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RNC night 3: Cruz’s astonishing political striptease and Pence’s excellent debut

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Sen. Ted Cruz speaking during the third night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

If you’ve paid any attention to politics last night or this morning, you know that Sen. Ted Cruz pulled an impressive stunt last night that will alienate – seriously and perhaps permanently – the Cruz and Trump wings of the Republican electorate.

In case you don’t know about it yet, Cruz – the last man standing against Donald Trump in the race for the Republican presidential nomination – was given a prime-time speaking slot at the convention last night. Cruz, despite an elaborate striptease, did not endorse Trump for president or encourage his supporters to vote for Trump.

I call it an elaborate striptease because at several points during his remarks Cruz seemed to almost endorse or seemed about to endorse. He said, right at the top of his remarks: “I congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination.” But that’s not the same as endorsing Trump or asking Cruz supporters to vote for Trump. And it turned out to be the only time he mentioned Trump’s name. He later said:

And to those listening, please, don’t stay home in November. Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.

But, pointedly, he did not specify that Trump fit that description.

As Trump fans in the overwhelmingly pro-Trump audience started interrupting Cruz with chants of “En-Dorse Trump. En-Dorse Trump.” Cruz ad libbed: “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation” (perhaps an insult, by implying that only the New Yorkers cared whether Cruz endorsed Trump). There was getting to be a lot of booing.

A display of take-chargeness

Trump decided to end the striptease and showed up, visible at the back of the room, while Cruz was still speaking. As a display of take-chargeness, Trump decided to walk up and take over the stage, without waiting to be intoduced. Cruz was about finished anyway. The booing was getting loud, but it wasn’t clear whether it might have mixed with some cheers as well. Bear in mind, there were plenty of Cruz delegates at the convention, who may not yet have fully embraced their Trumpian fate.

A few things you should know. Cruz had noted publicly to the media in advance that he had not promised to endorse Trump in exchange for getting a speaking slot at the convention. Cruz, who has perhaps the furthest right ideologically of any of the Republican candidates, probably doesn’t view Trump – whose policy views have roamed all over the ideological map – as a true conservative. (Perhaps the verbiage above encouraging everyone to “vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution” was meant to imply that this was a group that didn’t necessarily include Trump.)

Cruz was also deeply and understandably bitter over personal attacks Trump had made on Cruz’s wife’s looks and on Cruz’s father, whom Trump implied might have been involved with Lee Harvey Oswald in the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy.

Trump loyalists who criticized Cruz after the incident pointed out the Cruz was among the Republican candidates who had publicly pledged to support the eventual nominee, so on that basis he may have been breaking his word. Michael Cohen, an executive with Trump’s company, said on CNN afterwards that Cruz (whom he called “a baby”) had committed “political suicide” and “should not be allowed to run for dogcatcher” in the future.

Winner or loser?

Other analysts speaking after the incident suggested that Cruz expected Trump to lose the election this year and specifically had his own political future in mind, believing that Trump would be a political disaster for the Repubs and that he, Cruz, would be among the frontrunners for the 2020 nomination. The Washington Post feature “The Fix,” in its “winners and losers” rankings for the evening, listed Cruz as a winner (if Trump loses the election) and a loser (if Trump wins).

I don’t know which of these theories, if any, is correct. It was just an astonishing development to see live on the air during a convention where everything nowadays is supposed to be planned and choreographed. New York Times columnist David Brooks, who was commenting for PBS’ coverage of the evening, said it was the first time in modern history that the runner-up for a major-party presidential nomination had declined to endorse the nominee. Liberal CNN commentator Van Jones described the events as “a zoo on top of a circus inside of a sideshow inside of a car crash.” That one cracked me up.

Someday, maybe we’ll figure out if it had any actual impact, or maybe we won’t. On the PBS panel, syndicated columnist Mark Shields disagreed with Brooks about how big of a deal it was. He felt the national debut of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as Trump’s running-mate was a bigger deal.

I don’t claim to know which was a bigger deal. But I do agree with the general sense of the commentariat that Pence made an excellent debut. He struck me as a much better public speaker than any of the presidential candidates in either party this year.

Aw-shucks style worked great

He’s a nice-looking man, with really great short white hair. He has an aw-shucks speaking style that worked great. He introduced his sweet-looking octogenarian mother, Nancy, calling her “the light of my life” — which was slightly awkward since Pence’s wife was also sitting right there, but she didn’t seem to mind. He said, “The most important job I’ll ever have in my life is spelled D.A.D.” In a political scene dominated by the not-particularly-humble Mr. Trump, Pence’s self-deprecating style was a tonic.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaking at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night.

