COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., July 21, 2016 — An interviewer asked someone why so many on Capitol Hill often take an instant dislike to Ted Cruz. The reply was both humorous and instructive: “It saves time.”
This flag-waving conservative with a Harvard education could do so much for his party and for the country, if only he would. Commenting on Cruz’s failure Thursday night to endorse Donald Trump, for president, commentator Charles Krauthammer had this to say: “Last night we watched the longest, slowest suicide on record.”
Manners matter, even in political circles. One might add, especially in political circles. Elephants and donkeys alike have long memories.
Just after President Obama’s first presidential victory, outgoing President George W. Bush invited all U.S. presidents, including Obama—who had not yet taken the oath of office—to lunch at the White House. There was a photo opportunity when reporters were briefly ushered in to take pictures.
The group of presidents posed in a line for the cameras. Then, just as President Bush was about to escort the reporters from the room, one of the guests stepped forward as though the Oval Office were already his. In what has come to be seen as his characteristic grandiosity, President-Elect Barack Obama superseded his fellow presidential guests to speak personally to the press. He usurped what was a gracious social occasion to preen and prance and display his true narcissistic self before reporters and Bush’s guests.
Senator Cruz was Donald Trump’s guest this week. As the runner-up after Trump in the primary race, he was afforded a prime speaking position by the magnanimous winner, one guaranteed to secure him maximum media coverage. Trump’s invitation was not obligatory; it was generous in the extreme.
Cruz’s speech was discussed briefly with the Trump campaign. Jason Miller, a former Cruz aid who now advises Trump, told Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe that Trump would appreciate and remember an endorsement. Roe told reporters, “I think they’ll be pleased with the speech,” but two hours before it was to be delivered, the Cruz campaign delivered a speech with no endorsement.
According to the New York Times, Trump aids were furious, but concluded that it would create more controversy to scrub Cruz from the speaking schedule. Cruz proceeded to deliver remarks suggesting that Republicans should not feel obliged to vote for Trump.
He may as well have stubbed out a cigarette in his drink glass. The delegates’ loud booing of Cruz put an exclamation point to his full-throated political suicide.
Ohio Governor John Kasich apparently took to heart the slings and arrows of the primaries, during which he was one of the weakest links. So piqued was he by his defeat that he refused to go near the site of the GOP convention, which was held in his state. He never had a prayer of being the Republican nominee, so what made him think that this tortuous and lengthy GOP primary season was all about him?!
Only Kasich knows.
Even had he borne ill will toward the presumptive nominee, he still owed his party the respect of showing up to welcome Republicans to his state. He was, after all, their host.
In reporting on Cruz’s rudeness to Trump, CNN opined, “The stunning political theater between the top two contenders in the Republican primary race blew open divisions in the party that the convention is designed to heal, and suggested Cruz believes Trump will lose in November.”
Even the nation’s media have lost sight of good, old-fashioned manners. They interpret Cruz’s rude speech as just another move in the dirty game of politics, where fisticuffs are the rule. But look back at the presidents we admire: The cultured and sociable President Kennedy and his beautiful wife, Jackie. Dwight David Eisenhower, the former general, and the forever affable Ronald Reagan. All wore the mantel of power lightly with, dare we say, old-fashioned, good manners.
It’s one thing to be live in a casual age. It’s quite another to see pop culture and vulgarity enter the Oval Office itself. The history of American English took on a new low when President Obama said he maintains “something that rhymes with ‘bucket list’,” a borderline tasteless and undignified joke. Obama went on, “Executive action on immigration? Bucket,” Obama reportedly said to laughs. “New climate regulations? Bucket. It’s the right thing to do.”
Compare Obama’s snappy shorthand with the advice offered by America’s first president, George Washington: “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company.”
No matter what our politics are, we recognize water reaching its own level.
America’s presidential election is the longest, toughest job interview in the world. It lasts years, and applicants’ missteps are amplified and replayed by the nation’s media over and over again. The candidates who leave lasting impressions are those who wear well. Although anyone choosing to run for the office is by definition an alpha leader, the truly successful ones always keep their eye focused on the long run.
Candidates should know that in our long, national job interview, we the public are watching for their personal attributes to reveal themselves. Certain qualities or mannerisms that may be effectively camouflaged over the short haul often pop up at the most unexpected times.
One leadership quality not noted enough is gentlemanly or lady-like manners; we will be asking the successful applicant to represent us on the world stage. Along with his ability to communicate policies and American values, we want a leader who is gracious.
Striding forward to seek the host’s microphone at an event as Obama once did on live TV; coming to a party, eating the food, drinking the wine, then trashing the host, as Ted Cruz did on Trump’s stage; or inviting the nation to your home for a big party and then not showing up, as John Kasich did, will not do.
Not now in the midst of a combative national election.
And not ever.