Want the perfect illustration of just how uncomfortable the prospect of Donald Trump as the presidential nominee makes many Republicans? Witness what happened on "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
Moderator Chuck Todd asked Ted Cruz a very simple question: "If [Trump is] the nominee, I take it you can't support him anymore, can you?" That's 14 total words.
Cruz spent 772 words responding to the question — Todd chimed in every once in a while to push the Texas senator — and never really got to an answer.
Cruz started off his "answer" by noting that he plans to beat Trump for the nomination. Which is a classic political pivot but is not even close to answering the question. Cruz then moves onto an argument where he eventually settles, which is that the media — as represented by Todd — would like him to give up the fight against Trump because that will ensure Hillary Clinton's election in the fall.
"I recognize that — that many in the media would love for me to surrender to Donald Trump," Cruz said. "Because it means number one that Hillary wins." His evidence? That there hasn't been a debate on the Republican side in 50 days. "Even though the media stands to make millions of dollars off of the debate, you hear radio silence from the media about no debates," Cruz noted. "They're giving up millions of dollars. And the reason is your network's executives are partisan Democrats."
Just in case you've lost the thread here: Cruz's answer to the question of whether he would support Trump as the Republican nominee is that the media is protecting Trump from any real competition because the executives at the cable networks — ratings be damned! — are partisans who want to rig the race for Clinton.
Riiiiiight. (Dr. Evil voice.)
Increasingly desperate, Cruz resorts to attacking the questioner. "Chuck, Chuck, you're welcome — you're welcome to lobby for support for Trump as much as possible," he said. "We are going to beat Trump because Trump's winning the nomination loses the country."
Now, Chuck is a friend but COME ON. Asking whether a Republican candidate who is trailing would endorse the leading GOP candidate is the furthest thing from "lobbying" anyone to do anything. Given the state of the race and the fact that most polling puts Cruz behind Trump in Indiana's primary, a state the Texas senator has cast as a must-win, the will-you-endorse question is one of the only relevant questions for Cruz.
Cruz is grasping at straws. We will win! The media is biased! You are all secret Clinton agents! We will win!
At this point, you have undoubtedly asked yourself why Cruz, who clearly doesn't believe Trump is a real Republican or is anywhere close to qualified to be president, doesn't say just that. And the answer to that question is simple: Cruz still thinks there is a path where he winds up as the nominee — he's right, although that path is narrowing — and he knows that he can't afford to alienate any large swath of Trump supporters. He, like Mike Pence before him, is scared of hurting his own political prospects by too openly clashing with the Trump forces.
Which is, of course, Cruz's right. But his inability to offer even the outlines of a coherent answer to the Trump question is the perfect articulation of just how hard a pill the Donald is to swallow for many Republicans. And that Cruz is desperately trying to have it both ways — and failing — at exactly the worst time for his campaign.