Tuesday, July 26, 2016

YES SHE CAN! (But She's Not the First Lady who is Running for President)

We’re back with Day One of the Democratic Convention, in which the real First Lady delivered a spectacular speech using her very own words. Good news for Melania, who now has a new speech to crib from.

I know that a powerful, passionate, exceptionally smart woman who first became known to the American people as our First Lady is about to be the first woman nominated by a major U.S. party as their candidate for president.

I am just not sure it is the right one.

As she did in 2008 and 2012, Michelle Obama rocked the Democratic Convention last night, clearly the top gun among a roster of party superstars. In the imagery of parenting, role models, and children-rearing in the White House fish bowl, she found the perfect, honest, original (ouch, Melania!), and wholly authentic way to contrast her values, those of her husband, and those of Hillary Clinton with the Republican whose name she did not deign to mention.  Michelle Obama is a powerful, strong, original, authentic woman. Geez, I thought… if only more Republicans would steal ideas from her.

It’s a very good thing that Michelle Obama brought her “A” game last night. Great that Corey Booker also excelled in a speech that reminded people of another emerging young charismatic African American voice back at the 2004 convention.  Elizabeth Warren was good but not at her best, and Bernie Sanders checked all the boxes he needed to check. A strong showing by this cast was made essential, however, by the toxic events leading up to the convention.

As of last Saturday morning, there was every reason for Democrats to look forward to their convention in Philadelphia, upbeat and confident.

The Republican Convention that had just concluded in Cleveland was broadly panned; it was flawed by amateurish organizational failures, Melania Trump’s humiliating plagiarism scandal, a public snub of the candidate by Ted Cruz, and four days of a relentlessly over-the-top tone of darkness, anger, and hostility. The value of Donald Trump’s four most passionate and articulate endorsements was diminished by the fact that they were all given by someone also named Trump. Fact-checkers lunched lavishly on Trump’s inaccurate accounting of America under Obama. The only thing missing was a Neil Young rewrite of his classic lyrics (“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, four days in Ohio!”), and the Trumpublican 2016 Convention would have achieved its rendezvous with yesteryear.

The rancor of the Republican Party seemed to be the perfect backdrop for the supposedly newly united Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton had made hyooooooge concessions to Bernie Sanders on his key platform planks in order to secure his endorsement before the convention.

On Saturday, Tim Kaine was well-received as Hillary’s choice for running mate. The selection of the vanilla nice Kaine telegraphed the campaign’s confidence; there was no perceived need to make a “high risk/high potential reward” pick like Warren or Booker.

Things seemed to be in really good shape for the Blue Team en route to the city of Brotherly Love.

Ah, but this is the Democratic Party.  For the eight years of No Drama Obama, the Party’s core DNA had been forcibly repressed like a Ritalin kid tethered in the back seat for the entire ride to Six Flags.  Hillary Clinton had tried to tame the monster, but deep down, the Party of Chaos was dry kindling looking for a match.  If you are looking for experts on how to botch a good thing, who you gonna call? Victory Busters! This is, after all, the party that in 2000 was riding on eight years of surging prosperity, no foreign wars, and spectacular technological innovation… and still managed to lose to a guy who once said “The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country."   

About the only good news about the DNC email leak is that it did not involve Hillary Clinton’s private server. Thousands of emails were hacked by Wiki-Leaks, revealing embarrassing exchanges that showed that members of the Democratic National Committee were gaming how to sabotage Bernie’s campaign.

On Friday there had been legions of Bernie Babies just on the cusp of almost sorta kinda thinkin’ about maybe this one time accepting that just maybe – maybe – they ought to get in line behind Hillary. By Saturday, they were once again in open revolt.

It is an age-old truth that the gaffes that hurt the most are those that reinforce a core narrative about a candidate. In this case, the idea that the Democratic Party organization was plotting to undermine the Bernie Sanders campaign pressed every negative button about Hillary Clinton: that she is above the rules, that the rules are rigged in her favor, that the establishment was screwing the insurgent, that Hillary can’t be trusted.  By Sunday morning, the damage control squad was working overtime, but Bernie’s gang were simmering in the Philadelphia heat and looking for a floor fight.

Then came the news that Trump’s supposedly awful convention had actually resulted in a six point “bounce” in the polls, putting him ahead of Clinton in the albeit largely meaningless national polls. That news hit Philadelphia like an insufficiently anesthetized colonoscopy, causing liberals to realize yet again just how much they don’t understand Trump and his supporters. A plagiarized convention pummeled by a snub-nosed Cruz missile that climaxed in a Heart of Darkness acceptance speech could lead to plus six points on the big board?

