If I told you at the start of the 2016 race that Mitt Romney would vote for Ted Cruz in the Utah caucuses and that Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham would endorse the Texas senator's presidential campaign, you would have laughed. Probably loudly.
Cruz was -- and is -- hated by the Republican Party establishment, who view him as a grandstander with little interest in any of the niceties of politics. Cruz is the guy who doesn't play well with others, and whom others dislike -- a lot -- for that unwillingness to go along to get along.
And yet, here we are. All of those things have come to pass with Bush's endorsement -- he called Cruz a "consistent, principled conservative" in a Facebook post Wednesday morning -- the latest domino to fall. What is now beyond dispute is that Ted Cruz, the most hated man in Washington Republican circles, is the establishment GOP candidate in the presidential race. As Cruz put it this morning in an appearance on CNN: "If you think about it, in the last 10 days we've been endorsed by Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Mike Lee and Mark Levin. I mean, you want to talk about a broad coalition [that is] ideologically diverse? That covers the entire spectrum of the Republican Party."
He's right. It's stunning. S-T-U-N-N-I-N-G.
If you told me a year ago that Donald Trump would be the front-runner for the Republican nomination, I would have been surprised. Maybe very surprised. But I would have likely been able to see a path for how Trump got there -- capitalizing on the anger in the electorate and the strong desire to elect a true outsider. If you told me a year ago that Ted Cruz would be the establishment Republican pick in the race, I wouldn't have believed you. There was simply no way that I could conceptualize how that might occur. None.
This is what Trump hath wrought. Only in an election in which Trump, someone many within the GOP establishment believe is dangerous to their party and to the country, has emerged as the favorite would Cruz even be considered as an option for party poobahs. But, at root, these people are pragmatists. They understand that only Cruz has won primaries and caucuses outside his home state (sorry John Kasich!) and believe that, unlike Trump, Cruz is actually a committed conservative. In a binary choice election, which is what we have (sorry John Kasich!), if you don't want Candidate A, you get Candidate B.
Don't mistake the establishment's rallying behind Cruz as genuine support for either the man or his ideas. There is a roughly zero percent chance that Jeb Bush, for instance, thinks Ted Cruz is a great pick to be the Republican nominee or would be a great president. He doesn't. Neither does Romney. And you know Lindsey Graham doesn't. The lining-up behind Cruz is solely aimed at trying to stop Trump from getting to 1,237 delegates before the Republican National Convention.
What the establishment hopes will happen then is not that Cruz will become the nominee -- remember, they still don't like him -- but that the Texas Republican, having served his purpose by keeping it from Trump, will be replaced by a more palatable alternative like, say, Kasich. Of course, this is the most wishful of thinking since it's virtually impossible to imagine that the convention delegates will pass over not only the candidate with the most delegates but also the candidate with the second-most delegates in order to pick someone who may only win a single state in the primary and caucus process.
So, there's that. But, for the next 76 days -- a.k.a. between now and the June 7 California vote that ends the primary process -- Cruz holds the hopes of the entire establishment in his hands. That's a sentence I never, ever, ever thought I would write, and it provides further proof that 2016 is the front-runner right now for the title of weirdest and most unpredictable election ever.