Even by the surreal standards of the 2016 US presidential campaign, Wednesday night in Cleveland was really quite something.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the man who came closest to stopping Donald Trump from winning the presidential nomination, was to speak at the Republican National Convention.
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The invitation to attend the convention came directly from Trump when the two met in Washington recently. The invitation was a surprise – Cruz’s acceptance an even bigger one.
Remember, just before the Indiana primary, Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” who “doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth”.
It was a devastating indictment, but had no impact on the final result and Trump triumphed in the primaries.
Cruz walked on to the broad stage in Cleveland on Wednesday night to a standing ovation from Republican delegates.
He must have thought for a moment, “This is what could have been. I would have been the nominee if Trump hadn’t leapt into the race. I should be making my acceptance speech.”
Cruz congratulated Trump on winning the nomination. And that was as far as he would go. It was a smart speech. It touched on issues and policy, something that has not been too much in evidence this week. Cruz told people to vote with their conscience in November.
As it became clear that Cruz was coming to the end of his speech and his time on stage – and there would be no endorsement of Trump as the Republican presidential nominee – the audience in Cleveland got loud.
It started with the delegation from New York – Trump’s home state.
And then they got angry. The anger spreading around the hall.
When Cruz finally ended his speech, the boos outweighed the cheers.
Cruz’s wife had to be escorted from the hall because Trump supporters were, in the words of one politician, “approaching in a threatening manner”.
If ever there was sign that the Republican Party was divided, it was clear at that moment.
For Ted Cruz, it was a massive political gamble. The boos even rang out from the Texas delegation. Many of them revered Cruz. They supported him. They wanted him to be president. But the boos from the Texas delegates were loud and strong.
It’s said that they have long memories in Texas. Cruz may now face a strong challenge when his senate seat is next up for grabs.
If Trump wins and turns out to be a bad president, Cruz can say “I told you so”. If Trump loses, Cruz’s position not to endorse him will be justified. And Cruz will try to run for president again in four years’ time.
People associated with the Trump campaign were furious at Cruz. They called his speech “awful” and “selfish”.
But the Trump campaign has some liability here, too.
Trump tweeted that he saw the speech two hours before it was delivered and saw no reason to stop Cruz going ahead.
Why on earth would he let Ted Cruz speak without securing an endorsement? Why would he take such a risk? The campaign shouldn’t have been so sloppy and unprofessional. Trump has made a virtue of running an unorthodox campaign and not using traditional political methods.
It’s worked until now. But when such a mistake is made, it risks harming everything he’s worked for to this point. And it’s not the first mistake this week. There was the mishandling of the announcement of Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, and the plagiarism row over a speech by this wife, Melania Trump.
The Cruz debacle sucked the energy and focus from the big set-piece speech by Pence, Trump’s vice presidential pick.
Pence actually gave a good speech, and did what the bottom of the ticket is meant to do. He bolstered his boss, criticised his opponents, and introduced himself to the American public.
But no one was talking about that.
All they wanted to discuss was Cruz.