Ah, but there they go again. Their huge party about to begin, the Democrats needed only a weekend to make lemons out of lemonade.

Help, however, was on the way. Unlike the Republicans, who were scraping gum off Cleveland sidewalks in search of recognizable names to speak for Trump, the Democrats sent so many A-Listers and real-deal human interest stories up to the stage that I thought the podium was a celebrity Pokemon Go destination.

In the early evening, the Democrats presented a series of articulate, likeable, and highly sympathetic flesh and blood targets of Donald Trump’s bigotry and deceit: A young woman who was personally the victim of a Trump University scam; a person with disabilities spoke after repeated video replays of Trump’s horrific mimicry of Times Reporter Serge Kovaleski; a woman whose parents were illegal immigrants spoke of the human impact that the deportation of eleven million people would have on families and children.

Unfortunately, these riveting and stirring stories gave way to allegedly professional entertainers, who proceeded to let the air seep out of the balloon. Al Franken demonstrated that he is now actually better as a Senator than as a comedian. And Sarah Silverman thought it would be clever if she told the Bernie hold-outs that they “are being ridiculous.” Did I mention something above about kindling looking for a match? Thanks, Sarah.

Just as the stench from Silverman’s brain-fart was seeping out into the arena, Paul Simon was introduced to sing the suddenly extremely appropriate “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Note to Paul: if Bernie can make up with Hillary, you may want to get over it with Art. That song requires octaves you haven’t visited since Graceland.

Somehow not soothed by the mediocre rendering of ancient music by an aging multimillionaire white guy, the Bernie-babies were frothing when – just in the nick of time -- a bit of true convention magic happened.

Corey Booker, the immensely personable senator from New Jersey, snapped, crackled and popped onto the national stage last night, delivering a soaring speech that may have been the most comprehensive and inspirational “why vote Democrat” speech of the last decade. Booker warmed up with a few scalpel-sharp cuts into Donald Trump (“he says thing about women that he would never accept another man saying about his own wife…”), and then launched into a rich, full-throated articulation of the beliefs that unify Democrats and that Hillary Clinton has championed. If the Bernie insurgency was still sounding off in the arena, it was invisible; certainly so to the audience viewing from home.

Booker is a powerful speaker; but he has that rare gift of rhetorical genius for cadence, tempo, and modulation. He created a staircase of ever-elevated endorsements of Clinton by beginning each succeeding phase with an emphatic, “She knows!” Later, he quoted from Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise…”

“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

… And proceeded to build to a climax echoing her poem by using the phrase “We will rise!”

Booker hit a home run, and set the table for the Superstar.

It’s sort of a tragedy that Melania Trump did not simply come right out and say, “and now I would like to quote a passage from Michelle Obama.” What a moment that would have been; melting the robotic rigidity of Trump Trophy III. Hey, Melania… it’s o.k. …. Even people who don’t like Barack think Michelle is about as cool as it gets.

Michelle Obama chose the theme of being a parent in a life in full public view as a highly engaging way to deliver sharp zingers at the man whose name she never mentioned.

She spoke of how she and her husband have spent the past eight years constantly aware that their words and actions would be immensely influential on a generation of children. “Our words and our actions matter,” she said, lifting a word that has recently signaled polarization into a new context.

“When they go low,” she said, likely in reference to the birthers who question her husband’s citizenship and the zealots who questioned his religion, “We go high.”

Michelle Obama found a graceful transition in praising Hillary Clinton as a mother who raised a child “to perfection.” What was interesting -- given a history of rough moments with Hillary -- was her genuine admiration for Clinton. “When she did not win the (2008) nomination, she did not become angry or disillusioned. She did not pack up and go home. As a public servant, she knows this is so much more important…”

She made a thinly-veiled contrast between Clinton and Trump in describing the kind of President she wanted for her children.  The issues we face are complex, she said, and “cannot be boiled down to 140 characters.” “You cannot have a thin skin or lash out.”

That her endorsement of Hillary Clinton was total, complete, and unalloyed was not a surprise: a Clinton victory is vital for Obama’s legacy. What was striking was the degree to which Michelle Obama seemed to be putting herself on the line on the one word that most haunts Hillary Clinton: trust. Placing her entire speech in the context of her own children enabled her to make as emphatic an endorsement as one can imagine, as she essentially was saying the she trusted Hillary Clinton to be President in the world that her children – and children everywhere – would live in.

