Judging from my Twitter feed, most people equated Ted Cruz’s speech at the Republican National Convention to setting off his political suicide vest on stage. Leading up to the speech, pundits everywhere reminded people that at the end of the bitter 1976 campaign, Reagan gave a brilliant speech, one of his best of all time — but in the end, he endorsed Ford.
But it wasn’t just his words. It was Reagan’s selflessness; his greatness, his devotion, his call to duty and putting country first that rang so true in the hearts and minds of the delegates — and made him the favorite for 1980.
It is the same trap Trump used throughout the campaign; the trap that Ted fell for each and every time. Trump paints a picture of someone — and then hands them the brush.
And then there was Cruz.
No less than President Reagan’s son, Michael, said on Twitter, “Was Cruz thinking about 2020 not 2016. Is that why he didn’t endorse? How does that unite the Republican Party. Sad and Selfish.” When one user replied, “NO not selfish! Your dad would be so proud!” Michael replied, “My father would not be proud of Cruz speech. He would think Cruz was selfish and small and he was and is.”
The criticism continued. Chris Christie said, “It was an awful, selfish speech by someone … who showed everybody why he has richly earned the reputation that he has on Capitol Hill. The fact is, we all, all 17 of us, signed a pledge, saying that we would support whoever the nominee was, without qualification … I just think it was an awful performance by someone who showed himself tonight to not be a man of his word.” Staffers from the RNC even piled on, calling it “classless.”
Many people were also baffled that Trump, who apparently knew of Cruz’s intentions, allowed him on the stage at all. Before the night was out, for those who dreaded that disunity would give Hillary Clinton ammunition, sure enough and right on cue, the Clinton campaign began telling people to “vote their conscience.” And on and on it went.
While I was also shocked and deeply disappointed in Cruz — mainly for an opportunity missed — after I got past my shock, I once again had to admire the brilliance of Donald Trump. For someone who has never done politics before, he has proven to be an absolute master at it.
On that opportunity missed, as Cruz’s speech built up, I thought it sounded like he was going to endorse. My thoughts began to fill with visions of Trump, who arrived at the convention mid-speech, walking across the stage after a thunderous, “And I endorse Donald … J. … Trump for the next President of the United States!” and the two men not only shaking hands but embracing while the crowd went absolutely wild.
And they would have. To me, that was the saddest, most disappointing part: such huge, huge potential that was utterly lost. Two men, putting aside their differences to stand against a common foe, to stand together, united, against the disaster that is Hillary Clinton. Just picture that moment. Instead, what will be remembered is one man choosing himself over country. That was the true shock of it all.
But herein lies the brilliance of Trump. And make no mistake; this is brilliance way beyond any blind luck, which his opponents like to claim to dismiss him. (If it is luck, then it is downright mythical). Knowing what Cruz was about to do and say, Trump just — let him. It made Ted look small and petty and Trump, who had graciously allowed him to speak, came off looking the better man. Common decency alone is on Trump’s side here (and how ironic is that?). If you can’t be gracious, stay home. No one is missing Jeb(!).
Yes, Trump could have stopped him, either that night or in the weeks leading up to it. But then his stopping him would have been the story. Instead, Trump, being the type of leader he is, just let Cruz talk and do what he wanted. (Romney, by contrast wanted total control and final approval over what people said at the 2012 convention.)
Why? Because Trump knew America had to make a choice. In the end, it was always going to be one or the other of them. Trump knows that nothing he can say or do will ever change the mind of the true NeverTrumpers. Cruz could pull his own face off and reveal that he’s a Reptilian and it still wouldn’t matter to the true NeverTrumpers. Instead, by giving Cruz free rein, Trump brilliantly let America watch Cruz expose himself with one big (unspoken) “I told you so.” This is insight based on experience. Know yourself. Know your opponent. Know your audience. And, ultimately, have faith in yourself and in people to make the right decision.
It is the same trap Trump used throughout the campaign — the trap that Ted fell for each and every time. Trump paints a picture of someone — and then hands them the brush. Time and again, Trump called him “Lyin’ Ted.” So what did Ted do in response? Go out and “steal” delegates. Every time Cruz thought he’d won, and bragged how clever he was, he was actually losing — and reinforcing the image of Lyin’, Cheatin’ Ted Cruz.
And his followers fell for it too. “But it’s in the rules” just reinforced the perception of Ted gaming the system. You had the Colorado Republican Party sending out tweets of “We did it. #NeverTrump” and then claiming they were “hacked.” Yeah. Sure you were. Where Ted and Hillary are tone-deaf to public perception, Trump has absolute pitch.
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At the end of the night, Ted Cruz looked like a very small man indeed and Trump looked huge by comparison. So many people I know who were strong Cruz supporters were left utterly speechless at Cruz’s behavior, his gracelessness, and his inability to put country first. One even said, “Cruz is no Reagan.”
And that right there was the unifying moment. Cruz is now in the rear-view mirror and Hillary is firmly in the headlights. Watch out.
Mark Anderson holds a Doctorate in Business Administration, is a business strategist, and the host of the “I Spy Radio Show,” Oregon’s 2nd largest radio network show.