Last night Ted Cruz addressed the Republican National Convention. You can find the full text of the speech here. You can watch the minute relevant to this post and to the current news cycle below. It should be noted that throughout the speech Cruz only said Trump’s name once and that was to congratulate him on winning the nomination. He even included complimentary things about the idea of building the wall. He never said a negative thing about Trump, but the absence of an endorsement was extremely loud.
You could call the reaction in the hall mixed. You could call it that if you managed to hear his words over the boos of the crowd. How bad was the reaction in the arena? Well Ted’s wife Heidi Cruz had to be escorted from the room by security because people were physically approaching her and being verbally abusive. Then when the Cruzs tried to get into the sweet of major GOP donor Sheldon Adelson they were turned away. I feel obligated to say Adelson is one of the biggest forces in this country behind keeping online poker illegal, so I have something of a personal grudge against the man.
First things first though, why would Cruz do this? There are three possibilities, and it could really be any combination of the three.
- Cruz is bitter he lost. Cruz, as a losing candidate, is bringing more delegates to the convention than anyone else in that spot has had in decades. That can be a tough pill to swallow especially for someone whose rise has been as rapid as Cruz’s has.
- The comments Trump has made about Cruz’s family. Ignoring Trump calling Cruz ‘Lyin’ Ted’ every day for six months, Trump insinuated Cruz’s father was in on the JFK assassination, and we also shouldn’t forget Trump’s tweets comparing the looks of their wives. It was clear at the time that Cruz found the attacks on his wife completely out of bounds and to ask Cruz to endorse the man who said such things about his family is quite the stretch.
- He’s setting himself up for 2020. This is the big gamble. It’s possible GOP voters won’t forget this in much the same way the several hour tour of storm destruction in New Jersey with President Obama is still held again Chris Christie. It’s also possible an endorsement of Trump is going to become similar to a vote for the Iraq War in the sense that if you did it, it will forever be a commentary on your judgement. (Unless you’re Trump picking a VP, but that’s a different post.)
Any one of those three could justify Cruz’s decision. I lean towards the third point being the biggest because of some of the content in the rest of Cruz’s speech because up until the ‘vote your conscience’ moment it really was a traditional stump speech. Lines from the speech like, “Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist. Gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience,” really sound like the words of a candidate getting ready to run and trying to reach out to different voting groups. This speech could be remembered along the lines of Reagan in ’76 if Cruz plays the next four years correctly.
I want to say two other brief things about the content of the speech before talking more about the lack of the endorsement since this is probably the only post I’ll have time to do about the convention as a whole. The line ‘vote your conscience’ getting booed is notable because of how much the GOP has been relying on the whole idea of people going with their conscience against the government and that being important. You hear that line about conscience when Republicans defend businesses discriminating against the LGBT community or refusing to include birth control on employee insurance plans. Now I know people were really booing the lack of unity behind Trump more than the idea of going with your conscience, but in the examples I gave they’re also attacks against the unity of us all being one people more than attacks of conscience.
Also in the speech were the lines, “Our party was founded to defeat slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We passed the Civil Rights Act, and fought to eliminate Jim Crow laws,” Now that I live in Mississippi I find it extremely odd to hear Republican’s claiming Lincoln while at the same time demanding the Confederate flag continue flying as part of the flag of this state and while of the 2,472 national delegates at the convention, a grand total of 18 are black, the lowest percentage in over a century. That’s right, there were more black people invited to the convention when they had to drink out of separate fountains. Someone should also send the memo to Iowa Representative Steve King who gave an interview outside the convention hall insinuating only white people have contributed anything to civilization.
The other key question is did Trump know what Cruz was about to do. Most indicators say yes. Cruz has said that he told Trump to his face he wouldn’t endorse him several weeks ago and told him over the phone on Monday. Trump also claims he had seen the speech, but just that it was a couple hours before as can be seen in Trump’s only response so far to the speech.
Trump knowing ahead of time would also explain Trump entering the convention hall right as Cruz hit the spot that garnered all the boos. That also could have been a coincidence since at a Cruz event earlier in that day the Trump plane flew overhead at a key point in that speech too.
Even if Trump knew, he must not have shared it with the rest of the RNC or they didn’t anticipate the strength of the response. Newt Gingrich spoke immediately after Cruz and had several lines about Cruz’s speech trying to smooth things over, but those lines weren’t in the copy of Newt’s speech that was distributed to the press an hour before he took the stage Given all the issues with getting the RNC and the Trump campaign on the same page with the Melania Plagiarism this could be another case of Trump’s campaign knowing but not including other Republicans in on the process.
It’s tough to say who came out on top here. Did Cruz win because this looks like Trump has no control, can’t unite the party, and had his VP pick entirely overshadowed by his top rival from the primaries? Or does Trump win because this looks like he allows his opponents time to speak their mind, Cruz may have just massively angered 50% of the GOP electorate, and as Trump is fond of saying, “All press is good press?” I don’t think we’ll know for four months. If Trump wins in November then Cruz’s gamble was a failure, but if instead we see Cruz as the final speaker at the 2020 GOP convention then we’ll see many replays of this speech leading up to that moment.