The Slatest

Ted Cruz Just Promised Not to Snatch the Nomination at a Brokered Convention—or Did He?

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz at the CNN Republican presidential debate, March 10, 2016 in Miami, Florida.

Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images

In one of the rare seemingly newsworthy moments during Thursday’s CNN debate, Sen. Ted Cruz appeared to reject the possibility that he might attempt to snatch the Republican nomination from Donald Trump in a brokered convention if the celebrity mogul and current front-runner had the highest delegate count.

“There are some in Washington who are having fever dreams of a broken convention. They’re unhappy with how the people are voting and they want to parachute in their favorite Washington candidate to be the nominee. I think that would be an absolute disaster,” Cruz said when asked about the possibility that he might overtake Trump at the convention. “We need to respect the will of the voters.”

It sounds like Cruz is definitively rejecting the brokered convention idea, right? If you parse his words closely, though, it becomes clear that he isn’t. Cruz—a college debate champion—used cleverly legalistic language to justify his own position heading into any potential contested convention, and to dismiss that of his rivals.

What Cruz says “would be an absolute disaster” would be for the Republican establishment to allow a candidate they prefer—like Sen. Marco Rubio or Gov. John Kasich—or a noncandidate like Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan to claim the nomination on a second ballot. If a candidate who is not a “favorite Washington candidate”—perhaps a senator who is roundly loathed by his Washington colleagues, just for example—were to win the nomination at a brokered convention, Cruz would be all good with that.

For his part, Trump said definitively that the person with the highest delegate count should be the nominee. “If Marco, if the governor [Kasich], if Ted had more votes than me in the form of delegates … I think that whoever gets the most delegates should win,” he said. That would certainly seem to be the fairest approach. It’s also easy for him to say, because he’s likely going to have the most delegates.

The two candidates who Cruz and Trump both argued, correctly, have no hope of gaining a plurality of delegates, meanwhile, made no such assurances.

“Math doesn’t tell the whole story in politics,” said Kasich. “The great thing about politics, the reason why we watch it, is because what’s true today is not necessarily true tomorrow. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” That was a way to avoid saying he wouldn’t try to steal the nomination from candidates who received more votes than he did.

Rubio, meanwhile, also hedged on the question.

One person who seemed to hedge less was RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who opened the debate by saying, “this party is going to support the nominee, whoever that is, 100 percent.” But even that was a hedge! The party will support the eventual nominee (even Trump), but that person will have to navigate the convention first, brokered or not. Cleveland is going to be fun!

Read more Slate coverage of the GOP primary.