Thursday, July 21, 2016

Republican Convention Day Three: 2020 Foresight

Shock and awe cascaded across Quicken Loans Arena last night as it became clear to the throngs of Trumpublicans that Ted Cruz was not gonna do it. He was not gonna endorse Donald Trump. The rage heretofore reserved for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton rained down on one of their own.

In one of the most dramatic moments in the history of nominating conventions, Ted Cruz walked into Trump’s coronation, stood at the podium, warmed up the crowd, led them on, and then – at just the perfect moment – stood back and, for all intents and purposes, gave Donald Trump the finger.

Delivered unto the undisputed king of reality television, there was a nice symmetry; instead of Trump’s signature “you’re fired,” Cruz opted for the more heartfelt “f—k you.”

How this came to pass is a fascinating tale with many moving parts: ambition, principle, personal loathing, revenge, miscalculation, and simply incompetence. Let’s start with the latest organizational burp from the not-yet-ready-for-primetime campaign.

How Trump’s team could invite his archrival to speak at the convention without first gaining an absolute assurance of his fealty and willingness to make an endorsement is the just the latest evidence of the inexperience of the Trump campaign. In a week that included public hemming and hawing over his VP choice, a DEFCON 2 plagiarism scandal and subsequent PR fiasco, and a parade of amateurish B-list speakers, allowing Cruz to symbolically  flip Trump the bird qualifies as a second-tier gaffe.

More broadly, how so many people could be stunned that Cruz would not endorse Trump is in itself breathtaking. For those Trumpublicans who felt outraged by this rude treatment, let’s review the bidding.

All within the past four months, Donald Trump has… 
  • Implied that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy
  • Sent out a very unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz, and threatened to “spill the beans” on her.  No one ever found out what exactly this referred to; Trump’s tweet sparked rumors of extramarital affairs. But it was classic Donald Trump… the implication of an impropriety without the slightest substantiation. It was pure, spiteful character assassination.
  • Continuously referred to Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted.” 

Now, let’s role-play for a moment, OK? Let’s pretend that you and I are in a clear competition to be named head of GlobalCableCorp, Inc. One day, I send out an “all-staff” email mentioning offhandedly that your father is a murderer. The next day, I send out a second email, this time saying that your spouse is doing it with six different personal trainers down at the Equinox. Then, I begin a daily practice of sending out an email to all staff saying that you are a pathological liar. Then I win the promotion to head of GlobalCableCorp, and I invite you to come up to the Annual Meeting and tell all the shareholders that I was the right pick for the job.

Donald Trump won the Republican nomination by serially demeaning and humiliating his rivals with childish nicknames and disparaging comments. Now he appears shocked! …shocked and stunned! …  that a number of them want nothing to do with him. Trump is genuinely taken aback that Cruz would seize this golden opportunity on national television to shove a can of Lima beans up his nostrils.

Now, the brutal insults to family alone are justification for Cruz’s decision to not offer an endorsement. But that’s not even the half of it. Ted had also had a long term calculus at work.

Cruz looked out ahead and realized that one of three things is going to happen: 
  1. Donald Trump will lose.
  2. Donald Trump will win, but fail in the job and become an unpopular President.
  3. Donald Trump will win and will be a great President

Cruz is betting that the odds of Trump opening Door number 3 are pretty low, and so Ted is lyin’ in wait for the far more likely Doors #1 and #2 to open. These are his doors of opportunity. (Plus, telegraphing to the world that he thinks Trump will lose or fail is not the worst thing he could be doing toward his own ends).

Door # 1: If Trump loses, Cruz wants to be able to say that yet again, the Republicans failed – as they did in 2008 and 2012 – to nominate a true conservative.

Door #2: If Trump wins and is unpopular, Cruz would relish the opportunity to challenge this sitting President in the primaries, basing his attack again on the contention that Trump’s failure as President is wholly due to the fact that he never embraced true conservative principles and policies.

In either circumstance, once the election cycle of 2020 begins, Ted Cruz will now be able to say that he was the only candidate who refused to cave in to Trump. He will be able to say that he – and he alone – held true his belief in conservative principles, and that he has been vindicated.

