Well, that was interesting. How many times can you say that? The announced theme of the first night of the Republican (Trump) National Convention was Make America Safe Again, but that will be no more than a bit of political trivia one day. No one will remember anything from that first night other than Melania Trump giving a speech about how wonderful her husband was, much of which was lifted word-for-word from the 2008 convention speech Michelle Obama gave, about how wonderful her husband was. That was interesting, and that led to two days of the Trump people saying this wasn’t plagiarism at all – just Hillary Clinton out to destroy a rival strong woman, as she always does, even if Hillary Clinton wisely said no word about Melania Trump’s speech. She didn’t have to. Everyone saw the side-by-side texts and heard the side-by-side clips. Everyone was laughing. Then, after two days – Monday evening to Wednesday afternoon – a Trump staffer finally admitted it was her fault. She rewrote the speech. She did the plagiarizing, and she was really sorry, and she had offered to resign, but Donald Trump would’t hear of it. He then gleefully tweeted out that all publicity is good publicity (“all press is good press”) and that was that. That also ate up two days of news cycles. Make America Safe Again? What?
The announced theme for the second night was Make America Work Again – but there was no talk of the jobs and the economy. After Rudy Giuliani foamed at the mouth for a bit – it seems we’re all going to die if America elects Hillary – Chris Christie launched into his call-and-response indictment of everything Hilary Clinton had ever done wrong. With each item he’d asked if she was guilty. They’d shout out GUILTY! The crowd would then chant LOCK HER UP! This went on for what seemed like an hour, getting more intense with each call and response. Christie really had them whipped up.
Nicholas Kristof has a bit of a problem with that:
There has been lots of venom here at the Republican National Convention, and today it came down to this: A Trump delegate and adviser publicly urged that Hillary Clinton should be put in front of a firing squad and executed for treason.
Al Baldasaro, a Republican state representative from New Hampshire who spoke up as a veteran for Trump earlier in the campaign, suggested that Clinton should be shot for telling lies about Benghazi and mishandling emails.
That was interesting, but Kristof has spent decades as a foreign correspondent and knows that one thing does lead to another:
In democracies, it’s natural to denounce opponents. But it’s in tin-pot dictatorships that opponents are locked up. When you’ve covered autocracies in countries where politicians are actually locked up after losing power struggles, you really don’t aspire for that in your own country.
This trend toward demonizing the opposition reached its apotheosis with Carson tying Clinton to the devil and Baldasaro saying that she should be executed.
“I’m a veteran that went to Desert Shield, Desert Storm,” he said on The Kuhner Report, a talk radio show based in Boston. “I’m also a father who sent a son to war, to Iraq, as a Marine Corps helicopter avionics technician. Hillary Clinton to me is the Jane Fonda of the Vietnam. She is a disgrace for the lies that she told those mothers about their children that got killed over there in Benghazi. She dropped the ball on over 400 emails requesting back up security. Something’s wrong there.”
“This whole thing disgusts me,” he said. “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
Baldasaro later stood by his remarks when journalists reached out to him. On Twitter, he wrote, “As an American, I believe in the Constitution, freedom of speech and the rule of law: No one is above the law, not even Clinton.”
And thus she should die, or maybe not:
The Secret Service said it was investigating the comments, and the Trump campaign disavowed them, if not the man who made them. Hope Hicks, the Trump campaign’s spokeswoman, told NH1 News in New Hampshire that Baldasaro “doesn’t speak for the campaign,” and then added, “We’re incredibly grateful for his support, but we don’t agree with his comments.”
When a presidential campaign has to clarify that it does not favor executing its opponent, maybe that reflects a larger problem.
Perhaps it does. As for good jobs for everyone and a red-hot economy… well, it seems that discussion of that will have to wait.
That was two lost nights, where the announced theme magically disappeared. Perhaps Trump isn’t a masterful manager of everything – but that couldn’t happen three nights in a row. The third night was Mike Pence’s night. Trump’s running mate would introduce himself to America – a calm and pleasant and level-headed person to balance out the ticket. What could go wrong?
