Ted Cruz Derails the Convention
As soon as it was clear beyond doubt that Senator Ted Cruz wasn't going to endorse Donald Trump in his speech at the Republican convention, it was also clear that Cruz's speech was the only one that was going to be discussed the next day. Mike Pence, the vice presidential nominee, gave a conservative speech that almost all Republicans could applaud. But nothing in it could compete for attention with the blow to party unity that Cruz -- and the delegates who booed him off stage -- delivered.
And that Trump and his allies compounded. Newt Gingrich, speaking after Cruz, was smart enough to know that it would be a mistake to rebuke him frontally. Instead, he tried to remold Cruz's non-endorsement into an endorsement. Cruz (who I should note is an old friend) had said that voters should pick the candidate they can trust to protect the Constitution. Gingrich said that in practice that should compel them to vote for Trump.
This was the obviously sensible political response for Trump supporters. Say that Cruz's congratulations to Trump were appreciated, mention his case against Hillary Clinton and move on. Instead, everyone from Chris Christie to General Mike Flynn to anonymous Republican National Committee functionaries lit into Cruz as a traitor.
This was political malpractice in multiple respects. Remember: Trump and his campaign agreed to let Cruz speak at the convention even if he didn't endorse the nominee. They agreed, that is, to allow what Trump's people are now treating as a calamity. They could've easily foreseen what Cruz would do, and thus should've agreed on what they would all say about a non-endorsement. But Gingrich's prepared remarks simply assumed that Cruz was going to make an endorsement he hadn't promised to make, and Gingrich had to wing his response -- a response that none of the other people in Trumpworld echoed.
Trump himself got into the act with a tweet saying that Cruz had broken his pledge to support the nominee (a pledge that Trump himself had said he wouldn't honor), that Cruz had been booed, that he had seen the text of the speech and allowed it to proceed, and that it was no big deal. These were a lot of points to convey in one tweet, and one must again admire Trump's concision. But the existence of the tweet would seem to suggest that Trump thought the speech was a big deal, and that he needed to say something about it. And his claim to have approved the speech both undercuts his complaint about it and underscores the amateurishness of his campaign.
Cruz has taken a big gamble with his political career. In the short run, he will pay a price. But he would've paid a political price, too, if he got a reputation as a man who shrugged off malicious attacks on his family -- Trump had insulted his wife and his father -- for the sake of elections. (To say nothing of the moral price.)
Three days in, this convention seems to be setting back rather than advancing Republican unity -- and, as ever, the deepest source of disunity is the candidate himself.
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