There’s no doubt that Cruz’s move is a high-risk strategy. Should Clinton defeat Trump, many Republicans will permanently brand Cruz as a Benedict Arnold who put his own ambition above the unifying goal of defeating Clinton.  Many will say he should have followed the example of John Kasich, who chose not to attend his own party’s convention in his own state rather than be perceived to be endorsing Trump. Others will say that Cruz should have followed the example of Reagan, who was beaten for the 1976 nomination by Gerald Ford after a brutal campaign… but who ultimately fell in line and endorsed Ford. Cruz is hoping that by 2020, a Republican party desperate to defeat a sitting President Clinton will have forgotten his sin.

Elephants never forget.

One irony is that Cruz’s decision not to endorse overwhelmed the fact that his speech had been a masterful articulation of conservative principle. He provided a rigorous, thoughtful, and consistent articulation of conservative dogma. It led him to some surprising positions; some at odds with the Trumpublicans and the Party Platform that had just been ratified.

In a convention filled with Hillary bashing, Ted Cruz barely mentioned her. In a convention that just passed the most homophobic platform in its history, Ted Cruz said that true conservatism means that the Bill of Rights guarantees that lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender people should have the freedom to live the life they were meant to lead. In a convention that has thoroughly mourned the death of policemen, but never the victims of cops acting outside the law, Ted Cruz was the first person at the convention to say Alton Sterling’s name out loud.

Cruz even offered an intriguing pivot on that classic liberal doctrine of “diversity,” turning it into a paean to state’s rights. His point: people in Minnesota might think differently on an issue than people in Idaho. Why don’t we acknowledge that “diversity” with greater local autonomy? If not, he offered, “Why have states at all?”

Look, Ted Cruz is a smarmy, oily guy; he has done more than his share of vicious and noxious bloviation in the course of this campaign.

But last night, he took a stand. He took a stand for his family. He took a stand for his principles. He didn’t hide outside the arena, mail it in from South Beach, or snootily sit in argyle socks in Kennebunkport and whine to Bar’ about the good old days. He did not pretend that the Republican Party had been unified.
In the face of a candidate who claims to tell it like it is, Ted Cruz actually told it like it really is. Teddy Roosevelt once wrote about “the man in the arena.” It’s worth reviewing his words, inserting “Quicken Loans” in the appropriate places.

Now, after Day 3, and certain to be true by the close of the convention, it is clear that the Republican Party is not the least bit unified. It has become the Trumpublican party… almost literally so. By far and away, Donald Trump’s family has provided the only absolute, total, and unalloyed endorsement of this candidate.

We’ve seen an array of party luminaries wanting none of this convention: Bush, Bush, Bush, McCain, Romney. Basically, everyone who has led this party the last 20 years.

Many of the most ardent Trump supporters are burnt out Supernovas trying to pull stagnant careers out of nosedives.  Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and new poodle Mike Pence fall into this category.

Aside from the Trumps themselves, speakers have been happy to talk about “making America great again;” they have been happy to talk about being true conservatives, and  they have been happy to bash Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. CNN pointed out that in the first two days of this convention, Hillary Clinton’s named had been mentioned more often that Donald Trump’s by a factor of 20%.

Astronaut Eileen Collins spoke for five minutes and did not even say Donald Trump’s name out loud. Not once.

Now we come to the great denouement, Thursday night… the night Donald Trump offers his vision for America. For the fourth consecutive night, Donald Trump will count on a member of his own family – this time, daughter Ivanka – to make sure that there is at least one, thorough, unqualified endorsement of his candidacy.

Donald Trump will offer his “law and order” message, seeking to unify his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Black Lives Matter, anti-LGBT, misogynist campaign under a single banner last unfurled by Richard Nixon, who used the office of the Presidency to trample on the rights of citizens, only to resign in disgrace.

Ultimately, balloons will fall, and hands will be clasped and raised.

But the illusion of unity has been popped and will deflate like so many balloons on the floor of Quicken Loans Arena tomorrow morning.

In the end, the campaign that Donald Trump has run – of disparagement, humiliation, character assassination, and a mountain of lies and distortions – has come back to haunt him.

The faux Republican “unity” was blown to pieces last night by the man that Donald Trump most thoroughly offended, Ted Cruz.

Last night, Ted Cruz took a stand that may have been calculated for long term personal gain. Give him his due: it was a stand that involved clear and present danger, and it may end up costing him his career. How many people ever do that?

Of course, it could be that Ted Cruz playing three dimensional chess when Trump is playing checkers. Cruz may have just been gaming Trump to position himself for the future.

Maybe the guy does have 2020 foresight.

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