Ted Cruz’s prepared remarks for his prime-time speech did not contain an endorsement of Donald Trump, but the Trump campaign was betting that he’d fold and give one anyway, even something tepid. They were wrong. Not only did Cruz avoid endorsing Trump, he went out of his way to emphasize his non-endorsement. He edged right up to the endorsement by telling the crowd that they shouldn’t stay home in November, and that they should go out and vote — vote their conscience, and vote for someone who would protect the Constitution. He then took a long pause, waiting for the crowd to figure out that he wasn’t telling them to vote for Trump, letting it sink in. And then he kept talking, as the crowd began to get agitated.
Cruz slowed down as he neared the end of his speech, savoring his words, reveling in the rising disapproval. You half-expected him to exaggeratedly put his hand to his ear and gesture for the crowd to boo him louder, like a wrestling heel, or give Trump a dramatic thumbs-down like a Roman emperor at the Colosseum. Then, as Cruz stood on the stage, preternaturally calm, relishing the boos as they rained down, Trump suddenly materialized in the back of the auditorium, smiling and waving to the crowd. He had clearly planned in advance to upstage the climax of Cruz’s speech, but all he succeeded in doing was play into Cruz’s hands, underscoring the image of Cruz as the anti-Trump.
It was a moment of political theater at its purest.
That moment couldn’t have gone any better for Cruz if he’d orchestrated it. Cruz has consigned himself to political exile for the next several months, and if Trump should win in November, his political career will die in exile. But if Trump loses, Cruz has positioned himself to be the savior of the party in 2020, the only Republican office-holder who dared publicly defy Trump on principle, and the obvious choice to lead the party out of the wilderness. Whatever else you may say about Cruz, he’s got guts.
Conservative radio talk show host and political commentator Laura Ingraham was the first convention speaker to truly have the crowd eating out of her hand, and she did it by trumping Trump — articulating a worldview that’s usually obscured by how rambling and vague Donald Trump’s speeches are. Instead of giving cookie-cutter recitations of standard Republican talking points that largely ignore the man at the top of the ticket, Ingraham gave a spirited and cogent defense of Trumpism: America has been stolen from the people it rightfully belongs to, and it’s time to take it back — from the liberals, the immigrants, the foreigners, and the media, none of whom understand or respect America or its values. She demonstrated that Trumpism could be more than just a personality cult; it could be a durable movement that outlasts his candidacy. Trump may lose in November, but Trumpism will be back. And Ingraham, whether intentionally or not, has positioned herself as its guardian and heir.
The third day of the convention was also the 47th anniversary of the first moon landing, which meant the Republicans had the awkward task of commemorating a large federal boondoggle with no practical purpose that was initiated by a Democratic presidential administration. They did so with a short video about the Apollo 11 program that seemed to imply that America needed to increase NASA’s funding so that it can once again restore America’s legacy of space exploration.
Then out came Eileen Collins, the first woman to captain a space shuttle mission. It was immediately clear that she was totally out of place, because she seemed aware of how microphones work and started her remarks in a normal speaking voice. Even more strangely, instead of warning of the apocalypse to come if Trump was not elected, she gave a rather calm, nonpartisan speech advocating for refunding NASA, explaining how federal programs can lead to innovations that spill over into the private sector and benefit all of us. It could easily be delivered, with almost no modification, at the Democratic National Convention next week. I kinda fell in love.
The Magical Mystery Beer Bag at Trader Joe's Transmogrified Into an Entire Night of Entertainment
The first two nights of the Republican convention had a unifying theme: “Lock her up!” The third night was more of a grab bag. It felt like walking through a Trump speech turned into a hedge maze, and those watching at home never knew if they were going to find an old man on a bar stool waiting to tell them stories about his friend’s great business deals, a simple Texan who convinced an entire arena to reenact a scene from his favorite movie, or just a dead end. What else was inside? Oh look! There's the woman who sells definitely-not-approved-by-actual-scientists pills that are part of a business that sure looks like a pyramid scheme. And over there! It’s the guy who owns a giant golden tower in Las Vegas with Donald Trump and sounds like he is trapped in the mid–20th century! We already mentioned the fact that there was an ACTUAL ASTRONAUT. And hey, there’s the guy who writes alternate history novels and seems intent on inventing a future where we are all zombies who aren't freed from the obligation to pay taxes by the time November 8 rolls around. Why is Scott Walker shouting “America Deserves Better”? Why does it sound curiously like the Democrats’ “Better Than This” tagline, which also doesn't quite sound right out of context? Why aren’t the screens working?
Who knows! The convention hasn’t touched much on policy or ideas, but maybe it is still perfectly capturing what a Trump presidency might look like, just like the sloppily stacked Weasley house of a primary campaign that preceded it — you have no idea how it’s still standing, but it sure does make for compelling TV.
There are still 109 days until the election, and, thanks to Ted Cruz’s decision to seek revenge on the guy who, in front of millions of people, called his wife ugly and said his dad helped kill JFK, there are going to be so many stories mentioning the 2020 election tomorrow. Both parties hate the opposition’s nominee so much that they’re pretty much going to start party planning for the midterms on November 9. We’re just going to live in one continual election cycle until the end of time, aren’t we?