Michelle Obama ended at 10:24, and by the time she ended her speech, the emotional high for the evening had crested.

Elizabeth Warren found herself sandwiched between Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders, and – perhaps as a result – she did not command the crowd as she so often does. It did not help that she led with the charge that “the system is rigged,” which was originally Sanders' signature line, and then co-opted by Trump. It has therefore a campaign message for just about everybody except Hillary Clinton... and a good many people think she is the one doing the rigging. Coming 24 hours after the DNC email scandal – which was arguably a good example of the system being “rigged” – Warren seemed uncharacteristically tone deaf for someone charged with delivering the convention’s keynote.

At a point when most East Coast Time people feel mostly exhausted, it was finally time to Feel the Bern. Bernie Sanders walked on stage at 10:50 p.m. and bathed in an exceptionally warm four minute ovation.

For a crusty old goat who has seemingly spent the past year cherishing his role as a sharp spike in Hillary Clinton’s spleen, Bernie Sanders stood up and did what he had to do last night.  He coddled his following with one last Bernie stadium speech for old time’s sake, right down to the schtick about average donation being twenty seven dollars!!

But that is what he had to do. He had to remind his faithful of their cause; he needed to indulge himself, and all of them, in one last trip around the bases. Who cares if the Dems had grooved him a 70 mile per hour fast ball down the center of the plate; everyone needed him to hit the home run.

Sanders said what he needed to say: he emphatically concluded that “Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding President and I am proud to stand with her tonight.”

After the emotional carnage of the DNC email scandal, it remains to be seen whether Sanders even has the power to line up his troops to fight for the Clinton Army. But he did make the full-on endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and by 11:22, the Democratic Party looked almost… almost… united.

In the end, the question is not whether it is Bernie Sanders’ job to deposit his faithful throngs into Hillary Clinton’s needy arms.

So far, the leadership of the Democratic Party has done all it can do to bring the party together behind her… and we have not even yet heard from Bill Clinton, VP candidate Tim Kaine, or the Commander in Chief himself.

But even after those speeches, there is one person who must personally win over the Bernie Babies. One person who must take the game to Trump. One person who must win this election, which is shaping up to be the most brutal in American history.

Can she do it?
I sure want to believe the answer is yes, she can.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Republican Convention Day Four: "Believe Me."

Here’s our take on The Donald’s big speech… is he ready for Prime Time?

It seems like it may come down to this: How bad are things, anyway? And, to a secondary and lesser degree, whose fault is it?

For whatever peculiarities have permeated this extraordinary election cycle, presidential politics at the stage of the Party conventions follow predictable, well, conventions.

The party in power must make the case for staying the course. The eternal slogan: “Four More Years!”

The party out of power must make the case for change… the famous Reagan Challenge: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

For all of his “outsider” and unconventional candidacy, last night Donald Trump fell in line with convention.  He made an urgent, dire, and indeed apocalyptic case for change.

Last night in Cleveland on the final day of the Republican Convention, Donald Trump laid out the vision that is informing and inspiring his candidacy. His speech could be viewed as the classic posturing of a negotiator. His first and entire intent was to frame the debate and unnerve his negotiating opponent, aggressively shoving the democrats back on their high heels, forcing them on the defensive about the catastrophic state of failure that is today’s United States of America.

There’s no mistaking this point: in order for Trump to make the case for change, he felt he must first make an uncompromising and unalloyed case that the state of our nation is the worst it has ever been.  Indeed, he framed his speech as his own view of the “State of the Union,” and he promised his perspective would be wholly truthful and not filtered through the classic Washington, D.C. lens of self-interest, corruption, and self-preservation.

“I am your voice,” Trump thundered,  targeting what he perceives to be an electoral majority that believes its needs are ignored, and whose desires are actively thwarted and belittled by distant, out-of-touch, establishment elites in Washington.  Elites, Trump contended, who are cynical, corrupt, and on-the-take, making millions off the backs of the working men and women of America.  In a terrifying world of cop-killing and mass-murders by terrorists, it is essential that America elects a new leader who sees the existential threat to our way of life, and who will put law and order first at home, and who will immediately act to destroy ISIS abroad.

Trump’s approach was based on a tried and true debating tactic: it is far easier to make an argument for change by talking about how terrible things are, rather than about your plan for making things better.

