CLEVELAND, OHIO — After Ted Cruz’s self-immolation, the pundits were astonished: Given that Trump and his managers knew what Ted Cruz was going to say in his convention speech, how could they let him go on? How could Trump & Co. have been so incompetent?
Incompetent like a fox? Well, maybe.
Time and time again in this campaign, Donald Trump has done something that seemed, in the eyes of pundits, to be incredibly stupid. Time and time again, Trump’s seeming stupidity has paid off brilliantly. Which raises the question: Did Trump plan this, allowing Cruz to disrespect him in prime time, as a way to show that he’s not a bully and that he accepts disagreement within his team? (That’s how some focus group members took it.) Or did he simply hand Cruz the rope with which the Senator from Texas could hang himself?
After the speech, Trump tweeted: “Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn’t honor the pledge!”—that is, the pledge all GOP presidential candidates took last year to support the eventual nominee. “I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!”
Incredibly, the top Cruz people seem to be in shock over the negative reaction to the speech. They seem to think that the Trump people signed off on Cruz’s approach, so it was okay. Jason Johnson, a longtime Cruz adviser, claimed that Trump knew since Monday what was coming from Cruz. “Cruz told Trump directly two days ago,” he tweeted. Cruz this morning confirmed that he had told Trump he wouldn’t endorse him.
Even in mid-speech, Cruz could have rescued himself simply by declaring, say, that each person should vote his or her conscience, and vote for the candidate who would uphold the Constitution, and “My choice is to vote for Donald Trump” or somesuch. He didn’t do that last part.
Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, came to the lectern soon after Cruz and attempted a “save,” one that changed the tone, soothing the angry crowd, and put Cruz in his place. “I think you misunderstood one paragraph that Ted, who is a superb orator, said,” Gingrich told delegates. “Ted Cruz said you can vote your conscience who will uphold the Constitution. In this election, there is only one candidate who will uphold the Constitution. 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.”
This morning, at the Texas delegation’s breakfast—where, at that point, Cruz should be a homestate hero—delegates met him with chants of “We want Trump!” (The Texas Tribune described the delegates as “livid—and yet admiring.”) Challenged regarding his non-endorsement, Cruz pointed to Trump’s insult directed at Cruz’s wife and that weird charge about an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald who looked like Cruz’s father. “I am not in the habit of supporting people who have attacked my wife and attacked my father,” he said.
It’s an emotional reaction that’s completely understandable. However, anyone with political experience and smarts, and Cruz has both, knows that sometimes one must set aside the worst slights imaginable. Sometimes you have to, say, cut a deal with Stalin in order to beat Hitler. The Ford campaign painted Reagan as a madman, an extremist who would blow up the world—a smear that’s worse, in my view, than some silly insult directed at Cruz’s family. If he wants to challenge someone to a duel over Mrs. Cruz’s honor, he can go ahead, provided that any duel is scheduled for a time after the election. But he shouldn’t make my children live in Hillary Clinton’s America because his feelings are hurt.
Ted Cruz has set himself up perfectly to win the 2020 endorsement of National Review, if it’s still being published, and the support of the most extreme, diehard NeverTrumpers. As for the rest of the Republican Party and possible backers, not so much.
Here’s why this is important:
Now, Cruz wins (positioning himself to run for president) only if Trump loses and Clinton wins. If Clinton wins, she will—not may, but will—appoint to the Supreme Court its fifth radical member, creating a leftist majority that will effectively amend the Constitution to neuter the First Amendment, ban Right to Work laws, shut down efforts to prevent election fraud, create a race- and class-based caste system, and allow bureaucrats to create widespread poverty by raising energy prices through the roof.
Oh, there’ll be an election in 2020, if that still matters, so Ted Cruz would still have a chance to run for president, for the nomination of the party that will, to a great extent, blame Ted Cruz for costing it the 2016 election.
It’s not as if there’s no model for how to handle a situation like this. I was on the floor of the 1976 Republican convention in Kansas City as President Ford accepted the nomination. The party was deeply divided, and Ford had beaten Reagan by a handful of votes. In fact, Reagan would have won the nomination if it had been decided by secret ballot. Ford was not a great speaker, but his speech was well-written and well-practiced. By Gerald Ford standards, it was a good speech. But the crowd loved Ronnie. So Ford called Reagan down to the podium, to “ask my good friend . . . to say a few words at this time.” Reagan graciously thanked Ford and, with no teleprompter, rallied Americans to support a platform of “bold colors” not “pale pastels,” reminding Republicans that “There is no substitute for victory.” This is how it unfolded:
Afterwards, as everyone spilled out of the convention center, I stood there for a few minutes, thinking about what might have been, holding the Reagan poster I had been waving. One Ford delegate after another, seeing the Reagan button pinned to my shirt, told me something like, “Y’know, I think we may have made a mistake” picking Ford over Reagan. Four years later, Reagan made a comeback.
Reagan’s “No substitute for victory” moment—That’s the moment that Cruz could have had. Why he blew it, I can’t fathom.
NOTE: My piece supporting Cruz’s position on the 2013 government shutdown is at https://capitalresearch.org/2015/10/house-of-canards-remember-that-disastrous-government-shutdown/ .