The penultimate night of the Republican National Convention is in the books. I watched, tweeted and took some notes. One quick thought: Ted Cruz!
My full winners and losers are below.
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– Ted Cruz (if Trump loses): The Texas Senator’s speech will be the most divisive and controversial of the entire convention. If you like Donald Trump, you HATED Cruz’s unwillingness to endorse the nominee. If you don’t like Trump, Cruz took a principled stand against a candidate who he simply does not believe represents the Republican party or the conservative movement.
The crowd in the room started out very much on Cruz’s side; he received an extended ovation when he walked on stage. But, by the end of his speech, when it became clear Cruz would not endorse Trump, the crowd turned on him — led by the New York delegation, which chanted “Endorse Trump!”
Given that, how could he possibly be a winner? Because Cruz’s speech wasn’t about the people in the convention hall. It was about the Republican party more broadly — and the doubts many within it still have about Trump’s candidacy. This speech cements Cruz as the leading anti-Trump politician in the Republican party, the one major party leader who refused to bow to political pressure and get behind the real estate mogul. If Trump loses in November, that could well be a very good place to be.
– Mike Pence: For many convention delegates, this was the first time they had ever even heard Pence speak for more than a minute or two. His speech wasn’t spectacular. It was workmanlike and self deprecating. But, it accomplished what it needed to: Establishing Pence as a steady conservative firmly behind his running mate. This isn’t a speech people will be talking about tomorrow and certainly not one that will fundamentally alter the trajectory of the race. But for a convention where lots and lots of news — not the good kind — has been made in these primetime speeches, that lack of notoriety is a good thing.
– Laura Ingraham: The conservative radio talk show host was fiery and angry — and the crowd ate it up. She called out the media. She called out the “boys” — Cruz, Marco Rubio — who had their feelings hurt in the primary and weren’t ready to get behind Trump. I’m not sure Ingraham’s speech did anything to appeal to anyone but the hardcore Republican base. But, those are her listeners! Her speech might have been bad for a Republican party hoping to win the White House this fall but it definitely won Ingraham more listeners.
– Phil Ruffin: I mean, just look at this guy. He oozes Las Vegas. He had tinted glasses on! Inside!
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– Ted Cruz (if Trump wins): See above. If Donald Trump winds up being elected president — or comes very close to being elected president — Cruz effectively ended his political career on Wednesday night in Cleveland. Under that scenario, the boos cascading down on Cruz as he left the stage will be the first sentence of his political obituary. It’s also possible that even Republicans who aren’t Trump allies will view Cruz’s lack of an endorsement as disloyal — an act that will poison the well for Cruz going forward. Make no mistake: Cruz took a massive gamble in giving that speech. If you lose big gambles, you go bust.
– Republican unity: Any hopes that the story of this convention would be Republicans’ ability to put aside their differences and the nasty rhetoric of the GOP primary season was extinguished in the final five minutes of Cruz’s speech. His unwillingness to endorse Trump — and the reaction from Trump supporters on the convention floor to that — laid bare the ongoing tensions between the party’s presidential nominee and certain sectors of the GOP. There is no papering over what happened on the floor on Wednesday night. It was division, pure and simple — a sign that the wounds caused by the primary have not healed and may not heal.
– Scott Walker: Watching the Wisconsin governor speak, I was reminded of how wrong I was about Walker’s potential as a presidential candidate. Walker looked so good on paper — conservative, Midwestern swing state governor etc. — but when the bright lights went on, he simply couldn’t make it go. That was again the case Wednesday night; Walker’s attempts at a call and response — “America deserves better” — fell flat. His speech, which he memorized, felt rote and unemotional. A big part of politics is performance; Walker proved again he is not a performer at the highest levels.
– Rick Scott: Now I know why the Florida governor quickly fell off Donald Trump’s vice presidential short list. His speech was wooden and formulaic. This tweet, from Mark Salter, a longtime John McCain aide, was particularly cutting:
Rick Scott, quite the dynamo. He’d put a meth head to sleep.
– Michelle van Etten: What. Was. That. I have seen lots of strange speeches at conventions past — Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair and so on and so forth. But van Etten’s address — in which she seemed to repeatedly lose her place, stare at the floor and make all sorts of odd hand gestures — was among the strangest I have ever seen. Don’t believe me? Watch it yourself.