High stakes in the coming Trump-Cruz clash

Earlier today, I speculated about the coming battle between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. I argued that the ideological clash will be between Cruz’s focus on the traditional conservative principle of limited government and Trump’s promise to use the government to do great things.

Mark Krikorian, picking up from a column by Rich Lowry, puts the clash in stark, but not necessarily overblown, terms. He writes:

Cruz believes our constitutional arrangements are basically sound but that the leadership class that manages those arrangements has got to go. Trump, on the other hand, seems to reject those arrangements altogether – Rich [Lowry’s] “post-constitutional” label, or even “post-republican” (small-r).

Trump’s support comes from people who have given up on our existing “regime,” in the political science sense of the word. The Tea Party’s efflorescence of constitutionalism was, as Rich writes, “a means to stop Obama” – in other words, to stop lawlessness and rule by decree, which is what constitutions are for. But, as Rich continued, constitutionalism “has been found lacking” – Obama, and the Supreme Court, have pursued extra-constitutional (i.e., illegal) tactics and prevailed. Repeatedly. On momentous issues that immediately affect every American.

Under these circumstances, the move away from constitutional conservatism is understandable:

[T]he Left has ignored the strictures of the Constitution, and succeeded in imposing its will on the rest of the country. It’s no surprise that a large share of that rest of the country is going to conclude that adhering to the Constitution’s strictures is a form of unilateral disarmament, like following Marquis of Queensbury rules in a knife fight.

The key question right now is, how large a share. I doubt that a majority of those who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses is inclined to give up on the Constitution, but the majority will need to be rallied. As Krikorian concludes:

[I]f we don’t want the November election to be between two post-constitutionalists, where we vote simply on which Duce will rule over us for the next four years, we need to persuade first GOP primary voters, then the broader electorate, why the preservation of our republican norms is vital to America’s liberty, independence, and prosperity. We can’t do that simply by pointing out what a nitwit Trump is.

This coming year will help clarify whether the American people actually still want a republic – whether we are still fit for self-government. Or whether things have changed so much that a critical mass of our countrymen will respond as Britannicus did in I, Claudius, when his father laid out his plan to restore the Roman Republic: “I don’t believe in the Republic. No one believes in the Republic anymore. No one does except you. You’re old, Father, and out of touch.”