A running mate often has to play the attack dog for the ticket. With Mr. Trump in the picture, that shouldn’t be necessary, but Pence was effective without being anywhere near as obnoxious. Here’s a taste, in which he riffed on the idea that Trump is a brash outsider who will shake up Washington, while Hillary Clinton …

If the idea was to present the exact opposite of a political outsider and an uncalculating truth-teller, then you gotta hand it to the Democratic establishment, they outdid themselves this time. At the exact moment when America is crying out for something new and different, the other side has answered with a stale agenda and the most predictable of names. People in both parties are restless for change, ready to break free of old patterns in Washington and the Democrats are about to nominate someone who represents everything this country is tired of. Y’know, Hillary Clinton wants a new title and I would too, if I was already America’s Secretary of the Status Quo.

(The Republican audience liked that so much that they responded with their favorite bloodthirsty cry of “Lock her up. Lock her up.”)

Pence’s affable shtick was better than his attack mode, but the crowd liked both and interrupted his speech with a (presumably, or purportedly) spontaneous chant of “We Like Mike. We Like Mike.”

Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/21/2016 - 09:45 am.

    Not exactly unity and inspiration.

    Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement gets his revenge for Trumps comments about Cruz’s wife during the primary when Trump insinuated Cruz’s wife wasn’t very attractive. Cruz also took his first run at 2020 by snubbing Trump, a risky political move. NASA astronaut Eileen Collins was expected to endorse Trump as well, but didn’t. She said she didn’t want her speech to be partisan as her goal was to highlight the fact that space program has slowed over the years.

    VP candidate Mike Pence’s speech was totally uninspiring. For a guy who has been in politics a long time as a political radio show host, a congressman for 12 years, and a governor, Pence is not an inspiring public speaker. As a side note Pence was in congress for 12 years and not a single one of the bills he submitted passed. My guess is they all included some kind of a poison pill as Pence operates on the fringe of the Republican Party with the tea party. Pence is still trying to figure out what his role is other than pandering to Trump about how great he is.

    I think the RNC convention has exposed the Republican Party for what it is, fractured, dysfunctional, and nowhere close to unity. The convention has had misstep after misstep on its way to trying to make Trump look good to the voters. The party is having a hard time supporting Trump, but they want you to vote for him. It is totally nonsensical. Ryan and McConnell’s tepid endorsement/non-endorsement of Trump and Christe, and Gringrich’s pandering endorsements of Trump have put their political careers in jeopardy. The Democrats have their problems too but nowhere near the dysfunction of the Republican Party. Do you ever get the feeling the 365, 24/7 campaigning, campaign conventions, and party’s that put up marginal candidates are a huge waste of time and money? It is no wonder voter apathy is a problem. Unfortunately it is voter apathy that allows the parties to venture into obstructionism and total dysfunction.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/21/2016 - 09:49 am.

    Congratulations to Cruz–while the remainder of the party seems to have the approach to do whatever it takes to get the White House, a finger in the eye to the coronation of Manchurian candidate Trump is richly deserved. I shall always remember him fondly for this.

    By the way, isn’t it odd how Trump keeps showing up. It’s a big clue to his ego need.

  3. Submitted by Jim Million on 07/21/2016 - 10:27 am.

    Old Adage

    Something about keeping friends close, and enemies closer? I broke training and did watch these speeches last night. So, here’s my straight down the middle reaction:

    Given his greatest public exposure, probably ever, Ted Cruz greatly tempered his usual oratorical persona by speaking with less inflection and dynamic extremes, and with fairly subdued gestures. I’m still wondering if that was out of respect for the occasion (don’t think so) or perhaps due to some subtle sense of intimidation. Now, that’s a tough call for me, simply because Cruz has always given me the image of the classic Texan television preacher, using those stereotypical rhetorical devices. Ted even kept his somewhat irritating sonic traits in check, keeping his words out of his nose, for the most part. Now, before moderators and readers jerk any knees here, please know that, among other things, old Jim here is a trained public speaker and actor from very early days. I always watch for technique and oratorical expertise, and gamesmanship. Cruz is an accomplished “sermonizer,” if you will. For some reason, he really toned down that trait last night. Perhaps the significantly formal setting before all those national Republican delegates and likely large TV audience slightly intimidated Ted, at least to the extent of moderating his personality and performance. I know that’s difficult to swallow, but, maybe he just couldn’t make himself become his typical tent meeting persona this time. Well, whatever, I’m left feeling that Ted Cruz has become mostly irrelevant to his party’s future.

    Knowing mostly nothing of Mike Pence other than superficial impressions from a few sound bytes and video clips, he pretty much performed well beyond my expectations of counter image to Trump. Unlike so many national politicians most of us have come to view quite cynically, Pence matched his physical image of dignified low key “conservative” with friendly and calmly modulated tones of reason and rhetoric. Again, let me say I viewed him without predisposition, political or otherwise. He did his job last night, I believe, genuinely offering an image of calmly considered perspective without threat of personality aberrations. Whatever we see develop in this man as VP candidate, I think he adds kindness and great moderation to what is rightfully viewed as tempest, tumult and some treachery of Trumpian characteristics.

