The Republican convention has been hard to watch this week, and not just because of the loud, gaudy, Hunger Games-like banners floating across the stage. The convention, which is supposed to highlight what the Republican Party has to offer the American people (and demonstrate unity), has failed at almost every level.
First you had the #BeckyWithTheStolenSpeech, then a slew of "celebrities" who wouldn’t have made the finals of Dancing With the Stars, 1994 edition, and then a never-ending series of race-baiting comments from high-profile speakers.
Amid all this, Donald Trump has had a large, overbearing presence. Usually nominees treat convention delegates like a future bride; they build anticipation for the week, before exploding with joy on nomination Thursday. Not Donald Trump. He has appeared in some way or another almost every single day of this convention, and some Republicans aren’t having it. Fortunately, all of that anti-Trump angst manifested itself Wednesday night in Ted Cruz’s speech, one of the most ridiculously epic political disses of all time.
Let’s step back a bit to see how we got here. Nobody likes Ted Cruz. His old college roommate. His fellow senators. Satanists are offended that he is linked to them so often, and it’s very possible that Ted Cruz’s own kids don’t like him, either.
But Ted Cruz doesn’t care. Ted Cruz is right, damn it, and he’ll remind you of that fact every second of every day if he has to. Ted Cruz’s personality is so loathsome that even after he won a few states in the Republican primary and emerged as the only viable “Never Trump” candidate for the GOP to rally around, there was still resistance. Why? Because Republicans in Congress dislike Ted Cruz so much that if there were a season of How to Get Away With Murder based on his death, by crossbow, in broad daylight at a Starbucks in Georgetown, people would be rooting for Annalise to find another, more important case to solve.
However, while people may dislike Cruz for being an opportunist or rude or just impossible to work with, he does have one thing many Republicans lacked this campaign season: backbone.
Cruz has always believed that he deserved to be the Republican Party nominee, and for months he had held off endorsing Trump, even as more prominent Republicans eventually gave in with tepid endorsements. His whole future is based on the idea that Trump is going to lose this fall, the Republican Party will be ruined and he can go around wearing the ugliest “I Told You So So So” Christmas sweater that Reince Priebus has ever seen.
So you can imagine that when Cruz watched the convention this week and saw Trump all up in the videos, all dancing onstage, he was having none of it. He had to have his Source Awards Suge Knight moment. You Republicans sick of this Donald Trump guy messing up our party? Dancing through our hard-earned fundraising? On every magazine cover? When you’re ready for a real nominee, come to Ted Cruz.
Or, at least, that’s how I imagine it sounded in Cruz’s head when he went onstage, spoke eloquently for almost 30 minutes and REFUSED to endorse Trump at his own convention. And to make sure that the couch was sufficiently muddy (remember, these political leaders have to use their inside voice), Cruz advised all viewers and Republicans to “vote their conscience” this fall instead of, say, for the nominee they had chosen just 48 hours earlier.
Trump claims that he read Cruz’s speech before and knew what was going to be said and not said. Which may explain why Trump showed up by surprise to the Quicken Loans Arena, during Cruz’s speech, easily sucking the air out of the Texas senator’s big moment.
I was on the delegate floor at the time, and you could see, for just a quick glimpse, how livid Cruz was that Trump was taking the shine away from his big moment. If Cruz were ever entertaining an endorsement, it went out the window when Trump entered the arena with all the subtlety of a Girl Scouts troop selling cookies in a movie theater.
The evening only got worse from there. Cruz was booed (and cheered), and his wife had to leave with a police escort because of threats by pro-Trump delegates. But through it all, he kept smiling. Is it because Ted Cruz is a “G,” a real-life political gangster who says what he believes and doesn’t care? Perhaps, at least when it comes to Trump.
The real reason is that Cruz knows he can be on his worst behavior and it won’t matter. He knows that those folks in the room never loved him, or the establishment. So Cruz decided to go out in a blaze of glory, become the news and stick it one last time to a man he believes will destroy America. You have to respect his commitment. More importantly, I’m pretty sure he won’t be the last Republican to call out Trump, but at least Cruz did it when it was least expected.
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.