The 2016 Republican campaigns have been, on their own and when viewed inter-dependently, wildly fascinating to appreciate on an anthropological level. The tribalism, the creation of a culturally reactive godhead, the breakdown of individualization and the rabid swell of nativism and groupthink. And now, the cannibalism. Day three of the Republican National Convention wrapped up just a few hours ago at the Q. Like the days before it, it was not one that was without a dubious level of mismanagement and controversy.
First, the dissension in the delegates and Melania’s plagiarism rewrote the narrative for day one. Day two was hopelessly off-message with Base-appeasing theatrics like Chris Christie’s kangaroo court and Ben Carson’s Lucifer accusations, and now, day three has Ted Cruz. A running theme throughout the night featured the capitulation and surrender of Trump’s remaining ideological holdouts. Earlier this year, Scott Walker’s Primary concession speech included a very impassioned, very clear, call for the remaining field to find common ground in stopping Donald Trump from the nomination, at the time, a national crisis to the Wisconsin Governor. Now? Eh, bygones be bygones. Sure, he mentioned Trump, but Walker was there for Walker; specifically, for Walker 2020. Take note, entire swaths of the crowd had professionally printed signs with Walker’s own call and response slogan, which he repeated over a dozen times from the stage, “America deserves better.”
“Little” Marco Rubio made an appearance as well, albeit by video screen… albeit that, by only appearing for less than a minute and barely mentioning Trump by name. I question even the cynical tactical logic of appearing on stage or screen for an endorsement. Even if you’re angling for a 2020 bump off a Trump loss, why effectively start your four year campaign by bending the knee to the very person you’re making your argument against?
Then there was Ted, everyone’s favorite greased ferret. You got to hand it to Ted Cruz, the man is a perpetual energy machine of shamelessness. His speech opened with the exploitation of the tragedy in Dallas, apropos of nothing other than to kick the legs out from under a convention that was finally beginning to become enthused before that moment. Looking back, that may have been strategic maneuver to assume control of the crowd’s tempo and slow things down. Whatever control he may have had, it lasted less than twenty minutes.
It did not take long into Cruz’s self-serving, rambling oration for the crowd to realize that the long-awaited endorsement of his vaunted opponent was not coming. Cruz drew attention to the New York delegation, and I’m sure they cheerleaded, but the vast majority of the arena broke into a vociferous chorus of boos after the Texas senator urged the nation to “vote their conscience” (i.e. not Donald Trump). It was a fascinating and atavistically entertaining to watch Cruz wither on the vine, frozen with his curdled milk smile while the Sandman could have shuffled on stage to broom him away. There are a certain number of scenarios, many of them likely, where this footage will serve as a highlight reel to the end of Ted Cruz’s political career. If that wasn’t odd enough, Emperor Trump made a brief appearance during all of this to glower from his box while bathed in a cold blue light alongside his equally lemon-faced offspring.
The scrapbook from this campaign… I can only imagine.
Despite the Primary sideshow reunion, this was Mike Pence’s night. Trump’s Vice Presidential selection, Pence has had to take it on the chin nearly immediately after accepting the invitation to run. It was leaked that Trump didn’t actually want Pence and was trying to back out of the arrangement less than twelve hours before they made it official. Following that, the pair did an interview for CBS’s 60 Minutes in which Trump consistently talked over Pence, insisting it didn’t matter Pence’s voting record was completely antithetical to his own rhetoric. For Pence to make a national name for himself that was not synonymous with “Palin” he would need to knock the keynote speech out of the park. And for the most part, he did just that.
Pence was palate cleansing sherbet after a spicy meal. His “aww shucks. I’m just a simple family man” routine may be rout material but it was delivered effectively. Given the bar for the convention thus far, that is a win. Whether ginned or not, the crowd enthusiastically chanted, “We like Mike” several times. While he tended to run-on a bit long at the end, losing some of the crowd’s steam, Pence effectively saved the night from Cruz’s sabotage.
The night may prove to have been a wash with Cruz’s passive rebellion neutralizing Pence’s success, or vice-versa, however you see the split. This will be the third night in a row that individual theatrics or open dislike of the candidate has dominated the news cycle. Even if Trump delivers the best speech of his career tonight, (he could), he’ll still be leaving Cleveland with a losing 1-3 record. If Hillary steals Trump’s thunder tonight with a dynamic VP selection that somehow happens to get leaked to the press, she may overshadow him, effectively shutting him out for his week of free national press. Coming into next week’s Philadelphia Democratic National Convention, that will be a good place to be if she can bear the death by a thousand cuts that the Republicans seem determined to apply. The final night of the RNC is tonight here in Cleveland and the final lasting memory of a convention riddled with hiccups and black eyes will be up to the Don to save or squander. Given the setbacks thus far, breaking even is no longer an option for him.