CLEVELAND — Donald Trump promised a convention that had a bit more “showbiz.” So far, it’s been a reality show: personal and pugnacious.
It continued on Thursday morning, on the day that Trump will accept his party’s nomination, when Ted Cruz defended his decision not to endorse the candidate, even though he was given a plum speaking slot on Wednesday night. The result were a chorus of boos in the Quicken Loans Arena as Cruz wrapped up his speech after telling the crowd to vote “your conscience.” As he began to be drowned out by chants of “Endorse Trump!,” Trump himself was entering the venue, taking his seat with his family and looking none too pleased.
Speaking to delegates at a breakfast, Cruz said that he would not vote for Hillary Clinton but he did not say whether he would vote for Trump.
Instead, he made clear that Trump’s attacks during the primary campaign still stung. Trump retweeted mean comments about Cruz’s wife’s appearance, and suggested that there was some legitimacy to claims that his father was connected to Lee Harvey Oswald.
Cruz said at a breakfast before the Texas delegation on Thursday that a Republican party pledge to support the nominee, whoever that was, was “abrogated” after Trump got personal.
“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father,” Cruz said. “And that pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I am not going to just come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father.”
The drama is only magnified by the presence of about 15,000 journalists, outnumbering delegates about 6-1, but it does reflect genuine fissures within the party, not just on Cruz’s party but by the shunning of the convention by establishment figures and the past nominee, Mitt Romney.
It’s made for something that the media craves: an unfolding story, which seems to swing from one broadcast and cable interview to the next, as Trump campaign officials, political pundits and elected officials just seem to build the storyline. After Cruz spoke, Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort was speaking to reporters and shot back, “He was the only speech in the convention that was poorly received, in the hall.”
He said that Trump offered Cruz a speaking slot without conditions, but thought that Cruz “might be a little more politically smart.”
Even some Cruz supporting delegates were dismayed that he chose the convention to make it explicit that he was not endorsing Trump.
The intrigue is whether Trump’s campaign egged on delegates to boo Cruz, knowing from the speech’s prepared text that no endorsement was forthcoming. Texas delegates, a stronghold for Cruz, were among those on their feet joining the chorus, reflecting a big reversal from the sustained cheers he got when he arrived on stage.
The drama has actually distracted from other stories swirling around Cleveland, like a breakout of the norovirus in the California delegation and even some of the scattered protests causing disruption outside the arena. And the first two nights of the convention seemed to have herky jerky scheduling, with the arena emptying before the speakers’ lineup was finished.
Don King, the boxing promoter, has told Variety and other outlets that the Republican party pressured Trump to deny him a speaking slot, but he’s perhaps more than made up for the exposure in making the rounds to broadcast and cable outlets.
The media’s focus on the ongoing tension could dissipate on Thursday night, when Trump delivers his acceptance speech, in what may be the most important moment of his campaign. He’ll be introduced by his daughter, Ivanka, will introduce him, in what is sure to be a showbiz-like entrance.
Trump has seemed to thrive on the exposure so far, even when it has been negative.”Good news is that Melania’s speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics especially if you believe that all press is good press,” he tweeted on Wednesday, when the controversy over copied portions of his wife’s speech was still swirling.
The aggregate viewership for the two nights of the convention have actually been down slightly from the same time frame four years ago, but Thursday’s speech is the main event. So perhaps the ongoing drama will help drive interest. In an unpredictable year when reality often has meant ratings, Trump may be right.