One of the highlights of this tumultuous night was when Ted Cruz thanked Carly Fiorina for being “an incredible, phenomenal running mate.” Of course, Fiorina was never Cruz’s running mate. Indeed, she’d only been his fake running mate for less than a week. The moment captured an enduring element of the Republican primary cycle. Donald Trump may have few redeeming skills. But he is a master of the ‘dominance politics’ of destruction. He not only beats opponents. He lures them into escalating spasms of indignity before delivering the death blow.
When Donald Trump beats you, the process is akin to having a vampire drain you of blood. Only in Trump’s case, in beating you, he drains you of any remaining dignity before the end. The ‘running mate’ line came after Cruz had been baited into an election day meltdown in which he called Trump a “pathological liar”, a “narcissist” and a host of other things. True enough about Trump but Cruz, being himself a pathological liar and a narcissist, was a rather poor messenger for these charges. Trump’s National Enquirer JFK assassination was bizarre and ridiculous. But it was Cruz who lost control of his emotions and got off his game.
Trump had Cruz so rattled he even spun up a classic form Attack Haiku late on election day …
Wow, Lyin’ Ted Cruz really went wacko today. Made all sorts of crazy charges. Can’t function under pressure – not very presidential. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2016
In addition to being the last week of Cruz’s campaign, it was a week of unremitting indignities and embarrassments. As I wrote just after the five Northeastern primaries on April 26th, the scale of Trump’s victories were significant not so much because of his delegate haul but because their very scale made Cruz and Kasich look ridiculous for continuing.
It was the same with Marco Rubio. After weeks of taunts of “Little Marco” and the gutting Rubio received at Chris Christie’s hands in New Hampshire, Rubio blasted out of South Carolina with what Byron York aptly termed a “personality transplant.” These were the days of nonstop snark, small fingers, Hair Force One and more. Pundits said it was brilliant until Rubio got crushed in his next showing. A week later he was telling crowds he’d embarrassed himself in front of his own children with his antics.
By the time Rubio was defeated in his home state of Florida and painful angled his announcement of the suspension of his campaign into the passive voice he had no nomination, no job and no dignity left.
The story of Jeb, Trump’s first victim, may be more complicated. As a more substantial figure than Rubio or Cruz, his slow motion self-immolation – please clap! – was as much the unfolding of a personal life drama as an injury Donald Trump inflicted on him.
It is striking how similar the denouements of Cruz’s and Rubio’s campaigns ended up being. Sure they both lost. But the biggest embarrassments, unforced dignity losses, came at their own hands, actions they took in desperation in an failing effort to overcome Trump.