July 8, 2016
Ted Cruz is now set to speak in Cleveland. Yesterday, he met with Donald Trump and Reince Preibus and a deal of sorts was reached. Cruz did not commit to endorse Trump. He did accept a speaking slot (at an undetermined/unreleased time.) What’s in it for these guys?
Why would Trump let him speak without first securing an endorsement? Why would Cruz link himself to Trump at this point? What might his speech sound like? Does this even matter?
Self interest. Self interest. Ted’s best possible Reagan imitation. Yes, if he does a good job.
We may never know if Trump has a master strategy, oscillates randomly between complete disarray and being sorta balanced, or is some of both. Regardless, he’s normally able to combine going beyond the pale with reaching out to establishment figures and conservatives.
This week, he spent several days not apologizing for his Star of David on a money pile tweet and repeatedly complimenting Saddam Hussein (this is where you imagine your reaction to this if someone told you last May the presumptive nominee would head into the convention with these narrative topics.) He also announced raising $51 million last month, met with over 200 GOP senators and representatives on the Hill, and got Cruz to speak at the convention.
It’s as though he has a pragmatic angel on one shoulder and a devious, rabble-rousing devil on the other. Personally, I’m exhausted from a year plus of tracking this and can’t imagine dealing with it through January 2021 or 2025, but Hillary Clinton may yet make it happen.
The key to this approach is making sure he’s constantly giving his base plenty of raw, red meat while doing just enough to keep enough loyal Republicans in his column in the polls and enough delegates with him at the convention. Reaching out to Cruz is part of this effort, and it’s not like Trump voters hate him like they detest Jeb.
The Bush family is boycotting the convention. Great for the base, but bad for Trump’s bona fides. Governor Kasich hasn’t committed to attending the event in his own state. Marco Rubio was going to show up, but is now staying away as he tries to retain his Senate seat in Florida. That leaves Ted as the most mainstream option available to Trump.
It’s worth the risk of giving Cruz a platform and it’s not like Trump needs to worry about anyone overshadowing him. As for Cruz, he’s thinking about 2020 all day every day. There’s always the chance Trump wins in November, but Ted is tracking the betting markets, Nate Silver, and everyone else who figures the odds are he has a clear path in four years.
Assuming he can position himself as the next person up. Until we have enough evidence to prove otherwise, it’s still most likely the runner-up from one cycle is the front-runner the next time. That’s just how the GOP usually does things. It might sound strange to talk about usual in the Year of Trump, and if he wins or the party dissolves it’s another matter, but as recently as 2012, the rule still held.
Rick Santorum was in that position this time. So you can argue Trump upset the natural order, or you can conclude Santorum was the weakest Republican runner-up in generations and isn’t a good example of the terrain Cruz would face in four years. Ted is well aware of the significant speeches given by other candidates in his position.
In 1980, Ted Kennedy gave the speech of his life after being officially defeated by Jimmy Carter at the Democratic convention. He never ran again, but set himself up well enough that he could have if he had Cruz’s drive to run for the White House.
Nelson Rockefeller finished second to Barry Goldwater in 1964 and openly broke with the nominee in his convention speech. Goldwater partisans shouted him down from the floor and general chaos ensued. While Rockefeller got some points with the liberal wing of the party, his already damaged future prospects never fully recovered.
The example clearest in Cruz’s mind is Ronald Reagan from 1976. After fighting and losing the closest nomination battle either party has seen since 1952, Reagan was not originally expected to address the convention. There is some dissension about whether he was truly completely unprepared when Gerald Ford invited him up to the podium, but either way, Reagan gave a short, career defining speech that left many delegates wishing they had chosen differently.
Cruz knows his history. He will not take the Rockefeller path. Ideally, he’ll channel his inner Reagan instead of doing what he normally does and referring to Reagan’s history. If Cruz is giving a speech that gives him a leg up on Ben Sasse, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, or anyone else of his generation who didn’t lose to Trump this time, he will look forward to 2020, not backward to when the Gipper was in the ascendant.
He knows he’s giving his first speech of the 2020 nominating contest. The content will show us if he’s learned anything from his defeat in 2016, or if he just assumes Republican primary voters and the country at large just didn’t want him this time because Trump distracted them.
It wasn’t just Trump. If Cruz was better received (even by Republicans) he could have won this time. He’s had a couple months to analyze and prepare. Two weeks from now, he’s either a legit front runner for next time or a wasted opportunity.