Erick Trickey will be in Cleveland all week covering the Republican National Convention for Cincinnati Magazine. This is his fourth post. Read the others here.
Will they say Donald Trump’s name?
Each Republican leader has faced that awkward question in Cleveland this week. Ted Cruz faced it last night, and his defiant non-answer set off the Republican National Convention’s second moment of bedlam and boos.
Paul Ryan confronted it yesterday too, talking to Ohio’s delegation in a hotel ballroom. And the House speaker’s answer may say as much about the party’s divisions as Cruz’s defiant speech in the arena.
In Cleveland, the Republicans have broken the modern mold of the scripted, predictable convention. It’s not the contested convention many expected earlier this year, before Trump won 37 states. But it is the most contentious Republican convention in 40 years. Though Trump is now the GOP nominee for president, Republican leaders are meeting his nomination with foot-dragging resistance ranging from subtle to blatant.
Consider Ryan’s talk at the Ohio delegation’s breakfast yesterday morning: He spent almost all of his 15-minute speech praising Ohio’s Republican congressmen and talking up the House GOP’s agenda, titled “A Better Way.” From tax reform to cutting regulations, Ryan delivered the mainstream Republican agenda with as much passion and authority as anyone in national politics.
Playing to his audience—a 66-member delegation hand-picked by John Kasich—Ryan praised the absent Ohio governor, who’s in Cleveland this week but has kept his distance from the convention due to his differences with Trump. “I had the honor to serve on the budget committee under John Kasich,” Ryan said. “What a good man!”
But he pointedly did not vouch for Trump’s character. Instead, he rallied the Ohioans for November with an awkward football metaphor about the Ohio State Buckeyes, Wisconsin Badgers, and the Big Ten.
“We run different offenses in the primary,” he said “[like] when we fight each other in the conference. But one of us goes on to the Rose Bowl, we root for each other. We’re all on the same team.”
Then, in his final applause line, Ryan finally mentioned his party’s presidential candidate. “Voting for anybody but Donald Trump means you’re voting for Hillary Clinton,” Ryan said.
The faintness of Ryan’s support reflected his well-known ambivalence about Trump. It also revealed how desperate Republican leaders have become to keep their party from splintering over Trump’s candidacy. At the GOP’s own convention, its Speaker of the House was cajoling delegates not to vote for a third party.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another former Trump critic, said almost the same thing as Ryan last night in the convention hall.
“A vote for anyone other than Donald Trump in November is a vote for Hillary Clinton,” Walker said. “Make no mistake—we can’t afford to wait four more years to get ’em next time.” It was a warning to Republicans not to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson, the former GOP governor of New Mexico who’s now near 9 percent in the polls, or perhaps a yet-to-emerge independent conservative.
Then came Cruz, who all but encouraged Republicans to vote for a third party in the fall.
“I want to congratulate Donald Trump on his nomination last night,” Cruz said, and the convention delegates exploded into a big cheer. They’d been waiting to see if Cruz would endorse Trump, and it sounded like it was imminent. “And like each of you, I want to see the principles our party believes in prevail in November.” Lighter cheers for that, as some delegates began to realize an endorsement wasn’t coming.
Cruz turned to the story of one of the murdered Dallas policemen, which quieted the arena. He praised the Brexit referendum as an example of “voters overwhelmingly rejecting the political establishment and big government,” bringing cheers. He bashed Clinton on national security, then turned to the final plea for votes.
“To those listening, please, don’t stay home in November,” he said. “Stand and speak and vote your conscience. Vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”
A confused buzz rose from the floor. The New York delegates, right in front of Cruz, began gesturing at him. A mix of boos and cheers roared up. “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation,” Cruz responded. Shouts and chants broke out: “Say his name!” “Trump! Trump!”
“We will unite the party, we will unite the country, by standing together for shared values, by standing for liberty,” Cruz declared. He left the stage, and the boos drowned out the cheers.
Cruz had pointedly avoided offering the customary display of unity by endorsing the nominee. And unlike Kasich, he’d come to the convention to dramatize his holdout on national TV.
Newt Gingrich, speaking soon after, diplomatically asserted that Cruz had been misunderstood, because of course the only possible vote for liberty would be a vote for Donald Trump. And both Gingrich and Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, vouched for Trump’s character in ways other prominent Republicans have avoided in Cleveland.
“I’ve seen the way he deals with people who work for him at every level,” Pence said, “[and] his utter lack of pretense, his respect for people who work for him, and his devotion to his family.”
Down on the floor, pro-Trump delegations were on their feet during Pence’s speech, cheering and waving signs. Pro-Cruz delegations such as Texas, Utah, and Colorado sat quietly and were thinning out. Ohio’s delegates, caught in between in a sense, cheered and stood for some lines, but showed less enthusiasm than the fervid Pennsylvania delegation in front of them.
Afterward, Betty Montgomery, the former Ohio attorney general, said she’d liked Pence’s speech. “It was excellent,” she said. “He introduced himself well to the public.” What about Cruz’s speech and the crowd’s reaction? She frowned. “It’s a shame the whole thing happened the way it did,” she said. The delegation started heading for the stairs and their waiting shuttle, and Montgomery excused herself without saying more.
Erick Trickey is a Cincinnati Magazine contributor, and has written for POLITICO, Smithsonian Magazine, Boston Magazine, and Cleveland Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @ErickTrickey.