Ted Cruz will speak at the Donald J. Trump coronation Wednesday night–tonight. His remarks come sandwiched between a video from his absent friend Marco Rubio, and the keynotes by Eric Trump and Newt Gingrich. What he says may be more important to the delegates–and the Republican Party–than all the other speeches at the convention.
A few thoughts on expectations.
First. Cruz will likely get the biggest applause, sustained and genuine, of any speaker at the convention. This could work to Trump’s advantage, or it could further drive the spike of bitterness between the Trump and anti-Trump factions of the GOP. Trump, being a thin-skinned narcissist, wants the biggest applause for himself Thursday night. Cruz uniquely has the ability to grant that wish, or to take it away.
Second. With approximately 1,000 friendly and supportive delegates, many still smarting over the GOP’s draconian tactics in force-feeding Trump down their throats, there’s a lot of fantasizing about Cruz speaking truth to power. These fantasies are very unlikely to happen.
Cruz is nothing if not strategic, intelligent, and able to read political signs long before most of us see them. He predicted Trump’s fall while the media was treating him like a sideshow (of course, he is a sideshow, but that’s beside the point). I don’t think Cruz has changed his mind about Trump, but he did learn something about himself and about the GOP “establishment.”
Third. The establishment wants to stay in power. They want to get elected and re-elected, or promote their particular K Street clients. Most of them have principles and priorities, which they gladly lay down for another term in office. Cruz is popular in Texas, and has overcome the establishment’s efforts to knock him down. Now that Cruz has raised his national profile, he needs to focus on 2020. Cruz can’t lead the party without the establishment’s imprimatur. In 2016, they gave it to Trump because they loathe Cruz. Lesson learned.
Fourth. We are likely to hear Ted Cruz as a statesman and a Republican. As such, he’s not going to publicly stab Trump in the back. He will assume the same stance he had right up until just before the Iowa Caucuses. He will agree with Trump’s broad points on immigration and national security, and attack Hillary.
Cruz’s speech will walk the fine line between personal endorsement and party loyalty. He will focus on making Trump less scary, more in line with the Zeitgeist of the party, and in exchange he will gain Trump’s ear should he gain the White House. But I think Cruz realizes how it will likely turn out in November. I think he’s been right all along.
By the time Cruz is finished, he will make Trump great again, at least for 24 hours, so that the nominee can have his thunderous applause, mass adoration, and post-convention polling bump. Then we probably won’t see Cruz again before November. We will probably never know how he personally casts his vote.