For the last year, we’ve joked that the GOP Primary felt like a soap opera. The absurdity of the Trump campaign and the incompetence of its rivals has driven the news cycle and placed us on the doorstep of a most unthinkable situation: a Donald Trump presidency.
But last night, the GOP soap opera became a WWE ring match. Trump rival Ted Cruz’s 23-minute speech, featuring no endorsement of the Republican nominee and capped-off with loudly audible boos from the crowd, only compares to professional wrestling’s fire-stoking, macho drama. The Trump-Cruz blood feud was one broken chair, one beer bath, and two sets of Speedos away from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon’s feud twenty years ago. It was mind-blowing, it was unprecedented, and it was real political theater.
So let’s unpack a busy night in Cleveland.
Primetime kicks-off with a video of the Space Race, which seems like it should have nothing to do with Trump’s campaign, but at this point, is anything surprising? In this case, the hype man exceeds the headliner. Eileen Collins, a distinguished astronaut, gives a soporific speech that can only be rationalized as a failed political audition. Her RNC handlers promptly forget her name, delete her contact, and instruct the interns not to give her cab money home.
Begin Audition #2. Kentucky State Senator Ralph Alvarado follows, though those watching CNN only know him as “Latino Trump Supporter,” as identified on screen. Where Collins failed, Alvarado excels. He is exactly the hype man this night needs and his performance is enough to incite momentary panic inside the DNC. They flinch at the sight of a rising minority star who isn’t their own, then remember that this guy has no place to go. A star can’t rise into a sky full of clutter, and that’s exactly the problem Alvarado has in Kentucky, where every office above him is clogged with Republican incumbents.
“I win again!” Debbie Wasserman Schultz cackles in her stronghold, knowing that it will be years before Alvarado can rise to any position above Dog Catcher.
Darrell Scott, a black pastor, follows. CNN’s graphics department correctly identifies him, rather than just calling him “Black Trump Supporter,” because Republicans are racist and CNN isn’t. Pastor Scott delivers a barnburner from the pulpit and in its wake, early polls show that his precinct’s support for Trump has tripled from 0.05% to 0.15%. The Trump campaign is currently using this as evidence of A ‘UGE convention bump.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the first heavy-hitter of the night. He delivers a forgettable stump speech that reminds America why only 1% of them thought he’d make a good president. Meanwhile, unionized catering staff ash their cigarettes in his coffee and hide a tuna sandwich in his briefcase. Backstage, Chris Christie gives Walker a swirly and the Wisconsin Governor briefly contemplates suicide when he realizes that Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are the only Republicans who will still hang out with him.
Lynne Patton, Trump employee, follows. No one knows what she does for the Trumps but depending on your Netflix habits, you assume that she is either Claire Underwood, Olivia Pope, or Kimmy Schmidt. Interestingly, this comparison makes Donald Trump one of two things by association: the President of the United States or a middle aged woman on the prowl for rich older men. It’s hard to say which is scarier.
Then, beamed in from outer space, comes Sen. Marco Rubio’s head. His awkward minute-and-a-half of pre-recorded video makes it clear that the one thing Rubio learned on the campaign trail is this: America loves the robotic, in-authentic side of his personality, and he should definitely bury the charismatic, Conservative-Obama-in-Waiting style that elevated him to the stature he is currently squandering.
Ted Cruz, enemy of almost everyone, follows “Little” Marco’s act. It’s an open secret that he isn’t going to endorse Donald Trump, who is basically the only thing he hates more than his Canadian passport, but Cruz gives a speech that is one of the best of the last decade. The Texas Senator turns the tables on the liberals who have long accused Republicans of being out of step with modern American values. He does this by skewering the Obama Administration’s legacy of suppressing free speech, free enterprise, and free religion, while poking deep holes in its insistence on dividing our country along race and class lines.
The problem is, few people seem to be listening to Cruz’s words. At first they’re noticing the fact that he’s gained thirty pounds since New Hampshire. Then they realize he’s skipping the most important part of a convention speech: endorsing the nominee. They begin booing him softly out of habit (no one really likes Ted Cruz), then louder based on substance.
Cruz talks over their cries. He declines to endorse Donald Trump and chooses instead to fall on his sword, comfortable being what he always was – a self-interested jerk out there for himself. And yet this time, as he walks off the stage and Donald Trump descends through the stands into his family box, there seems to be something noble to this snake’s ghoulish slither.
Cruz chooses exile. Death before dishonor, he thinks as he slithers away. In the wings, Paul Ryan watches, wishing he had the balls to have done the same.
Eric Trump, youngest son of The Donald, follows. He’s articulate in his outrage but his unmistakably Trumpish style undoes the mountain of goodwill that his cool, charismatic brother Don built yesterday. Looking at them together, it’s hard not to wonder: is Eric his father’s son, and Don his mother’s? And if Don is the apple we love, is he also the one that has fallen the farthest form the tree? This is not a question the Trump campaign wants to answer. We await Ivanka tonight.
Newt Gingrich talks and reporters nationwide roll their eyes. What is there to say about Newt Gingrich that hasn’t already been said? He’s smarter than all of us but also more annoying. His problem is the opposite of everyone else’s: it’s too much, too soon from him, not too little, too late.
Gingrich gives a strong speech, almost gloating through his smile, “See how easy this is for me! See how smart I am!?” But he comes off like he always does: the Belle of Yesterday’s Ball, now way to eager on his first date with his third Prince Charming, who will soon discard him like the others before. Here’s the other thing that Newt Gingrich and the Belle of the Ball have in common: they both peaked too soon. Sorry pal, but it’s time to hang it up.
In closing, we meet VP nominee, Mike Pence, who looks, talks, and acts like a man from another time. He’s self-consciously humble and has the sort of folksy-seriousness you’d expect from an Indiana governor. He talks and its hard not to think that it’s still the ‘90s in his neighborhood; that people still value things Little League Baseball, Farm Aid tickets, and AOL accounts. As his speech stretches on, I feel comfortable yawning for the first time in three days because Pence, for all the ladder climbing it took for him to get here, gives the kind of sober toast you’s expect at a convention. There are no hijinks or dog whistles, just a litany of praise for his mother, his family and his running mate that rings with an earnestness that we haven’t yet seen in Cleveland.
Pence it seems, is a company man, and as he drones on, I fall asleep.
I wake up and think: bring back Ted Cruz and the WWE, because this adult stuff is boring.
TONIGHT: Donald Trump will accept his nomination, which means something insane will happen. Maybe he will share the stage with a dragon or tell us that he recently had fondue with Jesus Christ. But the most exciting speech will be Peter Thiel, legendary investor/entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, where state-sponsored surveillance, torture, and murder of Republicans is studied by ISIS. And if it makes the talk even more juicy – Thiel is also a homosexual. Trump 2016: You Can’t Make This Shit Up.
Full speeches below: