This morning Martin Longman made what I think is the first correct interpretation of what happened with Ted Cruz last night. Yes, the Trump campaign had Ted Cruz’s speech in advance. I am sure that they read it. They almost certainly discussed it with Cruz. So how could such a disaster happen with their eyes open?
The answer is that it all happened just like Trump wanted. In wrestling terms Trump lured Cruz on stage and surprised him with a heel turn.
A sensible person would tell me that could not possibly be true. That speech blew apart the Republican party. The crowd screamed for Ted’s head and the donor class almost killed him. The whole idea of party unity is dead like Chef in South Park. If Trump had a breath of hope in November this screwup put the last nail in that coffin, epoxied the lid, welded the seams, encased it in reinforced concrete and dropped it off a cargo ship with the GPS turned off.
That leads us to 2020. Ted Cruz just saw his stature go up a hundred times with the faction of Republicans who would normally fill all those empty seats. And that convention is missing a lot of Republicans (NSFW article title). Erick Erickson should start talking about Cruz 2020 any day now. The No
Homers Trumps Club will have the driver’s seat in four years, so Cruz just became the de facto leader of post-2016 Republicans.
From a strategic perspective that makes last night an unmitigated catastrophe. The only thing worse than the Cruz meltdown was the raging insanity that Trump said about NATO to the NYT, which is almost too big a deal to blog. I want to leave that to Adam Silverman if he’s still with us. It is hard to process how dumb Trump would have to be not only to allow the Cruz thing to happen but make it worse by orchestrating a crowd riot. But never forget Josh Marshall’s guiding maxim about Trump.
“Trump’s Razor: Ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts”.
So I have to disagree with everyone but Longman about this. The stupidest possible scenario is not Trump blindly stumbling into an ambush by Cruz. Laziness maxes the stupid meter at maybe a six or seven. It’s a sin of omission. The stupidest possible thing Trump could do is set the trap for essentially selfish/malicious reasons and then congratulate himself like Hannibal from the A-Team when the disaster sets his campaign on fire just like he planned.
Consider a few things.
* First, never forget that Trump came to reality TV by way of pro wrestling. He may not be able to business his way out of a paper bag but Trump showed up on the WWE circuit like he was born to be there. He showed a natural talent for syntax of the business, a mix of aggressive bullshit and classic show biz. Nobody had to show Trump how to wrap a room of screaming morons (yes I know, #notallprowrestlingfans) around his stubby fingers. That part came natural. I think I could make the case that a frothing WWE crowd has a lot in common with Republican base voters who constitute his faithful core. I hope I do not need point out that pro wrestling informs just about everything he does in this race. That time he crashed Glenn Beck’s anti-Trump Cruz event? WWE in a nutshell.
* Trump never lets go of a grudge. This one neurosis overrides basically every other consideration Trump ever has, about anything. The man has a fruit fly attention for anything except who bows to Trump and who doesn’t.
* That last point is really important. You do not work with Trump. You submit and then he proves it by humiliating you. Hi Chris! If you don’t submit then you are his enemy. There is no such thing as a ‘friend’, ‘partner’ or ‘ally‘. Ted Cruz gave a moving, and often false (hi LBJ!), paean to the Republican party. If anything his words sound like a plea to support the GOP regardless of the guy at the top of the ticket. If you cut out the audience riot it reads like a speech that tries quite hard to thread the party unity needle. The problem is Trump gives not one tiny shit about the GOP. Ted did not submit. After that primary how could he? Trump rules being what they are, that makes Cruz the enemy.
* Martin Longman is right, someone orchestrated that chaos. The New York delegation is Trump’s core people. They knew when going apeshit would put Cruz in a certain light. Look at Trump’s entrance during the Cruz speech and ask yourself how he would have timed it so well if Cruz’s speech surprised him. Remember, Cruz did not drop the not-endorsing bomb out loud until just before Trump walked in. Trump read the speech. He talked about it with Cruz. If nothing else trust that Trump’s gossamer ego would keep him awake and sweating until he knew exactly what his greatest internal enemy would say about him on prime time TV. This is a guy who installed a special switchboard so he could listen to employees gossiping. Trump’s famous laziness covers every imaginable topic except Trump and what people say about Trump.
To summarize, Trump thinks about politics in wrestling terms. I doubt he has the capacity to think of it any other way. He does not care about the GOP nor about anyone in it. Policy bores him. In fact, there is pretty good evidence that he does not care much about winning the race at all. He is here for the show and that’s it. He likes having crowds shout his name.
It clearly delights Trump whenever an opponent submits. Carson was a gimme and Christie was desperate, and the Republican leadership basically didn’t have a choice. Each time Trump twists their thumb a little extra just to make sure slower folks in the audience get the point. However, Kasich wrote him off completely and Rubio sent a video, probably guessing that Trump would pull some bullshit if he showed up in person. Cruz, on the other hand, gave Trump a unique opportunity. Wrestlers need rivals. You could think of Hillary as Trump’s main rival, but Hillary is a hard target. He has no power over her, she doesn’t need his voters and she is better at this game than he is. Ted Cruz on the other hand is a great rival. He is the strongest anti-Trump Republican still standing. He is a pretentious, oily asshole who makes ordinary people uncomfortable and professional Republicans already hate him as much as Trump, and Cruz desperately needs to please the same crowd of [uncharitable adjective/noun] who are shouting Trump’s name. That my friends is an opportunity.
In professional wrestling, a heel (also known as a rudo in lucha libre) is a wrestler who is villainous or a “bad guy”, who is booked (scripted) by the promotion to be in the position of being an antagonist…They are typically opposed by their polar opposites, faces, who are the heroic protagonist or “good guy” characters.
In order to gain heat (with boos and jeers from the audience), heels are often portrayed as behaving in an immoral manner by breaking rules or otherwise taking advantage of their opponents outside the bounds of the standards of the match.
Donald Trump obviously sees himself as the good guy in his own story. But the only stories Donald Trump ever paid attention to is pro wrestling. That means he needs a rival or people will lose interest. Picking a rival as far out of his league as Hillary Clinton would be stupid*. Ted Cruz is a vastly better choice. As long as he headlines the GOP Trump has a natural power to set the narrative. Amazingly Cruz still looks pretty loathsome even next to Trump (taking credit for the Civil Rights Act? Really?). Cruz put up a pretty solid fight but he’s also kind of a chump. I sincerely believe that Trump set up Cruz for a face-heel rivalry where Trump gets to play the betrayed good guy. There’s one problem with that (via tvtropes).
A wrestler’s heel turn is often a sign that he or she is about to see his or her popularity skyrocket. Indeed, it is very common, once they have turned, to remain heels for their entire careers. Heels that become really popular may end up “naturally” becoming faces again, but it is just as likely for heels to be beloved because they are heels. In fact, as paradoxical as it might seem, a heel turn can help an otherwise despised wrestler become likable[.]
May god save us all.
(*) I suggest we set aside Trump’s Razor exclusively for cases that involve pro wrestling.