CLEVELAND — Tonight, here at the heart of dysfunction junction, Ted Cruz basically told Donald Trump to kiss his rump.
There is not enough popcorn on the shelves to support such perverse entertainment. The runner-up in the Republican race walked on stage, uttered the winner’s name once, ignored him for the remaining 20 minutes, and walked off without voicing an endorsement — virtually driven off stage by a chorus of boos. If you didn’t see it live, find the video. It’s worth a watch, just to see the Trumpers go bat-crazy because Cruz refused to sew on the armband.
They thought Cruz was set to utter the magic word when he said, “Don’t stay home in November.” But then he veered away: “If you love our country and love your children as I know you do, vote your conscience.” Uh oh. That’s when the rumbling began, because the anti-Trumpers always talked about voting their conscience on the convention floor. Cruz pressed on, as the hostility escalated: “Vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend and be faithful to the Constitution.”
By this point, the New York delegation was chanting for Trump — “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation,” said Cruz, signaling in effect that he didn’t care a whit what they thought — and went on talking about his love of freedom, as best exemplified by his dad. He wanted to make sure he referenced his dad, and you probably know why. If not, keep reading.
I suppose it was bad form for Cruz not to play the good sport for the sake of party unity. I suppose it was an unseemingly raw calculation, to basically bet that Trump is doomed this fall, so why not deliver a speech on enduring party principles, a thematic speech that serves as his opening salvo for the 2020 nomination. I suppose that looks selfish, and some Republicans will long remember that.
On the other hand, put yourself in Cruz’s place. Would you endorse a guy who maligned your wife’s looks? Who accused your father of assisting the assassination of JFK? Who repeatedly assaulted your character, calling you a serial liar every day? Quite possibly not.
Granted, you might say: Wait a minute. Cruz is a politician, and he knows darn well that politics ain’t beanbag because he himself plays it rough — so why should he be so sensitive?
But think of it this way: Like him or not, Cruz prides himself on sticking to his principles. And he articulated one such principle back on May 3, when he accurately critiqued Trump’s character: “This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically evey word that comes out of his mouth.” He also called Trump “a serial philanderer” and narcissist.
Tonight, he didn’t want to eat or amend those words. Good for him, even though he dissed tradition.
Actually, the mystery is why Team Trump gave him such a prominent prime-time slot, apparently without first securing Cruz’s promise to kiss the ring. Did the campaign vet this speech in advance? (Reportedly, it did.) Did Team Trump screw up yet again, this time ensuring that an ugly conflict, another disunity freak show, would be the story of the night, topping the appearance of the vice presidential nominee? I think we know.