At the Republican convention last night, Ted Cruz acted like a gambler striding into a high-stakes casino. He clearly still nursed grievances against Donald Trump’s attacks on him, his wife, and his father. But he also clearly has decided that Donald Trump is likely to lose big in November and decided to put all his chips on that, believing that a Trump disaster will allow him to inherit the party in 2020.
I don’t think Cruz quite expected the blowtorch reaction to his speech declining to endorse Donald Trump. His wife, Heidi, had to be escorted out of the seething convention hall by security and was attacked by delegates screaming about her former job with Goldman Sachs. Melanie Strum, a delegate who was standing near the Georgia delegation, told me the booing of Cruz began instantly upon his use of the phrase “Vote your conscience.” It was clearly orchestrated by Trump campaign officials who wanted to discredit Cruz further and punish him for his presumed treachery.
We don’t know what Donald Trump and Ted Cruz said to each other when they met privately on Capitol Hill just two weeks ago — a full two months after Trump clinched the nomination. The Cruz people say no promises of an endorsement were made and that the invitation to address the Cleveland convention carried no strings with it. The Trump people say an understanding was reached and that it was assumed Cruz would say nothing to embarrass the nominee.
When Cruz delivered his speech to Team Trump, they were put in an awkward position. It would have been damaging to yank Cruz off the convention program’s agenda, and it was impossible to convince him to say something he wasn’t disposed to say. But instead of sucking it up and moving on, the Trump forces decided to orchestrate a demonstration against the candidate they had invited on to the stage. For all of the complaints about Cruz’s behavior, there must also be criticism of the Trump team for allowing this to happen. “The nominee completely controls the convention agenda,” Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition told me. A top convention official told me the Trump team should have allowed Cruz to cut a videotaped statement for the convention (as Marco Rubio did), which would have allowed them to vet it.
The anger against Cruz from even inside his own Texas delegation may be prompting his team to retreat slightly. Jeff Rose, the Cruz campaign manager during the primaries, said an eventual endorsement of Trump was not off the table. “He’s the nominee. . . . Everyone wants to get to a position where we’re all lockstep and going. He’s just not there yet,” he told reporters today.
No one should say a Trump-Cruz understanding will never happen.
After all, Eugene McCarthy endorsed Hubert Humphrey for president in the closing days of the 1968 presidential campaign, despite their bitter disagreements over Vietnam. But the Trump and Cruz feud is personal. Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.” Trump, of course, implied that Cruz’s wife was ugly and accused his father of being involved in the JFK assassination.
#related#If one assumes it’s not possible to put any Band-Aids on the Trump–Cruz grudge match, though, the only clear winner from this latest episode is Hillary Clinton. The party most divided leaving the conventions almost always loses in November, and the Clinton campaign tweeted out Cruz’s signature line from his speech — “Vote your conscience” — within minutes of its being delivered.
If Republicans do lose in November, you can bet the recriminations will be more protracted and more vicious than they usually are for the losing side.