- - Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ted Cruz might have thought he was opening his 2020 campaign for president with his remarkable snub of the party and its nominee for president, but he was more likely making a deal with the undertaker.

Mr. Cruz wants to be the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, but the party is likely to regard him now as a reincarnation of Nelson Rockefeller, who threw a similar tantrum against the nomination of Barry Goldwater at the Republican convention in 1964. Mr. Rockefeller paid for it by becoming Jerry Ford’s vice president.

Mr. Cruz had a lot of high-minded things to say in that speech Wednesday night about honor, trust, loyalty, character and conscience, and said them well. But he, like the 16 other primary candidates, promised and pledged to support the nominee, whoever it turned out to be. That pledge was designed to prevent Donald Trump from being the sore loser who would run as an independent. The Donald, as it turned out, was not the sore loser. The due bill has arrived.

Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, presided over the drafting and signing of the pledge and he has said that once the convention was over he would call the refuseniks — Ted, Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Lindsey Graham — to remind them to honor their word. “That’s what honorable men and women do, and it’s what we have a right to expect of each of them.”

Mr. Priebus and the national committee could hire a lawyer and sue, and on good grounds. What the candidates actually signed was a binding contract, pledging to support the party nominee in exchange for access to the committee’s data and services, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to their campaigns. In contract law that’s called a “consideration” and it renders the agreement legally enforceable.

The chairman isn’t likely to do that, but he should ask each of them publicly to say what he intends to do to prevent Hillary Clinton’s return to the White House.

The most effective way to turn a close election into disaster is for leaders of a candidate’s own party to disavow him and his candidacy. Grown-ups don’t court such disaster. Bernie Sanders, too, felt the pain of losing a bitter campaign; he and Hillary said angry and bitter things about each other. But Bernie is a grown-up and understands what grown-ups do when they don’t get what they want.

In the face of an angry backlash against him for what was an act of brazen betrayal, Ted Cruz started Wednesday trying to walk back his words. “In that speech,” he said, “I did not say a single negative word about Donald Trump, and I’ll tell you that … I don’t intend to say negative things about Donald Trump … I can tell you, I’m not voting for Hillary.”

It’s true that the Donald said some nasty things about Mr. Trump, his wife and his father. Once upon a time, Mr. Cruz would have sent his seconds to call on the Donald, to tell him to choose the weapons for a rendezvous on a field of honor. He would get to see just how much he likes guns.

Politics can be a nasty business, and the higher the stakes the nastier it gets. Mr. Cruz understood the game when he stepped into it, and he can expect to pay dearly for a pout that he will surely regret, if he does not already.

Now there’s an election to win, and Ted Cruz has been the loudest in saying that nothing is more important than defeating Hillary. If he thinks he has a legitimate score to settle with Donald Trump there’s always an opportunity in the future to “not get mad, get even.” And if he really tries, he might find an opportunity to make it up to “honor, trust, loyalty, character and conscience.”

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