Donald Trump spared no aspect of American life from his scathing invective. The country is unsafe due to rampant crime and cop killers; we are in constant danger from the illegal immigrants who come into the country and murder innocent people; we are forever at risk from suspicious Muslims who pour into our country through non-existent borders.  Our manufacturing base has been destroyed by trade deals, bringing our economy to its knees.  The Middle East used to be fairly stable – Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt – until Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State.

As unstinting as Trump was in his assessment of the state of our nation, the words on paper  were the lesser half of his communication.

The tone with which words are delivered shapes their meaning, and triggers an emotional response which can have far more impact than mere verbiage. Donald Trump’s delivery in Quicken Loans Arena last evening was relentlessly dark, angry, and fiercely combative; it was high-testosterone, Alpha-male hostility. It is actually possible for me to imagine that the exact same speech, delivered with the steady manner and occasional aw shucks grin of a Ronald Reagan, might have resulting in a portrayal of 2016 America as merely the third or fourth circle of Dante’s Inferno rather than Trump’s ninth.

But rather than sunny Ronnie, Donald Trump was channeling (as BTRTN reported last Friday, before the Huff Post or NYT!) none other than Tricky Dick Nixon.  What an irony! Trump campaign director Paul Manafort openly acknowledged that Trump’s speech was based on Nixon’s “Law and Order” convention speech in 1968, but Manafort stone-walled on admitting that Melania’s speech was plagiarized from Michelle Obama. Call me crazy, but I would not have freely offered up the Nixon steal, and it would have been a beautiful moment if Melania Trump had openly credited Michelle with hers.

By 11:34 last night, we finally had the answer that we’d been anticipating for months. All along, your writers here at BTRTN and indeed many pundits and journalists have been waiting for Donald Trump to “pivot…” to expand his message in an attempt to win over the undecided voters, rather than counting on victory through merely energizing his base to turn out and vote.

This week in Cleveland, we got the answer. The extent of the pivot seems to be this: a VP who is neither Chris Christie nor Newt Gingrich, a self-congratulatory moment for not booing gay people or the notion of LGBT rights, and four kids who clearly love their Dad… although they have not yet reached the denouement in “The Empire Strikes Back” when it is revealed that he is Darth Vadar.

Trump’s speech will be criticized widely for its lack of specificity and substance; those of us who have been following this rather closely for the past year did not expect a sudden Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus lightning bolt infusion of fact, detail, and granular policy into a Trump speech.

Rather, the Trump version of “supporting rationale” is the reassurance that Donald Trump himself is the person providing the information. “Believe me,” he nods, seemingly after every other sentence, with the attitude that these two words should be viewed as the functional equivalent of having been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, or as a string citation in a legal brief filed at the Supreme Court. “Believe me.”

Trump noted that would “make life better for kids in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit and Ferguson.” He would “defeat the Barbarians of ISIS.” He would “repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare.” He would “fix TSA at the airports.” “Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored.” In many such political speeches, one expects these types of sentences to actually continue, and proceed with to an explanation of how such grand things will be accomplished.  Trump prefers to simply end such assertions with a crisp period, or with that smugly self-satisfied “Believe me.”  He seems unaware that “believe me” is a line most often heard from twenty-somethings trying to convince a cop that they only had two wine spritzers.

In the end, Donald Trump’s singular objective appeared to be to create a case that life in America today is so terrifying, so rigged against the common man, and so full of uncertainty and risk that literally anybody would be better than Hillary Clinton. For that matter, there were nights in Cleveland when I thought the slogan “Anybody but Clinton” might have had more traction than “Vote for Trump.”

I have learned from watching CNN that I now must praise some aspect of his speech, as this appears to be de rigueur for all journalists so that they can claim to be “fair and balanced” (RIP, Roger Ailes).

How’s this? The very best thing I can say about Donald Trump’s speech is that I guarantee you not one word was stolen from Michelle Obama.

What does it all mean for the Democrats as they convene in Philadelphia?

They actually have a sincere communications challenge… but one that, if navigated well, can provide enormous momentum going into the full campaign season. The truth is that there is an enormous advantage in going second – that’s why the home team bats last – and my hope is that the Democrats leverage this opportunity.

The first challenge is delicate:  while acknowledging that our society faces real problems, the Democrats must – absolutely must – declare victory for the past eight years.

