With time running out in the Republican primary, the leading conservative magazine National Review threw its support behind Sen. Ted Cruz in an editorial published on Friday.
"Cruz is a brilliant and articulate exponent of our views on the full spectrum of issues," National Review said in its endorsement. "Other Republicans say we should protect the Constitution. Cruz has actually done it."
In January, National Review devoted an entire issue to attacking Donald Trump, publishing more than 20 essays under a glossy cover arguing that the Republican frontrunner was unfit for the presidency.
Trump's campaign didn't suffer from the full-throated criticism. Today's endorsement of Cruz — signed simply by "the Editors" — takes a different approach, instead lavishing praise on Trump's leading opponent and only mentioning the billionaire with a single, thinly veiled reference.
"What matters now is that Cruz is a talented and committed conservative," National Review wrote. "He is also Republicans’ best chance for keeping their presidential nomination from going to someone with low character and worse principles."
(In an interview with Politico, National Review editor Rich Lowry said Cruz was the "only" candidate capable of stopping Trump.)
National Review's endorsement doesn't mention Trump
National Review's 554-word endorsement doesn't just fail to mention Trump's name. It also essentially erases Trump from the story of the Republican primary.
"Conservatives have had difficulty choosing a champion in the presidential race in part because it has featured so many candidates with very good claims on our support," the editors write. "As their number has dwindled, the right choice has become clear: Senator Ted Cruz of Texas."
This is a version of the Republican primary that may be comforting to establishment conservatives — one in which the key challenge this race has been the bounty of presidential candidates, with too many wonderful options to pick just one.
But it's also one that doesn't really square with the facts. Trump's rise hasn't just been the result of conservatives and Republicans failing to unify around a standard-bearer; it's also the result of millions and millions of Republican voters actively flocking to support Trump.
The idea that Trump benefited from a divided field was more credible when he was running at around 30 percent in national polling. But as his competitors have dropped out, the billionaire's polling numbers have only continued to rise — suggesting that many conservatives haven't had trouble finding a presidential candidate at all.
The argument that this makes a difference
National Review's editorial was unsurprisingly greeted with a round of skepticism on Twitter, as some wondered how the publication that couldn't hurt Trump could now hope to help Cruz.
the National Review, having successfully stopped Donald Trump, is now endorsing Ted Cruz: https://t.co/Rj6Ujb1ud9— Colin Campbell (@BKcolin) March 11, 2016
But if you buy the narrative that what has partly doomed the anti-Trump movement was the "tragedy of the commons," there's an argument here that National Review's push could help make a difference.
Cruz is hated by conservatives in Washington, DC. The New York Times has reported that Cruz's posturing has so inflamed his Senate colleagues that they may consider Trump a better choice. Sen. Lindsey Graham has joked, "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you."
In its endorsement, National Review directly addressed this dynamic, telling Republican politicians to get over whatever grievances they may have with Cruz.
"We do not wish to adjudicate all the conflicts between Cruz’s Senate colleagues and him. He has sometimes made tactical errors, in our judgment; but conflicts have also arisen because his colleagues have lacked direction, clarity, and urgency," the editorial said. "In any case, these conflicts pale into insignificance in light of Republicans’ shared interest in winning in November and governing successfully thereafter."
After Super Tuesday on March 1, when 12 states voted in the Republican primary, Cruz began advancing the argument that he would be the only possible kryptonite to Trump.
"We have seen that our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten, that can beat, and that will beat Donald Trump," he said in his campaign rally.
It looks like Cruz is successfully convincing at least some conservatives that he really is the candidate with the best shot of stopping Trump. Now he just has to prove it.