. They didn't want this heretic in their midst. In the party's mind of group-think, the only satisfactory answer is unswerving, unyielding, unthinking loyalty to the party.
Last night, Ted Cruz showed why he's so disliked in the Republican party. It's because he's never followed the Cardinal Rule, and anyone who has paid attention to him over the years knows that. Last night, Ted Cruz stood up in front of the Republican party faithful and told them to "Vote their conscience" and all the men who knelt at the altar of the Cardinal Rule were revealed. Cruz's refusal to submit his principles highlighted their lack of principles. Hence the vitriol and the outrage.
An easy way to make someone mad is to point out their flaws and hypocrisies.
Last night, Ted Cruz took the principled path and put his personal beliefs above the party's. If you think that is "selfish" then you're obviously someone who believes in the Cardinal Rule.
Last night, Ted Cruz was a lion for his beliefs. He refused to meekly submit to the Cardinal Rule, and he retained his dignity. Maybe he'll be run out of politics, and maybe he'll be cast out of the Republican party. But he won't be a hypocrite, and he won't have compromised his beliefs. He was a Man of Respect.
I like to think that last night, Ted Cruz was a bit like the adult Vito Andolini who returned to Italy to confront Don Ciccio. Rather than simply submit to the old Don, Vito exacts his revenge and becomes a Man of Respect in his own right.
Last night, Ted Cruz stuck a knife into Donald Trump. Maybe it won't kill Trump like Vito killed Don Ciccio that day, but my guess is that Donald Trump is already a dead man when it comes to this election, which makes the fealty to him even more appalling.