Fortunately, there is a very strong record for the Democrats to lead with… most pointedly if they set the stage with the condition of the country the last time the Republicans were in charge. Indeed, I would argue that the Democrats would be wise to kick off the convention by holding themselves up to the Gipper’s famous test: “Are you better off than you were eight years ago?”


  • A global economy in free fall due to lax enforcement and insufficient controls on major financial institutions; the life savings of everyday people decimated.
  • The automobile industry about to go in bankruptcy.
  • Unemployment rolls swelling by hundreds of thousands.
  • 5,000 Americans killed in a war undertaken under false pretenses.
  • Government response to Katrina.
  • Over forty million American men, women, and children without health insurance.


  • Unemployment at lows not seen in decades.
  • Financial markets and retirement accounts at all-time highs.
  • Millions now covered by health insurance.
  • Government response to Sandy (a pic of the Christie and Obama hug here would do real nice).
  • Financial controls (Dodd Frank) has stabilized financial markets.
  • Healthy auto industry.
  • The killing of Osama Bin Laden.

I would submit the Democrats would be wise to take aim at a core component of Trump’s assessment of the widespread discontent with government.  A key source of discontentment, Clinton might offer, is the gridlock caused by parties that announce their sole intention to thwart the goals of the other and freeze governing to inaction rather than lose on any point.  Clinton could note that Trump would have you believe that a bully bent on forcing his personal agenda is how we can improve government.  Such a course is only doomed to harden the lines that divide us.

It is not mine to write this defense. But the Democrats absolutely cannot allow Donald Trump’s assessment of America in 2016 under eight years of Democratic leadership to stand unchallenged. That’s job one.

The second “must” is a frank discussion of challenges. Again, it is not mine to write the policy, it is mine to point out that the Democrats must be perceived as the party that seeks wise, nuanced, and effective solutions to very real and current global and domestic issues that are layered with history and divisiveness. Hillary Clinton must explain that Trump’s oversimplification of exceedingly complex issues risks wildly exacerbating and inflaming the issues.

I have noted in previous columns that Hillary Clinton must articulate an activist, aggressive plan for dealing with ISIS. Today, it appears that the Democrats do not have a plan for how to fight this war. It is all well and good for Hillary Clinton to say that it is na├»ve and dangerous of Trump to speak of “bombing the shit out of ISIS,” but she must counter with the more intelligent and effective game plan. She must center her policy on coordinated action among nations, as well as characterizing Trump’s unilateral militancy as just another Republican cowboy ready to try shock and awe in a new town.

The Democrats must counter the “law and order” platform of the Republicans with a staunch assertion of support for law enforcement, but an equally strong need to identify and prosecute rogue officers, and a plan to assess and address institutional racial bias where it exists.  

Third, the Democrats must offer concrete, detailed plans and programs – if only to relentlessly point out how utterly lacking in substance Donald Trump’s campaign has been.

At the end of the day, Donald Trump’s showmanship was in full evidence on Tuesday night. He speaks with an absolute certainty that he is right, he is a man of action, and that he gets things done. Indeed, his certainty in himself is usually the primary reason he offers to support his contentions and his solutions.

There was a fascinating difference last night between the prepared text of Trump’s remarks last night and the actual speech that he delivered.

Repeatedly, in his live performance, he interjected the phrase “Believe me! Believe me!”

Those words never appear in the text, but they were repeated as if a needed dash of seasoning at the end of each sentence in the live speech.

It is as if he sensed the flimsiness of his facts or lack of substance to his solutions, and sought to buttress them in real time with the most compelling evidence he can offer: “Believe me.”

The Democrats would be wise to attack this phrase.  Why, why, why, should America believe Donald Trump? Why shouldn’t he be held to the standard of substance and details that every other candidate is held to? Why, for one example, should he alone not have to release his taxes? Why does he get to say that he will renegotiate deals, but not explain how? Why must we simply believe him?

Last night, Donald Trump made his case.

The good news for the Democrats is that he did not pivot. He presented a ferocious, grim, uncompromising view of a nation in disarray and defeat.

Interestingly, the overwhelming image coming out of Cleveland this past week was the isolation and singularity of the Trump campaign. It was a convention that traditional party leaders and many recent presidential contenders chose not to attend. Trump was openly snubbed by the man who ran second

Instead, the Trumpublican convention in Cleveland was highlighted by old time hacks passed their prime (Christie, Gingrich, and Pence) and five notable speakers who all happened to be named Trump.

