‘What we witnessed,’ writes one observer, ‘was a political party devouring itself.’
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who finished second in this year’s Republican presidential primary contest, was essentially booed off the stage at the party’s national convention on Wednesday night after withholding an endorsement of Donald Trump and telling the audience to “vote their conscience” in this year’s election.
“Please, don’t stay home in November,” Cruz told the delegates gathered and the millions watching at home. “Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”
Seen largely by GOP officials and loyalists as betrayal of Trump and divisive for the party, the comments were not well-received by many in the hall.
Subsequently, as Cruz concluded his speech, the boos grew even more pronounced:
Responding on Thursday morning, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said on NBC’s “Today” show the speech was a disappointment. “Cruz used very bad judgment,” Manafort said. “I think he made a mistake.”
During the Republican primary Trump gave Cruz the derisive nickname “Lyin’ Ted” as a swipe at his integrity, repeating it on the campaign trail and during debates.
The Nation‘s George Zornick writes that Cruz’s performance on Wednesday shows a party “at war with itself” and signals deep and lingering divisions between Republicans who have come to embrace Trump and those, largely in the Evangelical and Conservative base, who preferred Cruz’s brand of right-wing governance. In addition to offering some of the inside scoop, Zornick explained:
Plugged-in reporters quickly found out the backstory: Quite aware that Cruz didn’t plan to offer an endorsement, Trump’s team allowed him to speak anyway. But Trump floor bosses actively encouraged the boos and jeers. It was a struggle for control of the party, played out on national television.
Perhaps this is the made-for-television drama that Trump—who is, if nothing else, a supremely skilled manipulator of cable news coverage—had been promising all along. In his mind, at least, he embarrassed Ted Cruz with the world watching, as punishment for his disloyalty. Trump supporters rushed to tell reporters what a disaster Cruz was; Representative Peter King called him a “fraud and self-centered liar who forfeited all right to ever again be considered for president.” Chris Christie said it was an “awful, selfish speech.” To boot, Trump also snuffed out any lingering coverage of the Melania Trump plagiarism story with a plateful of drama that cable producers are absolutely devouring.
The scale of what happened Wednesday night should not be totally subsumed by the tawdry details. What we witnessed was a political party devouring itself. Not only did Trump steamroll the traditional conservative message that was finally beginning to emerge on stage Wednesday, but Ted Cruz—a candidate likely to be just as doomed in a general election as Trump—officially set himself up as the premier anti-Trump candidate and first choice for 2020 after Trump gets blown out.
For his part, reacting in a tweet shortly after the speech, Trump said the episode was “no big deal”:
Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn’t honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2016