The night I almost felt sorry for Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz embraces his father, Rafael Cruz, and wife Heidi after suspending his presidential campaign on Tuesday.
Sen. Ted Cruz embraces his father, Rafael Cruz, and wife Heidi after suspending his presidential campaign on Tuesday. Bloomberg

Politicians rarely get sympathy from the public when they lose. Yet in no other line of work is so much put on the line, so publicly, for so long, with a portion of crow to be eaten cold every day. Then, in one instant, it’s over. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Still, it’s hard to feel sorry for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who was forced to drop out of the presidential race after losing the Indiana Republican primary to Donald Trump on Tuesday. Cruz, after all, is the guy who was aptly described last week by John Boehner, the usually affable former speaker of the House, as “Lucifer in the flesh.” He’s a man who even his friends don’t like.

But earlier this week it was almost possible to have sympathy for the devil as Cruz, time running out, rattled by protesters, disappointed by crowds, upstaged by the conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck, and downsized by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, nonetheless crisscrossed the state.

Despite polls showing he would lose, Cruz gave Indiana his all after getting the one-on-one contest he insisted would allow him to take down Trump. At his last event before voting began, Cruz gave his full stemwinder — anyone who thinks Hillary Clinton yells hasn’t been to a Cruz speech — to an audience that filled about one-fifth of Exposition Hall at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Cruz tried everything to impress establishment conservatives in Indiana: He talked more about economics than abortion. He re-created a scene, badly, from the basketball classic Hoosiers, while Trump drafted many of the state’s sports legends from legendary coach Bobby Knight to Notre Dame’s Digger Phelps.

The Texas senator got Pence’s endorsement but it was so tepid that it brought to mind a hostage tape. In an interview Monday, Pence told CNN’s Dana Bash that he’d be just as happy if Trump got the nomination — with Cruz right beside him.

Toward the end of his long march through Indiana, Cruz had begun to borrow from the winner. He appropriated one of Trump’s signature themes, scolding Carrier, the air-conditioning manufacturer that is leaving Indiana for Mexico, and vowing to bring the jobs back by rewriting government regulations. Even Trump seemed stunned by the chutzpah: “ “Carrier’s my baby,” he said resentfully. “I want to do the number on Carrier.”

Maybe Cruz should have adopted a bit of Trump’s New York values. His hard-right views prevented him from getting a significant chunk of suburban Republicans in the doughnut counties around Indianapolis he claimed he would get once that pesky Kasich stood down (as he finally did on Wednesday).

What dominated on the last day of campaigning in Indiana — and, as it turned out, the final hours of the Cruz candidacy — wasn’t his speeches. Instead, it was an encounter that he didn’t have to have. With cameras rolling, Cruz crossed the street after an event to confront a dozen Trump supporters — some of whom also appeared to have high-level training in stand-up comedy. When Cruz said, “I will tell you this, sir, America is a better country,” his target was right back at him “Without you.” When Cruz said “And a question that everyone here should ask is” another interjected, “Are you Canadian?”

This went on for an eternity, or maybe only five minutes. It was of a piece with going negative on a 10-year-old for speaking up at an event. Cruz said he deserved a spanking like his kids would get. Suburban helicopter moms love that kind of talk. The exchange with the Trump supporters provided a vivid illustration of the reasons the conservatives Cruz was supposed to consolidate found him almost as unbearable as his colleagues: His utter conviction that he is smart and you are dumb, possessed of perfect debating skills and, above all, chosen by God to triumph over mere mortals.

What an unhappy choice Republicans had to make. As much as the party wanted an alternative to Trump — preferring to be poisoned rather than shot — after a sustained look at Cruz they preferred the candidate with the highest negatives in history to the smug, sour, self-absorbed, dangerously ambitious senator.

Still such an outright rejection must hurt. Even the devil has feelings.

(c) 2016, Bloomberg View