As if to make the point even more emphatically, the only solutions Trump offered in a one hour and twenty minute speech were the opinions and actions and alleged expertise of one man.

Believe me.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Republican Convention Day Three: 2020 Foresight

Shock and awe cascaded across Quicken Loans Arena last night as it became clear to the throngs of Trumpublicans that Ted Cruz was not gonna do it. He was not gonna endorse Donald Trump. The rage heretofore reserved for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton rained down on one of their own.

In one of the most dramatic moments in the history of nominating conventions, Ted Cruz walked into Trump’s coronation, stood at the podium, warmed up the crowd, led them on, and then – at just the perfect moment – stood back and, for all intents and purposes, gave Donald Trump the finger.

Delivered unto the undisputed king of reality television, there was a nice symmetry; instead of Trump’s signature “you’re fired,” Cruz opted for the more heartfelt “f—k you.”

How this came to pass is a fascinating tale with many moving parts: ambition, principle, personal loathing, revenge, miscalculation, and simply incompetence. Let’s start with the latest organizational burp from the not-yet-ready-for-primetime campaign.

How Trump’s team could invite his archrival to speak at the convention without first gaining an absolute assurance of his fealty and willingness to make an endorsement is the just the latest evidence of the inexperience of the Trump campaign. In a week that included public hemming and hawing over his VP choice, a DEFCON 2 plagiarism scandal and subsequent PR fiasco, and a parade of amateurish B-list speakers, allowing Cruz to symbolically  flip Trump the bird qualifies as a second-tier gaffe.

More broadly, how so many people could be stunned that Cruz would not endorse Trump is in itself breathtaking. For those Trumpublicans who felt outraged by this rude treatment, let’s review the bidding.

All within the past four months, Donald Trump has… 
  • Implied that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy
  • Sent out a very unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz, and threatened to “spill the beans” on her.  No one ever found out what exactly this referred to; Trump’s tweet sparked rumors of extramarital affairs. But it was classic Donald Trump… the implication of an impropriety without the slightest substantiation. It was pure, spiteful character assassination.
  • Continuously referred to Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted.” 

Now, let’s role-play for a moment, OK? Let’s pretend that you and I are in a clear competition to be named head of GlobalCableCorp, Inc. One day, I send out an “all-staff” email mentioning offhandedly that your father is a murderer. The next day, I send out a second email, this time saying that your spouse is doing it with six different personal trainers down at the Equinox. Then, I begin a daily practice of sending out an email to all staff saying that you are a pathological liar. Then I win the promotion to head of GlobalCableCorp, and I invite you to come up to the Annual Meeting and tell all the shareholders that I was the right pick for the job.

Donald Trump won the Republican nomination by serially demeaning and humiliating his rivals with childish nicknames and disparaging comments. Now he appears shocked! …shocked and stunned! …  that a number of them want nothing to do with him. Trump is genuinely taken aback that Cruz would seize this golden opportunity on national television to shove a can of Lima beans up his nostrils.

Now, the brutal insults to family alone are justification for Cruz’s decision to not offer an endorsement. But that’s not even the half of it. Ted had also had a long term calculus at work.

Cruz looked out ahead and realized that one of three things is going to happen: 
  1. Donald Trump will lose.
  2. Donald Trump will win, but fail in the job and become an unpopular President.
  3. Donald Trump will win and will be a great President

Cruz is betting that the odds of Trump opening Door number 3 are pretty low, and so Ted is lyin’ in wait for the far more likely Doors #1 and #2 to open. These are his doors of opportunity. (Plus, telegraphing to the world that he thinks Trump will lose or fail is not the worst thing he could be doing toward his own ends).

Door # 1: If Trump loses, Cruz wants to be able to say that yet again, the Republicans failed – as they did in 2008 and 2012 – to nominate a true conservative.

Door #2: If Trump wins and is unpopular, Cruz would relish the opportunity to challenge this sitting President in the primaries, basing his attack again on the contention that Trump’s failure as President is wholly due to the fact that he never embraced true conservative principles and policies.

In either circumstance, once the election cycle of 2020 begins, Ted Cruz will now be able to say that he was the only candidate who refused to cave in to Trump. He will be able to say that he – and he alone – held true his belief in conservative principles, and that he has been vindicated.

