Now this was some reality TV.
The runner-up for a prize (looking at you Newt). A contest loser refusing to talk nice about the winner (Ted). And the host of the show pulling the camera back his way when things weren’t going according to plan (Don).
And then the night’s winner (yes, Mike, we got to you) pledged fealty to said host and promised viewers the best was yet to come.
Donald Trump’s unorthodox convention delivered a night of drama that the soap opera stars who spoke in the first two nights couldn’t deliver.
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For those who missed previous episodes of the dipsy-doodle ride that has been the path the the Republican National Convention, here’s a quick recap. Trump started out at the bottom of the polls. Virtually no in politics gave him a shot. Then he started winning, and kept winning. A crowd of contestants got slimmed down to him and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
At one point a Cruz backer resurrected a risque picture of Trump’s wife from her modeling career to hurt him with Utah Mormons. Trump got angry. He would eventually lash out at Cruz’s wife and imply that Cruz’s dad played a role in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
They are not friends.
Pick up the story Wednesday night. Cruz had a speaking slot. Would he endorse Trump? No, he would not.
“I want to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination,” Cruz said. And that’s as far as he went.
He went on to talk about freedom and more freedom. He went so far as to say: “Freedom matters.”
That freedom, he said, was at stake in the election.
“Don’t stay home in November,” he said. “Stand up and speak and vote your conscience. …Vote for candidates up and down the ticket.”
He pointedly did not suggest his conscience would point to a vote for Trump.
The delegates noticed. They did not approve. Rather, they booed.
And booed some more.
This is why we love reality TV.
Trump emerged into the arena as Cruz was, implicitly, dissing him. The nominee stole the attention of TV cameras and a bit of Cruz’s thunder. Reports quickly circulated that party officials screamed their disapproval at Cruz when he entered a donor’s suite in the arena after his speech.
Then came Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker who’d lobbied long, hard and publicly to be Trump’s number two. He’d lost that fight last week to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. But he was a good soldier Wednesday night.
He gave a mildly wonkish speech, but he also implied that a vote of one’s conscience (listening, Ted?) means a vote for Trump.
The audience liked that attitude much better than what it got from Cruz.
Finally, Pence took the stage, looking like central casting’s idea of a vice president. Good looks. Thick, silver hair. Confident demeanor.
He started out with a homespun self-description: “For those of you who don’t know me, which is most of you ... I was raised in a big family with a cornfield in the back yard … raised to believe in hard work and faith and family. … I married the girl of my dreams. … The most important job I’ll ever have is spelled d-a-d.”
Then he backed the big guy in full-throated fashion.
“In the end, this election comes down to two names on the ballot. So let’s resolve that Hillary Clinton never becomes president,” he said. “Donald Trump gets it. He’s the genuine article. .. He doesn’t tiptoe around the thousand new rules of political correctness.”
Two other program notes. First, early evening speaker and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, didn’t mention Cruz by name. But with reports that a non-endorsement was coming, she argued that the Texas conservative was wrong not to hop on the Trump train.
Then she waved to the crowd in a fashion that snarks on the Internet found just a wee bit Third Reich-like.
And let’s look forward, briefly, to the Democrats next week and the politics 2016-style. Some Bernie Sanders supporters, still steamed about their man’s second-place finish, are planning a “fart-in” during Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech.
Cheri Honkala of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign has said the group plans to host a “Beans for Hillary” supper for Sanders delegates before Clinton talks. Then they’ll return to the arena to the arena and “greet the rhetorical flatulence of Hillary Clinton with the real thing.”