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Cruz Picks His Dream Team But Can't Escape Reality

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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What a day: On Wednesday, we got to see Senator Ted Cruz introduce his imaginary friend and vice-presidential pick, Carly Fiorina, to jump start his imaginary path to the White House. We were also treated to Donald Trump’s jumbled foreign policy speech that invoked the Nazi-appeasing America First movement of the 1930s.

Trump and Cruz barely slept after Tuesday’s primaries. Hours after Trump’s clean sweep of five Northeastern states, he was at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington to finally put flesh on the bones of his foreign policy. Much was made of his using a teleprompter -- how presidential! -- but it was still pretty sketchy: “ISIS will be gone,” he promised without saying how. And he reprised some old favorites: “Instead of taking charge that night, Hillary Clinton decided to go home and sleep,” he said of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. He’ll build up the military without spending a dime. He’ll punish China with tariffs but rely on it to rein in North Korea.

QuickTake How the U.S. Elects Its Presidents

There was nothing in the speech to mollify the dozens of top Republicans who wrote an open letter last month calling Trump’s positions “wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle.” 

But the fickle finger of campaign coverage moved on so quickly that critics were hardly heard from before Cruz was gearing up for his moment in the limelight, which was bizarre even by the standards of this campaign. Just hours after getting trounced in five more primaries, Cruz was teasing “an important announcement.”

That turned out to be his choice of Fiorina, which was supposed to counteract that “the mainstream media, the New York media executives and the Washington lobbyists are all trying to tell the American people the race is over.” 

That might be because it is. Cruz can hunt and peck his way through various state delegations picking up strays, but there is no longer any way for him to amass the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination before the convention. His pact with Governor John Kasich, the adult in the race, may hold and leave Indiana open, but it is unlikely to help. Trump has a big lead in Hoosier land. He trotted out the mythical basketball coach Bobby Knight (the day after Cruz called a basketball net a ring instead of a rim), and continued to pick up unbound delegates.     

Look at the unbounds in Pennsylvania. They don’t have to bind themselves to Trump but are doing so anyway. Among unbounds in other states, there is a trickle now going to Trump. As we get closer to July, it will be a flood. Party insiders don’t want to be left outside. 

As spectacles go, Cruz’s unveiling of his vice president was up there with Clinton’s claim to be dead broke, Governor Christie’s hammering of Senator Marco Rubio for being repetitive, Rubio’s small-hands innuendo about Trump, and Howard Dean’s scream.

Wednesday will long be remembered for Fiorina breaking into a song about Cruz’s daughters. To the tune of Irving Berlin’s “You’re Just in Love,” she sang: “I know two girls that I just adore. I’m so happy I can see them more. ’Cause we travel on the bus all day, we get to play, we get to play.” 

She may have put more work into the ditty than went into Trump’s foreign policy presentation, but it sure was more cringe-inducing. Fiorina’s musical interlude was intended to humanize Cruz but the stiffness and incongruity almost had the opposite effect of making his campaign seem more scripted, robotic and desperate.

Early on, Cruz was afraid to criticize Trump, betting that the mogul would flame out and that he would inherit his supporters. Now, Cruz’s every breath is aimed at casting Trump out of the race, the human one if he could. Cruz knows how to hate. That’s one reason that almost anyone who has worked with him -- except for a few colleagues holding their noses in their effort to stop Trump -- can’t bring themselves to support him. On Wednesday, speaking at Stanford University, former Speaker John Boehner called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh” and a “miserable son of a bitch.”  

Like Trump’s speech, Cruz’s announcement Wednesday afternoon was not off the cuff. He “thought long and hard" and sought counsel from “prayer” before picking Fiorina among the many who may have been clamoring to be called to serve with him in his make-believe administration. 

“All of us remember the grace, the class, the élan with which Carly responded,” said Cruz recalling her riposte to Trump’s insult about her face.

If Trump has Christie, Cruz now has a failed Mistress of the Universe (fired from Hewlett-Packard) and unsuccessful candidate for the Senate in California in 2010 at his side. When asked if he would follow Cruz’s lead, Trump said, absolutely not. Even for the mercurial reality-television star, selecting a vice president at this stage is too out-there. The last time it was tried it ended badly. Ronald Reagan named Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker as his running mate ahead of a contested convention in 1976, a move that was widely derided as desperate. Gerald Ford won the nomination.

With his unremarkable speech, Trump still trumped Cruz for the day. Critics held their fire. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, once a critic, tweeted nice things. Even Senator Bob Corker, the serious chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, complimented him, saying that Trump “delivered a very good foreign policy speech.”

The capitulation started last week when party officials at the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting in Florida began quietly, if torturously, explaining how they might, just might, accept the unthinkable and go with the Donald. Since then, resistance has continued to crumble. Trump is rolling down the track and delegates will be scrambling to get on board. Indiana and California are not walls, but a door opening unto the Cleveland convention. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net