On July 20, Ted Cruz left the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland with a radiant conscience on his arm. Its umbrella gleamed and its little cricket-eyes shone brightly.
The honeymoon lasted 65 days.
“Vote your conscience,” Cruz had urged, that third night of the Republican National Convention, prompting loud boos from a crowd that had been planning to vote for Donald Trump instead. His conscience had gazed riveted at him, seeing a side to the man that it had never seen before.
The next few days were paradise. They went everywhere together, laughing at jokes that only they understood, giggling together at all the convention attendees who had come unaccompanied by their consciences. Cruz bought his conscience a new top hat. His conscience surprised him with a set of Actual Numbers to put on his Days Without Losing The Respect Of All My Colleagues sign. It had never had actual numbers before. Together, they watched the numbers grow.
“I’m proud to be the conscience of a man like you,” his conscience told him as they watched Donald Trump denounce a gold-star family. “It’s an honor to serve a man who won’t kowtow to a fellow like that, a fellow who said such awful things about your wife and insinuated your father had a hand in JFK’s assassination.”
Cruz smiled. If his mind seemed elsewhere, the conscience did not think anything of it. Cruz was an important man now, and many people suddenly looked up to him instead of loathing him and considering him on par with something unpleasant they had found on the bottom of their shoes. This was bound to be an adjustment for a man like Cruz, who had inspired only muted disgust in everyone he met since his Princeton days. But Cruz was holding up wonderfully. He was blossoming in his new life without his accustomed supply of loathing and disdain. He was even thinking of a way to make the Internet free, or something. For once, he seemed happy.
His conscience threaded its arm through his. “Don’t you feel wonderful?” it pursued. “Even John McCain has endorsed Donald Trump — a man you said was ‘a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.’ Only you, Ted Cruz, stands firm.”
“Yes,” Cruz said. His foot was tapping nervously under the table. With an effort, he stilled it.
“You are all right, Ted, aren’t you?” his conscience asked.
“Of course I am,” Cruz said. Across the room, he could hear Lindsey Graham speaking disdainfully about someone else. Someone pointed at him and he thought he heard the word “statesmanlike.” Earlier that week he had telephoned John Boehner to ask what the man thought of him, and the phrase “lucifer in the flesh” had not come up a single time. It was disconcerting. He tried hard to focus on the conscience seated at the table with him. “I’m wonderful. Of course, I am. I’m not some sort of lizard-monster who thrives on people’s disdain. I have principles.”
“I knew you did,” his conscience said, happily.
They said no more about it until a few days ago.
His conscience had just flipped the sign to indicate that 60 days had passed with Cruz held in respect and admiration.
“Just about a month to go,” his conscience said, whistling. “I’m excited that you’re going to vote for the candidate I pick. You can’t vote for Trump. You said if people voted for him, ‘this country could well plunge into the abyss.'”
“Yes,” Cruz said, uneasily. “But I always said that, you know. About all kinds of things. I didn’t always mean it.”
“Oh,” his conscience said. “Well. But.”
“Not that I didn’t mean it that time,” Cruz added, hastily, putting on his coat and adjusting his tie.
“Where are you going, Ted?” his conscience asked.
“Just out,” Cruz snapped. “Can’t I go out? Can’t I do anything?”
“I didn’t realize I was stopping you,” his conscience said, a little taken aback. “You yourself said that you didn’t want to be a ‘servile puppy-dog.’ Your words, not mine.”
“I don’t know!” Cruz snapped. “I’m not used to this! For as long as I have lived in the public eye, from the first moment I alighted in my Princeton dorm room and met screenwriter Craig Mazin, everyone I ever met has despised me. I’m not used to being looked up to! It’s an awful strain, I tell you! An awful strain!” Cruz frowned. “At least servile puppy dogs don’t feel this constant pressure.”
“Don’t say that,” his conscience said, whistling meaningfully.
“Do you always have to follow me around like that, whistling?” Cruz asked. “I hate it.”
“Ted,” his conscience pleaded, “look what happened to Marco. Look what happened to Chris. Do you want to end up like them, braying on that island forever?”
“Well what am I supposed to do? Just stick to my principles? Until 2020? I can’t. Don’t you see, I can’t! This isn’t me! This isn’t who I am.” There was a long pause. “I can’t go on like this.”
The door slammed.
When Ted Cruz came back he smelled like disdain again. It was not a good smell, but at least it was familiar. He didn’t glance up at the Days Without Losing The Respect Of All My Colleagues sign and his conscience did not call attention to it.
“Donald thinks this Internet idea is tops,” he said.
“So he’s Donald again, now?” his conscience asked, drawing itself up to its full height — an inch shorter, it thought, than it had been. “Not ‘pathological liar’? Not ‘serial philanderer’?”
Cruz nodded, morosely, but with a certain grim satisfaction. “It’s Donald,” he said.
The next day the announcement came that he was endorsing Donald Trump. His conscience had expected as much. It packed its bags quickly and took the sign with it. Cruz, it reasoned, would not be needing it any time soon.