Thursday, July 21, 2016
By Reed Galen
We should all make a pact to quit saying and writing, “I’ve never seen anything like this before…” None of us have seen anything like this before. And it will only get nuttier before November 8th. Last night’s fireworks within the Quicken Arena in Cleveland, though, well, I’ve never seen anything like that before.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was given a prime speaking spot at Donald Trump’s Convention and he made the most of it. Cruz is a very, very talented orator whether you agree with what he says or not. He brings a southern preacher sensibility and energy to his remarks that ramped up crowds from Iowa to Austin earlier this year. He also gave the first coherently conservative speech of the 2016 convention. He laid out, in dramatic fashion, a conservative worldview, as Cruz sees it, that had the delegates on the floor of the Q fired up. And for 18 of the 23 minutes of his speech, Cruz had them eating out of his hand.
Then Cruz did something he must have known would send at least some of the floor into hysterics. Failing to endorse the nominee, Cruz told the Convention, but more importantly told the millions and millions of voters, Republican and otherwise, that they should “vote their conscience” in November. The New York delegation, as if on cue, went bananas. They screamed at him. They taunted him with “Endorse Trump” chants, they got much of the rest of the floor booing him as well. Perhaps Cruz didn’t expect the level of negative energy that his comments would generate, but watching him finish his speech, he put himself in the zone and pushed through despite the catcalls and epithets. It was extraordinary political theater.
And much like the hot-mess that the balance of the Republican National Convention has been, we should not be surprised by what Ted Cruz did last night. He has consistently been willing to piss off everyone he can find to support his own vision and his own brand. Ted Cruz doesn’t just wait for trouble to find him, he upsets every applecart he can find and comes out smiling on the other end. He is a man who does not fear the scorn, ridicule and vitriol of his opponents — he relishes it.
As Patrick Ruffini noted on Twitter last night, many members of the Republican Establishment were cheering on Cruz as he stood up for his principles; the same thing so many of those same Establishmentarians lambasted Cruz for in so many other instances. Lastly, Donald Trump said horrible things about Ted Cruz, his father and his wife. Politics may be personal — and Cruz showed he was willing to take his revenge in a very, very public way.
More than just ripping out whatever loose sutures were holding the GOP and the Convention together, Cruz immeasurably raised the bar for Donald Trump’s acceptance speech tonight. Cruz gave an excellent recitation of why America needs conservatism; he did it with passion, fire and even a little charisma.
Trump will have to take the stage tonight and read a speech written by God knows who, from a TelePrompTer he clearly hates and deny every natural fiber of his being to attack, attack, attack. It’s been pointed out in outlets across the spectrum that few, if any of the speakers, have so far explained Donald Trump’s vision for America. “I’ll get to it when I win,” isn’t going to do it tonight.
Can Trump inspire with the anger that comes so naturally to him? Can he articulate a vision in which Americans, all of us, we be in a better place with him at the helm of the ship of state? Lambasting Hillary Clinton for 40 minutes will only serve to reinforce the votes of the 40% he already has. Can he speak to the famers in rural Colorado, the families of those who’ve lost kids to opioids in New Hampshire and the young urbanite in Chicago? Does Trump understand the difference between speaking to the crowd before him and the tens of millions watching at home? Regardless of what Trump says tonight, it will likely be unlike anything many of us have seen or can remember.
Governor Mike Pence gave a very good vice presidential nominating speech. He engaged just enough Hoosier “aw shucks” charm to engage the audience. His remarks were well written and did what Pence will have to do for the next four months: Explain why Donald Trump should be president when the nominee himself is unable to do so.
Watching Pence speak last night reaffirmed that his selection may be the only smart pro-active political decision Trump has made in the last year. Mike Pence, like Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin before him, will take the opportunity to not just support Trump’s campaign, but introduce himself to American voters across the map.
The Trump campaign’s press strategy continues to confound. In the middle of Night 3 of the Implosion on the Erie, Donald Trump decided to do a lengthy interview with the New York Times. They continue to step on themselves and their message (what there is of it) with reckless abandon. In true Trump fashion, though, he made news that overshadowed the rest of the Convention. This time? As President, Trump would only defend NATO members whom have “paid their fair share” — upsetting the 70 year foundation of security policy and giving V.V. Putin one more reason to pop open the vodka bottle.