That’s where things got interesting again. Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin report on the unexpected Cruz missile:
Republican leaders tried to pivot to the general election on Wednesday night but instead watched their convention erupt into a bitter replay of the presidential nomination fight as Senator Ted Cruz pointedly refused to endorse his former rival, Donald J. Trump, and was shouted down by furious delegates.
In the most electric moment of the convention, a growing chorus of delegates chanted “Vote for Trump!” and “Keep Your Pledge” as Mr. Cruz neared the end of his 20-minute speech and it became clear that he was going to snub Mr. Trump.
“I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation,” Mr. Cruz said dryly about Mr. Trump’s home-state supporters – only to have Mr. Trump himself, stone-faced and clearly angry, appear suddenly in the convention hall and flash a thumbs-up at the delegates.
As they say, oh shit, and then it got really interesting:
Mr. Cruz was all but drowned out as he asked for God’s blessing on the country and left the stage, while security personnel escorted his wife, Heidi, out of the hall. One delegate yelled “Goldman Sachs!” at her – a reference to the company that has employed her, a job that Mr. Trump attacked during the primaries.
And it started out so well:
Mr. Cruz, who initially received an extended standing ovation from the delegates, took shots at Mrs. Clinton and highlighted conservative policy goals…
“Hillary Clinton believes government should make virtually every choice in your life,” Mr. Cruz said. “Education, health care, marriage, speech – all dictated out of Washington.”
That’s red meat to these folks, and may get Cruz the nomination the next time around, and others had the same idea:
Another onetime rival of Mr. Trump, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, also sounded like a future candidate as he highlighted his record in his home state and went after Mrs. Clinton with more gusto, focusing minimally on Mr. Trump.
“Hillary Clinton is the ultimate liberal Washington insider,” Mr. Walker said. “If she were any more on the inside, she’d be in prison” – a line met with resounding cheers and a chant popular with the delegates this week, “Lock her up!”
Yeah, but there was the other guy – Mike Pence was forgotten even if that wasn’t the plan:
Mr. Trump, in an effort to seize command of the convention, tried to create a presidential tableau as he arrived in Cleveland on Wednesday.
After his Trump-branded jet landed midafternoon, Mr. Trump flew in a Trump helicopter to a grassy patch near the convention arena – a theatrical projection of high status captured by cable news cameras. Then, to the theme music from “Air Force One” – a film about a gutsy president who kills a terrorist with his bare hands – Mr. Trump alighted from the chopper to give Mr. Pence a handshake and kissed his daughters.
And then Ted Cruz ruined everything. Frank Bruni explains that this way:
Cruz used a prime-time speech on Wednesday night not to endorse Trump or to say anything positive about him but to play a mischievous, misanthropic game of subverted expectations.
And it was clearly a game to Cruz, who constructed his remarks in a manner designed to leave the audience guessing for as long as possible about whether he’d ever work his way around to even the tiniest, most tentative pitch for the party’s nominee.
There was a flickering promise of it at the start. “I congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination last night,” Cruz said. “And like each of you, I want to see the principles that our party believes prevail in November.”
But while he detailed those principles, he never did connect them to Trump. “Congratulate” was the sum of his good will – and the end of it. It didn’t foretell anything more specific. It didn’t build to anything grander.
When Trump supporters finally realized that it wouldn’t and that Cruz was just running out the clock, they booed him, loudly enough to drown out some of his final sentences. It was stunning to behold.
And it wasn’t the last surprise. Just then, Trump decided to make his entrance into the arena, pulling the attention – and the cameras – away from Cruz. The boos turned into applause. The cameras didn’t even bother with Cruz’s exit from the stage.
But Cruz had made his point and done his damage, providing the latest (and most vivid) illustration of how little control Trump has been able to exert over his own coronation, how much rancor he has failed to exorcise, how few bridges he has succeeded in repairing, how far short he has fallen in making these four days in Cleveland as dazzling and exciting as he’d long promised they would be.
