There’s a classic story that explains why it makes sense to keep trying even after it seemingly makes absolutely no sense to keep trying.
A thief sentenced to hang the next morning tells the king, “Sir, you are making a huge mistake. Let me live and in one year I can teach your stallion to speak.” The king mulls this over and says, “I will give you this year to perform such a miracle, but when you have failed, your death will be swift.”
So the silver-tongued devil goes to the stables to start teaching equine English, and one of the other lads says, “Why did you do promise that? You know you can’t teach that horse to talk.” The thief replied, smiling, “Because in the next year the king may die. The horse may die. I may die. Or the horse may speak.”
Any chance is far better than no chance at all, and when facing imminent defeat, you buy time because that’s all they’ll sell you.
Sen. Ted Cruz took abuse last week for announcing that Carly Fiorina, the unsuccessful presidential candidate and handily defeated U.S. Senate candidate, will be his vice presidential running mate if he wins the Republican presidential nomination.
And yes, it’s true that his path to the nomination involves a midair collision between planes holding Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, John Boehner and John Kasich. But Cruz, whose only concern now is winning Indiana so his campaign can live to simper another day, made what he felt was the best play available.
It’s easy to wonder, couldn’t he have picked someone not already rejected by Republican voters? But if Cruz could have, he would have. Fiorina was the most prominent Republican in the nation willing to commit to a flailing campaign to serve in a nonexistent administration, so she got the gig. He needed some headlines. He got some. It won’t work, but since when do we value quitting over making losing plays?
And really, Cruz’s hopes are no less realistic than Sen. Bernie Sanders’ belief that after spending basically his professional life telling Democratic luminaries they’re sellouts to the establishment and spending the past six months claiming the superdelegate system is a political perversion, he can now rally the superdelegates to his cause and away from the side of their spiritual leader, Hillary Clinton. Or Kasich’s plan to continue loitering in strategic small meeting areas across the nation until Republican voters notice they are about to nominate Trump and someone yells, “Hold on. Have we really thought this through?” Kasich is running as if the crushing losses are just a big misunderstanding of the “I’m sure we’ll all look back on this and laugh at the idea you’d vote for this guy over me someday” variety.
And yet there’s no reason we should encourage them to quit, and no other realm of American life in which we do encourage people to quit. When my University of South Carolina Gamecocks are down 28 points with three minutes left, which is to say every week of football season, I still want them throwing bombs.
You play to win for as long as you can, using the best weapons at your disposal. Although when Cruz realized the best weapon at his disposal was Fiorina singing lullabies at a news conference that sounded as if they were devised to lure his children into a gingerbread house, I imagine thoughts of a concession speech began to form.
Despite their considerable efforts, Cruz, Kasich and Sanders have failed to make the horses speak. And if they haven’t yet, they won’t. That doesn’t mean they should rush to meet the king’s sword. It just means they should realize they can’t avoid it.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.