    Whatever grist we all may need to grind this summer, we should appreciate what Mike Pence did in one night to calm our collective breathing, giving the nation a needed break from verbal hostility.
    Sure a VP’s persona doesn’t count for much in the practical scheme of election success; but, really, shouldn’t we all welcome a little relief from the Quixotic top of the ticket?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 07/21/2016 - 11:45 am.


      You really need to read up on the guy.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 07/21/2016 - 12:52 pm.

        Start with this

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/21/2016 - 02:42 pm.


        My comments pertain to his speaking style, rhetoric and persona last night. I’ve previously noted that my relatives in Indy consider him to have been “a terrible Governor.” I know much of the Left sees him as an evangelical guy, as do those on the Right, obviously. I do feel that if we’re going to attack those with strong religious faith, those with none are also fair targets, as are those who are anti-religious. That’s not the way I see our society, so I leave personal items such as faith out of my view. They’re generally no threat either way, as far as I’m concerned. It’s how these people regard the rest of us people, all of us people, that counts in my tabulations. I’m sure not returning the eras when we would not vote for a Jew, a Roman Catholic. If I recall correctly, many evangelical Christians did not support Romney in 2012 because he was Mormon, “not a Christian,” as a very old and now evangelized friend stunned me then.

        My points simply note how Pence presented himself last night in his new role as counter balance to Trump. I believe he performed his role well. These conventions are for those who drink the water and eat the Twinkies with either Red or Blue filling. I’m certainly not worried about possibilities of a theocracy here.

        As a little test of objectivity, let’s wait to see how comments run here next week.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 07/21/2016 - 03:40 pm.


          Pence’s agenda and my objections to it have little to do with religion, and everything to do with extreme anti-gay and anti-science lawmaking. His religion may be his excuse for his malevolence, but it’s not being driven by religion.

          • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 07/21/2016 - 05:15 pm.

            It’s how the Overton window keeps moving.

            Compared to boisterous sociopathy, sociopathy in civil tones becomes a moderate position.

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/21/2016 - 05:16 pm.


            You might have made that clear to me. I admitted to being “uneducated” on Pence’s proclivities. Just noting what I observed and heard last night. That’s the context of review.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/21/2016 - 01:17 pm.

      Points for Style

      I agree that Senator Cruz abandoned his usual barn-burning style for his speech. I don’t think it was intimidation, however. I think it was a deliberate choice. What better way to draw a contrast between himself and Trump than by sounding like a reasonable, sane adult? It makes it that much harder to dismiss him.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/21/2016 - 03:03 pm.


        Whatever Cruz intended, it didn’t seem to apply to this November. I’ve heard commentary today that suggests he might be planning a 2020 insurrection should TrumPence win this thing. He must truly believe he has the old Northeast Bush/Romney contingent with him, as irrelevant as they have become so far this year. When I saw the number they tried to do on Rubio in favor of JEB, I realized how desperate these antediluvians are. If they should attempt a coup against a Trump White House, Democrats will hold the place for decades to come, maybe forever, as the Republican Party dissolves before our eyes. Some here would cheer, but I would truly be glad to be old then (unless they continued to boost my annual benefits, ha ha). A sociopolitical structure without contest would not be a good system for very long, I fear.

  4. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 07/21/2016 - 10:49 am.

    Man I hope he goes off script tonight

    It is funny that Trump keeps bringing up the pledge. He spent the last 6 months throwing out personal insults on all the other candidate, name calling, mocking. He has thrown out more racial slurs than probably any candidate in history. He has extremely thin skin, asks his followers to assault people, he advocates breaking the law to torture people, he advocates killing families of the people he has tortured. He has no platform except for a few crazy ideas like the wall. He’s told more outright lies that he has refused to back down from and was only topped once in the whole campaign when Carly Fiorina told her wopper about Planned Parenthood. How would a guy like that actually expect to be endorsed by any reasonable person with experience in politics and government? I cannot imagine him facing the day to day duties of a president, which was why his VP search was about finding someone to do the day to day Some of his purely narcissistic comments are so outrageous that can’t imagine a person saying that stuff and not recognizing how that sounds to others. In my neighborhood there is someone who writes messages on the sidewalks about the constitution and how bad Obama is only this person can’t even spell constitution. I think that person is truly representative of the Trump core constituency.

  5. Submitted by Brian Stalboerger on 07/21/2016 - 10:49 am.


    Watching last night, I thought Cruz was being low-class, thinking he should have stayed home.
    But today, I hear that Trump campaign saw the speech days ago and signed off on it.
    Cruz pointed out that he did not say anything negative about Trump.
    Campaign Mgr Manafort told a member of the press, wait until you hear the reaction from the crowd to that speech. Then, the Trump campaign sent people into the aisles to whip up the crowd and start booing at a certain point.