In this case, Trump ran into an ego almost as big as his:
Cruz had been invited to speak because, well, he had to be, given how much support and how many delegates he’d amassed during the Republican primaries. He’d earned the right, and there were people in the arena eager to hear from him.
But he had no obligation to accept that invitation, not to a convention that was being skipped by so many of Trump’s other vanquished rivals, including John Kasich, the Ohio governor, whose own state was playing host to the event.
By saying yes, Cruz was suggesting that he’d play nice and play along, or at least that’s what he should have been telegraphing. If his convictions precluded such obedience, he could have stayed home. He could have stayed mum. That would have spoken plenty loudly.
But Cruz isn’t much for mum. It violates his very nature to resist an audience of millions of television viewers and the chance to make an elaborate show of principle, even if it’s a much greater exhibit of self-regard.
And thus we got what we got:
Bygones were not bygones. He didn’t update his onetime description of Trump as “utterly amoral” with anything newer and gentler. He talked of himself, of America and of Election Day, saying: “We deserve leaders who stand for principle, unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love.”
He clearly wasn’t evoking Trump, and he seemed not to realize that he was listing virtues that he was ignoring at the very moment, with those very words.
“Please,” he said, “don’t stay home in November. Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience.” It was then that his smile was naughtiest, because he’d put “your conscience” where he could so easily have tucked “for Trump.”
“Vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution,” he continued. Candidates plural. Not the singular candidate whom the evening was supposed to exalt.
Pence didn’t stand a chance:
Later, Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, made his big convention speech, but it was doomed before it started, because there was no way it could garner the attention that Cruz’s did. Cruz had to know that. It didn’t throw him off his revenge, and it threw this mess of a convention ever further off the rails.
Trump does have trouble putting on a show, but Josh Marshall argues it’s more than that:
As you know, I believe in my heart that Ted Cruz is an odious weasel. I base this on observing him for years now and on the accounts and traumas of many close friends who’ve known him for far longer. But that was a singular moment. Convention managers don’t let unexpected things happen. If Ted Cruz had simply not mentioned Trump, it would have been a mild deal but not a huge thing. He did much more than that. He affirmatively not only refused to endorse Trump but exhorted fellow Republicans not to vote for Trump. Yes, he used the coded phrasing “vote your conscience.” But in context that meant with crystal clarity: Your Republican identity in no way obligates you to vote for Donald Trump. Rather ‘vote your conscience’ and do not vote for Donald Trump. Because a conservative true to his conscience cannot do so.
The first thing to say about this is that there is simply no way Trump’s and Priebus’s convention managers okayed that speech. No way. The fact that they allowed him on stage to give that speech will go down as one of the greatest organizational pratfalls in convention history. Whether Cruz got them to agree not to review the speech or whether he substituted another speech, I don’t know. But something very wrong went down there.
The second goes to the heart of Trump’s campaign. As I’ve noted on so many fronts over recent months, Trump’s brand is dominance. Trump acts; others comply. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. That’s the story he’s sold his supporters. It’s the essence of his political message. Trump dominates; his enemies are humiliated. Even ‘friends’ like Christie and Pence are relegated to a golden cage of perpetual dignity loss.
That’s what makes this interesting:
In this interaction, Cruz came into Trump’s house, Trump’s party and humiliated him. There’s no other way to put it. The crowd booed; Trump literally came out into the hall to pull the cameras off Cruz and according to reporters on the scene security escorted Cruz’s wife out of the hall for her own safety.
Cruz just made himself dead to the institutional Republican Party for the next four months. But he imbued himself with an image of courage, valor and general badassery for basically every Republican opposing Trump from the ideological right.
Cruz somehow managed to get on that stage without giving a promise or simply broke his promise. But the upshot is that he came into Trump’s house and stomped him hard. That is not how it’s supposed to work on Trump’s turf. But Cruz just turned the tables on him.
The rest was just awkward:
After a non-endorsement from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) drew persistent boos Wednesday night from an irritable Republican National Committee crowd, Newt Gingrich made an off-the-cuff effort to get the evening back on track.
