What a Principled Constitutionalist Does NOT Do

“How are we going to sell this, Ted?” “How about ‘Trump is God’? That always works.”

Ted Cruz, who for years banked his whole political career on being the most principled constitutionalist in the room, along with Ben Sasse, who has played for that same audience since beginning his political career, both voted to support Trump’s national emergency declaration, while simultaneously expressing “deep concerns” (aka backside-covering phony reservations) about giving any president such powers.

In short, they just fell back on the precise argument that a genuine principled constitutionalist would never make — and that Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and even Marco Rubio had the courage not to make — namely that the end justifies the means

Both Cruz and Sasse released whiny, hypocritical explanations of their decision to stand with Trump no matter what. (Admittedly, in Cruz’s case, the word “decision” feels a bit too generous at this point.)

It is true, they both claim, that this emergency powers law is a recent manufacture dating from a careless time in Washington, and ought to be severely reformed to hem in presidential overreach and revive some semblance of the constitutional separation of powers. 

It is true, they both claim, that the possibilities for the abuse of this law are endless and ominous, and that on its face the law entails serious distortions of the premises of a limited republic. After all, they both declare, a president could, in theory, simply issue an emergency declaration under this law whenever he wanted to appropriate funds to do something for which there might not be sufficient support in Congress. (Such as building a border wall that Congress does not wish to fund, for example.)

And yet both Cruz and Sasse then go on to insist that the problem on the southern border is really, really bad, and that since Nancy Pelosi is unwilling to address it properly, this emergency declaration was the only choice Trump had, given that border security, and specifically The Wall, is such an important priority.

In other words, the law is wrong, it stretches presidential powers beyond the spirit and letter of the Constitution, and therefore presidents should not have this power — but they, Cruz and Sasse, are going to support the use of this illegitimate and dangerous new-fangled law in this case, because they happen to agree with the particular purpose to which it is being put by President Trump. In other words, the end justifies the means.

Oh, but they both assure us, in their whining apologias, that they are constitutionalists who care deeply about the Constitution, and that the principles and safeguards ensconced in the Constitution are so dear to them that they almost can’t believe how devotedly constitutionalist they are — so much more so than anyone else, by golly — such that they almost feel like crying about how beautiful the Constitution is, and that they really, deeply love it. Nevertheless, they are going to vote against the spirit of the Constitution here, because supporting Trump’s campaign promise is more important to them than supporting and defending the U.S. Constitution (which, as senators, they swore to do, by the way).

In other words, what both men are arguing is that they want to reform this law because under this law, any president could do exactly what this president is doing — grant himself the power of the purse for his own purposes, whenever he feels unable to gain his wishes from the branch of government that is supposed to control the purse strings — and that would be a terrible thing.

Cruz, vying to become the new Washington champion of duplicitous smarm, is oozingly clever enough to provide specific examples of the kind of abuses that could occur under a President Warren or a President Sanders. His scary scenarios are pure diversion for the unwashed grassroots masses, an attempt to hide the GOP establishment’s thuggish premise (the end justifies the means) behind anti-socialist fear-mongering. This is a rhetorical trick that will work just fine on Trump cultists, who all want to believe precisely what Cruz is saying, namely that Trump, and Trump alone, should be allowed to exercise powers that no Democrat should ever be allowed to exercise. But as a logical argument, it is pure poppycock. If it is scary to think that Warren, Sanders, or any other Democrat, would be able to use these illegitimate powers to advance their own agenda in defiance of the Constitution’s separation of powers, then it has to be just as scary to think of a Republican using these powers to advance his own agenda. Otherwise, Cruz is simply saying, “No president should be allowed to act tyrannically, unless I happen to agree with his tyrannical aims.”

Sasse, for his part, emphasizes his support for Mike Lee’s proposed reform of the National Emergencies Act, thereby (he imagines) absolving himself of responsibility for the current abuse of this emergency power by Trump, while nevertheless voting to support the abuse. The argument, offered by Sasse and other hypocrites, that they are supporting this use of emergency powers on the condition that Trump will help them reform the law later, is ridiculous. What kind of credibility will any future case for restricting these powers have, coming from people who, when it served their wishes, went ahead and exploited the powers themselves?

Allahpundit (linked above) explains the Cruz and Sasse hypocrisy as a matter of pure electoral politics and unprincipled self-promotion. As for Cruz, he observes:

He still dreams of being president and knows that 2024 rivals like Tom Cotton would have used this vote against him to get to his right with populists. He put Ted Cruz’s political interests above everything, including what he professes to believe. As usual.

Regarding Sasse, for whom he appears to have had a little more hope — admittedly, it is impossible to have any sympathy for the self-obliterated Cruz the Schmooze at this point — Allahpundit explains:

The truth about Sasse, the only possible explanation, is that he’s decided to run for reelection in Nebraska and calculated that he wouldn’t be able to survive a primary challenge if he opposed Trump on this. There’s too much heat. Maybe he can survive one if he quiets down with the Trump criticism over the next 12 months and votes Trump’s way. Forced to choose between his brand as a constitutional conservative who wants to restore separation of powers and his job, Sasse made his choice. I don’t know what’s left of his ideological support after this.

Of course, all such explanations and rationalizations are based on the extremely generous premise that Cruz and Sasse ever really cared about constitutionalism in the first place, other than as a ticket to political success, i.e., power. That, as it turns out, may be all that the now-defunct Tea Party era wrought: the creation of a new, paradoxical power-mongering strategy, “limited republic demagoguery.”

One sad side note: The readers’ comments on Allahpundit’s critique of Cruz, Sasse, and other GOP sell-outs, are a predictable but useful lesson in just how antithetical the so-called grassroots conservative movement has gone, all in the name of defending the Trumpster fire currently incinerating “their” party, “their” movement, and “their” country.

A very common example:

[Allahpundit] likes to style himself as the curmudgeon, but his anti-MAGA schtick is wearing thin, judging by the dwindling number of comments on his posts.

Just yesterday, right here in Limbo, I mused:

Remember when Americans who called themselves “constitutional conservatives” got all excited when an elected Republican stood up to the party leadership and refused to budge on principle, come what may? Now those people call themselves “patriots” and prefer Mitch McConnell’s cloying cleverness to Mike Lee’s constitutionalist principles.

So here we are, twenty-four hours later, and not only are grassroots conservatives and their profiteering media spokesmen up in arms that Senators Lee, Paul, and Rubio had the courage to buck the GOP leadership in the way that Cruz used to seem to have the courage to do, but even online critics of the party line are now being called out as weaklings and frauds because they have the courage to stand up to the establishment, at personal “loss” to themselves.

Think about the implications of that reader’s comment quoted above: “his anti-MAGA schtick is wearing thin, judging by the dwindling number of comments on his posts.” In other words, Allahpundit deserves disdain because his position is not the majority position. That is, he is being mocked for having the nerve to stand alone in an era of slavish political conformity; for having the chutzpah to stick to his principles when most of his readers (or former readers) have abandoned theirs in favor of the childish thrill of “belonging” to a personality cult; for putting his independent mind and his pride above his profit and popularity; for being a rare man among sheep.

The Tea Party, it now seems, was never anything close to the principled cry for liberty that it pretended (to itself) to be. It was never anything more than another garden variety mass movement: a troop of non-individuals hoping to lose themselves in the comforting uniformity of a “cause,” where the precise nature and purpose of the “cause” was always less important than the comforting feeling of dissolving one’s unhappy soul into a uniform crowd. That crowd has found its spiritual leader at last. That this leader shares none of the principles upon which the original so-called movement was founded is of no relevance to them. He gives them what they wanted — the protective power of personal insignificance.

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