WASHINGTON, July 21, 2016 — Ted Cruz delivered a generally well-received speech to the GOP Convention last night. The end went over badly, but aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, the play was splendid.
For most of his speech, Cruz gave the GOP and Donald Trump’s supporters what they wanted. He praised the police officers who were gunned down in Dallas and Baton Rouge. He laid out failures and flaws of the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton. He started with a powerful story and built on it with a simple and powerful focus: freedom.
But then he veered into dangerous territory:
“We deserve leaders who stand for principle. Unite us all behind shared values. Cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect, from everybody.”
Trump’s supporters had to know in their gut at that point that Cruz wasn’t talking about their man. Even if at that point he had said, “and that leader is Donald Trump,” everyone would have known it was a lie. And they responded with anger, not with love.
Cruz and Trump got on badly during the debates and primaries, but Trump delighted in taking normal political sniping to a lower, more personal level. He gave his fellow candidates pithy nicknames, like “Lyin’ Ted,” and claimed that Cruz’s father, Rafael, was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination. He threatened Cruz with lawsuits over his status as a “natural born” citizen. The National Enquirer, a publication whose CEO, David Pecker, is a close, long-time friend of Trump, accused Cruz of serial adultery.
When you enter the political arena, you have to accept the blows and make up afterward, but Trump’s blows generally go for the crotch. It’s much easier to get over blows delivered in a clean fight than in a dirty one.
Trump is widely believed to be the source behind a story accusing Dr. Ben Carson of serial malpractice, including leaving a sponge in a patient’s brain after surgery. Carson, however, is a preternaturally, almost eerily serene man. He managed to forgive and forget, giving his endorsement to Trump. Cruz could not.
Cruz said nothing critical of Trump in his speech. He didn’t support another candidate. He didn’t say, “not Trump.” He spoke about principles that just about everyone in the GOP, and a lot of Democrats, can support:
“And to those listening, please, don’t stay home in November. Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.
“It’s love of freedom that has allowed millions to achieve their dreams. Like my Mom, the first in her family to go to college, and my Dad, who fled prison and torture in Cuba, coming to Texas with just $100 sewn into his underwear.
“And it is love that I hope will bring comfort to a grieving 9-year-old girl in Dallas—and, God willing, propel her to move forward, and dream, and soar, and make her daddy proud.”
By itself, it was a well-constructed speech, but it wasn’t what the delegates wanted to hear. They shouted “honor your pledge” and “endorse Trump,” and booed Cruz as he left the stage. They booed Heidi Cruz and shouted “Goldman Sachs” at her as she left the arena.
They wanted an endorsement that Cruz wouldn’t give. If they couldn’t have it, they would vent their fury at the man who refused to give it. If he wasn’t for them, they were against him.
In May, Trump asked on ABC’s “This Week,” “Does the party have to be together, does it have to be unified?” He answered his own question. “I’m very different from anybody who’s perhaps ever run for office. I actually don’t think so.”
Trump’s supporters agree with that assessment. They’ve concluded that they don’t want and don’t need Cruz.
Trump expected to get support from enough disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters to make up for disaffected conservatives. That is unlikely, and Trump will be wanting those conservatives back in the GOP fold.
Trump supporters and Cruz critics are still flinging feces through the bars over Cruz’s non-endorsement. But, Christians that so many of them are, they should look at their Bibles, to Luke 9:50: “And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”
Cruz did not criticize Trump. He even praised Trump’s wall: “We deserve an immigration system that puts America first. And yes, builds a wall to keep us safe.”
Newt Gingrich, speaking afterward, told the delegates, ““In this election there is only one candidate who will support the Constitution. So to paraphrase Ted Cruz, if you want to protect the Constitution your only possible choice this fall is … Trump-Pence.”
To a great many people that is not the only choice. Gary Johnson is within striking distance of an automatic invitation to the presidential debates. Between them, Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein draw 18 percent of voter support, though their supporters are less likely to vote. In close races, though, those voters make a difference.
Trump’s supporters, rather than jumping up and down and screaming at Cruz, would have been better advised to applaud politely and move on to make the case that Trump is the candidate Cruz described. Their candidate’s bombastic style has infected them, though, leaving them even less tolerant than Ron Paul’s supporters were four years ago.