A GOP loss in 2016 is one thing, a GOP disgrace is another

Michael Gerson takes up the question of whether, for Republicans, it is “better to lose with Cruz or Trump.” Gerson doesn’t answer the question except to say it’s too bad Republicans can’t lose with both.

Gerson argues that losing with Cruz would discredit “tea party” purity. Losing with Trump would discredit “white lives matter nativism.” Both are outcomes he desires apparently about equally.

I wonder whether Gerson is preoccupied with score-settling. Regardless, antipathy, if not acrimony, has caused him to miss or ignore the obvious reason why — if one assumes the Republicans are going to lose the presidential race — it would be better to lose with Cruz.

Political parties have no obligation to nominate presidential candidates whose ideology appeals to Gerson or any particular person or faction. They have no obligation to eschew candidates whose ideology is largely devoid of centrist elements.

Nominating such candidates can lead to big defeats (see Barry Goldwater and George McGovern). It can also yield big rewards (see Ronald Reagan and, to a lesser extent, Barack Obama).

Big defeats in presidential races are awful, but they aren’t disgraceful. I don’t think any fair-minded individual would say the GOP disgraced itself by nominating Goldwater or that Democrats did so by nominating McGovern or Walter Mondale.

What’s disgraceful is to nominate for a president a candidate who, taking ideology out of the equation, is unfit for the office. The obvious example is someone who has broken key laws.

Another example is someone temperamentally unfit for the presidency. Yet another is someone who has failed to make the effort required to understand major issues at anything beyond the most superficial level.

Hillary Clinton seemingly falls into the first category. Donald Trump falls squarely into the second and third. He has, among other things, viciously insulted women and condoned violence at his political rallies. He is a nasty piece of work.

In addition, Trump’s understanding of vital issues is minimal. Whichever side one takes in the abortion debate, Trump’s answer to Chris Matthews’ question revealed his lack of seriousness on this matter. The same diagnosis applies to his statements about health care, again regardless of how one views the merits of the debate.

And please don’t ask Trump about the nuclear triad or the Quds forces. These are “gotcha questions.”

A party disgraces itself even more if it nominates an authoritarian who would threaten democratic institutions and traditions. I think the jury is out (and with any luck will remain out) on whether, if elected president, Trump would pose that threat. There are grounds for concern, though.

To my knowledge, Ted Cruz doesn’t insult women, hasn’t mimicked handicapped reporters, and doesn’t condone violence at political rallies. His understanding of the issues is first rate, whether one agrees with his positions or not.

Cruz has been accused, with justification I think, of political tricks that push the envelope. However, I see no signs of authoritarian tendencies. I see, instead, a great respect for the Constitution.

Cruz’s main “sin” is the purity of his conservatism. This, at any rate, is Gerson’s stated objection.

It’s reason enough for Gerson and many other Republicans to prefer another nominee. However, it is no basis for equating, or even comparing, losing (or for that matter winning) with Cruz to losing (or winning) with Trump.