Cruz inflamed attendees by not explicitly endorsing his former 2016 rival. Even though Gingrich took the stage amid residual boos, the former House speaker praised all the ex-2016 contenders for their role in the convention.
“With no requirement for endorsement, [Trump] encouraged his competitors to speak once again,” he said. “Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Scott Walker, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz have all responded to Donald comes generosity.”
Gingrich continued: “So, to paraphrase Ted Cruz, if you want to protect the Constitution of the United States, the only possible candidate this fall is the Trump-Pence Republican ticket.”
That was an ad-lib:
None of those statements were included in Gingrich’s prepared remarks supplied to reporters by the convention committee, giving the appearance that they were added last-minute as a response to Cruz.
The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza captured a shot of Gingrich’s TelePrompTer which suggested the former lawmaker was expecting Cruz to more forcefully back Trump.
“Senator Ted Cruz in particular made the key point that we need to elect the Trump-Pence Republican ticket,” the monitor read.
Well, he couldn’t read that line now, and there was this:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) slammed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as “self-absorbed” after Cruz did not explicitly endorse Donald Trump in his speech to the Republican convention Wednesday.
“The question was whether Cruz would make his speech about HIS future or the future of the country,” Huckabee said in a Facebook post. “That question was answered when Ted Cruz chose to not keep his word that he (along with me and every other GOP candidate) gave one year ago in that very arena where tonight he put his own ambitions above country.”
Huckabee did his best:
“Trump trusted Ted and was rewarded with a betrayal, but the delegates in that arena booed Cruz off the stage and out of Cleveland,” Huckabee said. “When a person is treated with generosity to give a speech, he should either respond with respect or graciously decline. And when a person loses, he should accept the will of the voters and then offer support to the victor of the primary to defeat the anti-gun, pro-abortion, incompetent, dishonest, and dishonorable nominee of the Democrat party.”
“I didn’t see a statesman step forth for the country’s future,” he concluded. “I saw a self-absorbed politician grab the microphone and try to line up his own future. Ted walked in tall and walked out small.”
That’s a matter of opinion, and Andrew Sullivan dryly adds this:
What interested me about Pence’s speech is what he did not say: no mention of the mass deportation of 11 million people; no mention of the ban on Muslim immigration; no mention of Trump’s belief in the obsolescence of NATO or his support for Vladimir Putin; no mention of a new protectionism. No mention of any of the core policy proposals, in other words, that won Trump the nomination.
A serviceable speech; but not a great one – and everything overshadowed by the Cruz moment.
One of Sullivan’s readers gets to the heart of the matter
You know, everyone hates Ted Cruz. Everyone who comes into contact with him talks about what a miserable SOB he is. But that speech was BRILLIANT. I’m a Democrat but I can admit that he played that beautifully. We will all be talking about that third degree burn he laid on the Trump campaign in the news cycle tomorrow. Cruz knew that. Trump knows that. Checkmate, motherfucker.
Sullivan adds this:
I have to say that, despite Cruz’s shrillness, I find his disquisition on freedom to be reassuring. It feels like the old GOP, not the authoritarian creeps who have now taken over. Yes, Trump can make you miss Cruz.
Yeah, but a tweet from The Onion references the original plan for these three evenings – “Trump Threatens To Keep Trotting Out Children Until Country Agrees To Unite Behind Him” – as two more of his kids spoke, as if anyone will remember that now.
The queen of conservative talk radio, Laura Ingraham, also spoke, and Sullivan summarizes – “Ingraham calls Cruz and Rubio ‘boys’ with ‘wounded feelings.’ She demands their endorsement of Trump. Will they be paraded in front of the mob and forced to bow the knee? This is rhetorical intimidation.”
There is that, but if everyone somehow forgets Cruz, there’s now an iconic photo of her giving the Nazi salute to Trump’s face on a giant video screen – which is also interesting. That’s going to make the rounds.
Something is going on here. Make America Safe Again? Make America Work Again? Meet Mike Pence? Can we stay on message here, folks? It seems that Donald Trump and his family and small inner circle cannot, and they really should have seen that Cruz missile coming. By the way, a president should see the missiles coming. Case closed.