Last night was supposed to be a great night for Donald Trump. You had Scott Walker and Marco Rubio voicing their support, attempting to unify the party around the nominee. Later, they would have Ted Cruz speak, putting some salve on still fresh political wounds from the brutal primary, although no one expected an enthusiastic endorsement. After that, the popular Newt Gingrich would fire up the crowd by emphatically extolling his friend, Trump. The night would be capped by Paul Ryan introducing Mike Pence and Gov. Pence introducing himself to the nation. They had just effectively cleaned up the Melania Trump speech mess, and they could now launch the Trump/Pence campaign from a foundation of party unity. Or so they hoped.
When Ted Cruz got on the stage to speak, the party was on egg shells, hoping for an endorsement, but perhaps willing to settle for something a bit less if it struck the right tone. What they didn't expect, was that the Texas Senator would drop a bomb that night, using his prime time speaking slot to tell voters to “vote their conscience” and to not stay home but to vote up and down the ballot for constitutionalist conservatives. These words may seem innocuous, but they are obvious dog whistles to the “Never-Trump” faction of the GOP. He confirmed the message this morning at an event where he told people that he wasn't in the habit of endorsing people who offended his wife and father.
This “principled stand” is very curious coming from a man who was The Donald’s cheerleader in chief during the early days of the campaign. Indeed, Sen. Cruz even had a co-rally with Trump at one point last year. He regularly said that he liked Trump and considered him a friend while pivoting to attack one of the other actual conservatives he was competing against. Interestingly, Cruz found his “principles” right before the Iowa caucuses and decided to sink his dagger into Trump’s back, going on a tear against his one time friend. Later, we would find out that there was truly nothing he wouldn't do to win when we found out he had betrayed perhaps the most beloved candidate in the race, Dr. Ben Carson. Gone was TrusTed and born was Lyin’ Ted.
Cruz lived up to that moniker last night. At one of the primary debates, the moderator asked him if he would STILL uphold his pledge to support Donald Trump. Cruz answered in the affirmative. He said that he would because he gave his word. As you can imagine, stock in Cruz's word isn't doing so well right now. Once again he made a political calculation under the guise of being principled. He calculated that by ostentatiously denying Trump an endorsement on national television, he would be seen as the principled warrior once again. This strategy was undermined by his past high praise for Trump and the violation of his pledge – it totally backfired. He was jeered off stage, and he was excoriated by the Fox News panel directly afterward for his hypocrisy.
So now we’re at the last day of the Republican Convention and Team Trump desperately needs to come out of tonight driving the narrative. On day one it was the Never-Trump floor “fight.” On day two it was Melania’s plagiarized speech and the botched damage control. Day three was Cruz's betrayal, taking the wind out of Gov. Pence’s sails. Today needs to be a win for Trump.
So what can he do? First, we've had three days of pure red meat with the speeches. While it is a Republican Convention, it's also free prime time attention that every news network is covering. It would be a totally wasted opportunity to do nothing but cheaply appeal to the base. We know that Trump needs to expand the tent if he's going to have a prayer of winning and he should start that process in earnest tonight. Trump ought to be optimistic and inspirational, not angry and boorish. He should appear presidential and make his case to the American people at large, not just his Republican base. Maybe he should comment on black community-police relations beyond just saying “blue lives matter.” Maybe he should go into some detail on his plan to take down ISIS. Maybe he should include a pitch for his tax plan. Maybe he should make the case to Latino voters, beyond just saying “I love the Hispanics.” Maybe he should do all these things, but one thing is for sure, he can't waste this opportunity. However if he does, at least the convention served to hopefully end Cruz's prospects for 2020. Maybe even sooner. Word is he may face a primary challenger now for his Senate seat after his Judas moment.