There’s no doubt that Cruz’s move is a high-risk strategy. Should Clinton defeat Trump, many Republicans will permanently brand Cruz as a Benedict Arnold who put his own ambition above the unifying goal of defeating Clinton.  Many will say he should have followed the example of John Kasich, who chose not to attend his own party’s convention in his own state rather than be perceived to be endorsing Trump. Others will say that Cruz should have followed the example of Reagan, who was beaten for the 1976 nomination by Gerald Ford after a brutal campaign… but who ultimately fell in line and endorsed Ford. Cruz is hoping that by 2020, a Republican party desperate to defeat a sitting President Clinton will have forgotten his sin.

Elephants never forget.

One irony is that Cruz’s decision not to endorse overwhelmed the fact that his speech had been a masterful articulation of conservative principle. He provided a rigorous, thoughtful, and consistent articulation of conservative dogma. It led him to some surprising positions; some at odds with the Trumpublicans and the Party Platform that had just been ratified.

In a convention filled with Hillary bashing, Ted Cruz barely mentioned her. In a convention that just passed the most homophobic platform in its history, Ted Cruz said that true conservatism means that the Bill of Rights guarantees that lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender people should have the freedom to live the life they were meant to lead. In a convention that has thoroughly mourned the death of policemen, but never the victims of cops acting outside the law, Ted Cruz was the first person at the convention to say Alton Sterling’s name out loud.

Cruz even offered an intriguing pivot on that classic liberal doctrine of “diversity,” turning it into a paean to state’s rights. His point: people in Minnesota might think differently on an issue than people in Idaho. Why don’t we acknowledge that “diversity” with greater local autonomy? If not, he offered, “Why have states at all?”

Look, Ted Cruz is a smarmy, oily guy; he has done more than his share of vicious and noxious bloviation in the course of this campaign.

But last night, he took a stand. He took a stand for his family. He took a stand for his principles. He didn’t hide outside the arena, mail it in from South Beach, or snootily sit in argyle socks in Kennebunkport and whine to Bar’ about the good old days. He did not pretend that the Republican Party had been unified.
In the face of a candidate who claims to tell it like it is, Ted Cruz actually told it like it really is. Teddy Roosevelt once wrote about “the man in the arena.” It’s worth reviewing his words, inserting “Quicken Loans” in the appropriate places.

Now, after Day 3, and certain to be true by the close of the convention, it is clear that the Republican Party is not the least bit unified. It has become the Trumpublican party… almost literally so. By far and away, Donald Trump’s family has provided the only absolute, total, and unalloyed endorsement of this candidate.

We’ve seen an array of party luminaries wanting none of this convention: Bush, Bush, Bush, McCain, Romney. Basically, everyone who has led this party the last 20 years.

Many of the most ardent Trump supporters are burnt out Supernovas trying to pull stagnant careers out of nosedives.  Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and new poodle Mike Pence fall into this category.

Aside from the Trumps themselves, speakers have been happy to talk about “making America great again;” they have been happy to talk about being true conservatives, and  they have been happy to bash Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. CNN pointed out that in the first two days of this convention, Hillary Clinton’s named had been mentioned more often that Donald Trump’s by a factor of 20%.

Astronaut Eileen Collins spoke for five minutes and did not even say Donald Trump’s name out loud. Not once.

Now we come to the great denouement, Thursday night… the night Donald Trump offers his vision for America. For the fourth consecutive night, Donald Trump will count on a member of his own family – this time, daughter Ivanka – to make sure that there is at least one, thorough, unqualified endorsement of his candidacy.

Donald Trump will offer his “law and order” message, seeking to unify his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Black Lives Matter, anti-LGBT, misogynist campaign under a single banner last unfurled by Richard Nixon, who used the office of the Presidency to trample on the rights of citizens, only to resign in disgrace.

Ultimately, balloons will fall, and hands will be clasped and raised.

But the illusion of unity has been popped and will deflate like so many balloons on the floor of Quicken Loans Arena tomorrow morning.

In the end, the campaign that Donald Trump has run – of disparagement, humiliation, character assassination, and a mountain of lies and distortions – has come back to haunt him.

The faux Republican “unity” was blown to pieces last night by the man that Donald Trump most thoroughly offended, Ted Cruz.

Last night, Ted Cruz took a stand that may have been calculated for long term personal gain. Give him his due: it was a stand that involved clear and present danger, and it may end up costing him his career. How many people ever do that?

Of course, it could be that Ted Cruz playing three dimensional chess when Trump is playing checkers. Cruz may have just been gaming Trump to position himself for the future.

Maybe the guy does have 2020 foresight.