“I think he’s a true narcissist,” said Parker, “and [that] was just another example of Ted being Ted.”
Should Trump lose in November, it’s unlikely that Cruz would rise to become a party savior, Parker argues. “People in Washington—in the House and Senate—dislike Ted Cruz for a reason. Everything he does is for Ted. He is like a running Ted Talk … about Ted.”
Murphy does not believe that Cruz will successfully shed the shroud of self-indulgence, nor rise to become a leader of the party in 2020. “Cruz’s sharp elbows and his self-focus gets in the way of his own principled positions,” Murphy said. “When Cruz makes a meal” out of his opposition to Trump, “it hurts him with the larger Republican family, which remembers moments like this.”
But will the larger Republican family punish everyone who has taken a stand against Trump, including moderate figures like Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has famously refused to attend the convention in his own state or endorse the titular head of his own party? In the near future, a designation of Republican patriot or turncoat will depend to a certain degree on whether Trump is victorious or not, but mostly upon the mood of the party in 2017.
Alex Conant, Marco Rubio’s former communications director, said that “If Trump loses, there will absolutely be a power vacuum in the party, and there will be a lot of competition to fill it. I believe that—after a lot of painful hand-wringing and finger-pointing—the next generation of conservatives will emerge as leaders of the party. And those are people who offer a new and modern agenda.”
This, of course, is the hope of 2016’s treasonous patriots: that the fractious conservative base will make peace, even if their man loses in November, and that they will not only embrace those who stood in Trump’s way, but concede that moderates should once again lead the party.
Parker concedes this thinking “is a gamble.” But she also said she would be surprised if the “people who came in as Trumpeteers don’t just disintegrate and disperse.”
Recent history would cast doubt on this hypothesis. I suggested to Conant that after Romney’s loss in 2012, the Republican base didn’t respond by embracing the moderate agenda set forth by the RNC in its 2013 autopsy, but instead seemed to have moved (violently) away from “big tent” politics and establishment figures alike. Conant did not seem particularly concerned. He explained that he believes Trump to be “absolutely an anomaly” in electoral politics, and not a shaping force. “He is primarily a force of personality—he doesn’t have an agenda. That’s powerful, but impossible to replicate.”
Then there is the scenario where Trump actually wins the White House. What becomes of these patriot-turncoats in that future is perhaps even more pitched. Will Trump and his party exile those who stood against him during the election? Conant thinks if “Trump is elected president of the United States, he’s gonna have a lot more challenges to worry about than what to do with” people who stood in his way in 2016.