The GOP convention is nothing if not entertaining. It’s got twists and turns, a changing plot line, and a master of ceremonies who is also the guest of honor. It’s not really a convention, though; it’s a reality show.
Wednesday night the convention offered some of the greatest political theater in modern history. Texas Senator Ted Cruz took advantage of a primetime spot to upstage the GOP Vice-Presidential nominee and not endorse Donald Trump. Instead, Cruz kicked off his 2020 campaign, laid bare the division within the Republican Party, and became a hero to some and a villain to others.
And Trump was in the middle of it all. According to him, his campaign knew in advance that Cruz wasn’t going to endorse. Trump let him speak anyway. In true showman fashion, Trump showed up at the convention center at the exact moment that Cruz was dissing him. Cameras shifted between Trump standing in the shadows and Cruz standing at the podium. Trump couldn’t have choreographed it better if he had tried.
By the time Cruz was finished, the highlight of the night, Mike Pence’s acceptance speech, was obscured before it even took place. When Pence did speak, he gave one of the better speeches of the convention. But instead of allowing him to have his moment, Trump walked out on stage before Pence’s family could join him, and gave Pence an air kiss, as if Pence were a contestant on his show.
Throughout the post-primary season, Trump has belittled and humiliated his former opponents. Chris Christie has been reduced to a lap dog. Marco Rubio was Lil’ Marco. Jeb Bush was low energy. Most either reluctantly endorsed or quietly demurred from supporting Trump. Cruz, in contrast, blasted Trump after The Donald insulted his wife and accused his father of being part of the JFK assassination. Trump rewarded him with a primetime spot at his convention, as if he has a perverse respect for the guy who wouldn’t roll over for him.
Anticipation built through night, not for what Pence would say, but for what Cruz would do. Trump had to have known that in advance. He’s manipulated the press, the convention attendees, and the general public in a way no other political convention has.
While all the pundits and political prognosticators call the convention a disaster for the GOP, maybe it’s just what Trump wants. It’s pure entertainment and theater. I don’t think Trump is planning on running a campaign with traditional campaign operations. He’s banking on keeping voters engaged through political entertainment, which means the unexpected and controversy is good—even if it involves upstaging his VP pick. In Trump world, if people are focused on him and his campaign, regardless of why, he’s scoring points.
For Trump, the campaign is a show, not an operation. We’ll see how that pans out in November.
Thomas Mills is the Founder and Publisher of Politics NC.