As you know, I believe in my heart that Ted Cruz is an odious weasel. I base this on observing him for years now and on the accounts and traumas of many close friends who’ve known him for far longer. But that was a singular moment. Convention managers don’t let unexpected things happen. If Ted Cruz had simply not mentioned Trump, it would have been a mild deal but not a huge thing. He did much more than that. He affirmatively not only refused to endorse Trump but exhorted fellow Republicans not to vote for Trump. Yes, he used the coded phrasing “vote your conscience.” But in context that meant with with crystal clarity: Your Republican identity in no way obligates you to vote for Donald Trump. Rather ‘vote your conscience’ and do not vote for Donald Trump. Because a conservative true to his conscience cannot do so.
The first thing to say about this is that there is simply no way Trump’s and Priebus’s convention managers okayed that speech. No way. The fact that they allowed him on stage to give that speech will go down as one of the greatest organizational pratfalls in convention history. Whether Cruz got them to agree not to review the speech or whether he substituted another speech, I don’t know. But something very wrong went down there.
The second goes to the heart of Trump’s campaign. As I’ve noted on so many fronts over recent months, Trump’s brand is dominance. Trump acts; others comply. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. That’s the story he’s sold his supporters. It’s the essence of his political message. Trump dominates; his enemies are humiliated. Even ‘friends’ like Christie and Pence are relegated to a golden cage of perpetual dignity loss.
In this interaction, Cruz came into Trump’s house, Trump’s party and humiliated him. There’s no other way to put it. The crowd booed; Trump literally came out into the hall to pull the cameras off Cruz and according to reporters on the scene security escorted Cruz’s wife out of the hall for her own safety.
Cruz just made himself dead to the institutional Republican party for the next four months. But he imbued himself with an image of courage, valor and general badassery for basically every Republican opposing Trump from the ideological right.
Cruz somehow managed to get on that stage without giving a promise or simply broke his promise. But the upshot is that he came into Trump’s house and stomped him hard. That is not how it’s supposed to work on Trump’s turf. But Cruz just turned the tables on him.