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Democratic strategist Joe Slade White: Ted Cruz took a big gamble

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Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spoke to mounting boos and chants of “Keep your pledge!” as he declined to explicitly endorse Donald Trump on the third day of the Republican National Convention. (Damon Winter/New York Times)

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Joe Slade White of East Aurora, a nationally known political consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates at all levels of government, is providing a Democratic perspective on the Republican National Convention in response to questions from Jerry Zremski, the News Washington Bureau chief. When the Democrats hold their national convention next week, The News will similarly interview Republican strategist Michael Caputo.


Obviously the story of Wednesday night was Sen. Ted Cruz, his speech, his refusal to endorse Donald Trump and the angry reaction from the crowd. Why do you think Cruz did what he did, and how do you think it will play for him?

It was a highly theatrical piece of drama and mesmerizing (but the same can be said of watching a car wreck). Ted Cruz knew what he was doing. It is a hell of a gamble because none of the Trump supporters will forget it, since it was obviously the first step in a Cruz campaign for 2020. Unless Trump is a total disaster who costs the Republicans not only the White House but both or even one of the houses of Congress, Cruz fails.

But that’s what happens when one gambles in politics – in order to win one calculates the odds and you have to be prepared to lose. Ted Cruz won and lost last night, and now his fate is in the hands of a man he despises, Donald Trump.


It is highly unusual for a presidential campaign to allow someone to speak at a convention without endorsing the candidate. Why on earth would the Trump campaign let this happen?

All campaigns are a reflection of the candidate. When something goes wrong, you can blame this person or that person, but it still goes back to the candidate. So why would a campaign in charge of a convention allow Cruz’s moment to happen when they clearly could’ve told Cruz, "Unless you endorse Trump, you’re not getting on the stage"? No one knows.

There are times when I wonder if Donald Trump really is a masochist. He’s instantly gleeful when protesters appear at his rallies. Trump has, his whole adult life, run toward trouble, again and again, as if he seeks it, only to shock everyone by emerging out of the shell crater. It’s a pattern.


The crowd Wednesday night got so angry that some delegates started taunting Cruz’s wife, Heidi, who had to be escorted from the arena by security. How do you think that played in Middle America?

Last night was truly ugly and authentically frightening. The only voters who would not feel that way are rabid supporters who seem filled with the same uncontrolled hatred.

Given Trump’s melodramatic entrance at the back of the hall, pumping his fists, he obviously enjoyed it. If that keeps up, not enough of the voters he needs to win will reward his behavior with votes. He just can’t help himself, and we only rarely elect presidents who just can’t help themselves.


This convention has featured some exceptionally raucous moments. Has it brought to mind any previous conventions?

Seriously, I’ve never seen anything quite like this ongoing scene of chaos.

The Cruz incident and the reaction by the New York delegation sitting right in front of him did remind me of the 1968 Chicago convention when Sen. Abraham Ribicoff used a nominating speech at the convention to emotionally accuse the Chicago police of "Gestapo tactics" against protesters on the streets outside. Mayor Richard Daley, who was sitting directly in front of the podium, jumped to his feet and started shouting at Ribicoff. The protestors chanted, "The whole world is watching."

The convention was often cited as sending a message that America needed law and order (sound familiar?) and may have been to blame for electing Richard Nixon. We all know how that turned out.


As this convention ends, it’s clear the Republicans are not yet united. What can Donald Trump do over the next few weeks to bring the party together and to bring undecided voters to his side?

No party is ever united. Doesn’t happen.

One rule I have is that all voters give their neighbors a rational reason why they’re voting a certain way (hell, I do) but all voters vote for two reasons: their instincts/feelings, or their self-interest. Both are perfectly valid. The only time they vote against their feelings is when their self-interest is threatened. And the only time against their self-interest is when their feelings are overwhelmed.

To win, Trump needs voters who will overrule their feelings with their self-interest (which can include being scared) or who veto their self-interest with their feelings (which can also include being scared.)




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