    So it seems that Trump was getting some revenge. Petty by Trump.

  6. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 07/21/2016 - 11:15 am.

    Mr Cruz

    Is a psychopath, but (one nevertheless must concede) he is very smart, very tactical, and a person ferociously unafraid to hold to his principles.

    He is wagering that Trump will lose, in which case his action last night will strengthen his position greatly for 2020 with the non-Establishment elements of the party, including the base. He decided to take on a moderate risk for a high potential payoff.

    Whereas, Mssrs McConnell, Ryan, Pence, Christie and the rest are so lacking in imagination and courage, and hold their principles so lightly, that I’m sure it never even occurred to them that they might withhold their obeisance.

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/22/2016 - 03:30 pm.


      He’s wagering that even if Trump wins, he won’t govern as a ‘true’ conservative & will be an utter disaster. Which seems like a pretty safe bet too. Either way, Cruz wins.

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/21/2016 - 11:28 am.

    Only by comparison

    to the 3-year-old bully heading the ticket is Mike Pence “moderate.” He pushes all the correct right-wing buttons on birth control, abortion, sexuality in general, carrying your AR-15 in public, and trying to convince people that our gargantuan military establishment somehow isn’t getting enough money and support. In almost any other context (Cruz as nominee might be an exception), Pence would be recognized as the right-wing camp-follower that he’s proved himself to be in Congress and the Indiana Governor’s office. There’s been no hint of “compassionate conservative” anywhere in the Republican campaign of this election cycle, and that includes Mr. Pence.

    Trump is a child. Pence is an adult, but a malevolent one. A big smile does not magically render the person doing the smiling all warm and fuzzy.

  8. Submitted by Sean Olsen on 07/21/2016 - 01:51 pm.


    I’m not really convinced there was anything terribly strategic about what Cruz did last night. Donald Trump insulted his wife and suggested his father was involved in the JFK assassination. Trump never apologized publicly for doing so. I don’t know why anyone really thinks Cruz should have taken one for the team under such unusual circumstances. And if standing up for his family under such circumstances ends his political career — (gulp) — put me on Team Cruz in just this one instance.

  9. Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 07/21/2016 - 02:03 pm.

    the chants

    I read somewhere that they are anything but spontaneous. Staffers spread through the audience and try and start them on cue.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 07/21/2016 - 03:22 pm.

      Pro forma…

      In the old tradition of these conventions. This has been a pretty quiet crowd with respect to those of the first half of the 20th Century, I believe. Of course, the arenas were generally not air conditioned then. That makes a big difference, for sure. Let’s see how much fun the Dems have at theirs.

  10. Submitted by C.S. Senne on 07/21/2016 - 02:18 pm.


    Thanks, Ray, for writing these truths about this sanctimonious, self-described “Christian, Conservative, and Republican, in that order.” Anyone considering voting for him needs to do the research. He’s definitely a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I’m always amazed how voters of this country screech against “Sharia Law” and then fully embrace the religiosity of those who want to inflict their beliefs on others. Good old smiling Mike is especially interested in controlling women’s bodies. It’s thought that he was in real danger of losing the Governorship of Indiana, and Trump rescued him from that. The women of Indiana dislike this fellow so enthusiastically that thousands started the Facebook page, “Periods for Pence.” His “affable schtick” isn’t playing well in his home state. Look it up.

  11. Submitted by David Therkelsen on 07/21/2016 - 05:30 pm.

    Trump crowd should recognize Cruz did them a necessary service

    I have no use and no regard for any of this current Republican crowd.
    But in the Republican ranks, there are many, many Conservatives who don’t consider Trump even close to one of them. There are many, many others who simply don’t like Trump.
    Cruz’ task was to make the case to these voters, as a Conservative and as one who plainly doesn’t like Trump, why they should support the ticket anyway.
    If the Trump campaign was more experienced and savvy, they would not only have recognized this, they would have orchestrated it.

  12. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 07/22/2016 - 08:36 am.

    Thoughts while stripping downed tree of its branches…

    …may be good metaphor here?

    ….What is it about crowd culture in a catatonic state … heads raised like a thousand thumbs and funny hats and flags worn like the latest summer outfit…voices sterilized into a mantra of “USA” chanted how many times?

    Not the most impressive state of a nation in a state of apoplexy… could be?

    Glazed eyes turned upward in welded devotion to whomever the speaker trumping its negatives as if they were gems of wisdom?

    Fitst there’s the “sociopath” then comes the undertaker with his soft voice and limp messege from the heart of a most conservative Indiana;…and so many other followers…not open minded thinkers but followers with hearts raised like a one hand salute?

    So, is it…God-bless-America?

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