The final 100 days of the presidential campaign will be filled with enough contentious moments. It is the height of unfortunate circumstance that we have burned the last few days on a firestorm that was wholly preventable, and which has been miscast from its inception.
The origin of the story has been obscured by posturing and blathering by all sides. The basic foundation is this: In Khizr Khan, the Democratic National Committee found the most sympathetic figure possible to launch a baseless, insulting attack on Donald Trump.
Everyone respects the Khan family’s sacrifice. The DNC knew they were giving podium time to someone who could not be rebutted on equal footing. Throw in the hyper-reactive instincts of Trump, and they crafted a sublime trap that the entire GOP seems to have walked into.
The days of hand-wringing over who does and does not value their son’s service have been a complete waste of time. No one, not Donald Trump, not his voters, not a single voice of consequence in conservatism, fails to honor the Khan family for what they have endured. This is not the point.
The point is: Does his pain entitle Khizr Khan to falsely attack Donald Trump from Hillary Clinton’s convention stage, without response? He has the right to say whatever he wishes, of course. But if Mr. Khan chooses to wrap his gripes about Donald Trump in the honorable cloth of his Gold Star family status, that cannot stand. There is nothing about his loss that gives him a basis for the derisive and inaccurate verbal assault he launched from the stage in Philadelphia. Democrats knew exactly what they were doing. Their entire convention had been a broad slander of Trump as some racist, misogynist monster. But put those words into a speech by a grieving father, and they are much harder to counter. For his part, Trump did a predictably terrible job in a response that completely armed every critic of his with further evidence that he is incapable of nuance.
So here’s the proper answer to Mr. Khan: All Americans honor you and thank you for raising such a wonderful son, and we grieve with you. However, in taking on a sharply political role at a political event to level a bitter personal attack, you invite reactions that necessarily and unfortunately take us away from that goodwill. Your aggressiveness toward Mr. Trump is wildly misdirected. He is simply not talking about you, your son or any Muslim-American citizen. His immigration policy is born of a desire to lessen the risk of further deaths by the spread of Muslim jihad. You may disagree with his position, but to characterize it in the dark and condemning tones you chose cannot go unaddressed. Millions of Americans agree with Mr. Trump while harboring no grudge against you. Would you characterize those millions of Americans in the same cruel tone you reserved for him?
See? It is not difficult to identify a political attack while making clear that a response to it in no way disparages what the person at the source of the attack has been through. But this is one skill set Donald Trump has not honed, so while the initial offense is the DNC decision to use a Gold Star family as a delivery device for a blatant reputational assault, Trump bears responsibility for not handling it more deftly. That said, if Trump could not explain this skillfully, the Republicans who have felt a need to pile onto him surely could have done so. But they are scared to death of running afoul of the dominating media narrative– that Trump is an Islamophobe who deserved the Khan comeuppance. The Hillary Clinton campaign will use a variety of sympathetic characters to give voice to a relentless assault on Donald Trump as a person. They will do it because they know they will lose if they come after him on a number of actual issues. Republicans had better start learning how to reply better when the next attack comes.
Say this for John Kasich, John McCain and the Bushes. At least they did not deliver a giant “screw you” to Donald Trump from the stage of his convention.
But Ted Cruz is an in-your-face kind of guy, and that’s what we have loved about him. He gets in the face of Democrats when he fights against their agenda; he gets in the face of Republicans he deems unworthy fighters.
And on Wednesday night, he looked into the faces of largely unified convention delegates and made clear he has not gotten past the battles of the primary season.
Those of us inclined to react negatively should put ourselves in Cruz’s shoes. It cannot be easy to pivot to support a rival who called you a liar and dishonored your wife. But there are prospects worse than that. Far worse. They are packaged together in the dismal realities that lie ahead in a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Cruz could have delivered an inspiring, unifying, historic healing moment in his remarks. He chose instead to share some familiar lines echoing the values we have come to love about him, but then dropped the code-word that every Trump-hater understood, suggesting voters follow their “conscience.”
Translation: it’s okay for you to deny Trump your vote.
At that moment, history was made. I never thought I would hear a Cruz speech that actually made it easier for Hillary to win. But there it was. Now I have to figure out what I think of this.
My admiration for Ted Cruz is unsurpassed among any of the elected officials I have ever voted for. For that reason, this hurts. I had actually predicted that Cruz would come around, freeing his huge supporter base to join him in putting the grudges of the primaries behind us and uniting to beat Hillary. I feel a little foolish.
I underestimated the degree to which Cruz aligns with those voices who continue to mysteriously find a basis in “principle” for failing to support Trump. In the early spring, these conversations were fine. I supported Cruz at that time because I wanted his upbeat, unapologetic conservatism in the White House.
On Wednesday night, I wanted leadership of another kind. With the primary battles long over and the will of the people made clear, I wanted him to lead us into a cohesive effort to do what every conservative should view as imperative: beat Hillary Clinton.
But other things are more important to Cruz right now. Speculation swirls as to what they might be, but some of his supporters are left wondering why his indomitable fighting spirit cannot be brought to bear to prevent Obama’s third term,
Stories immediately shook loose about donors and supporters reacting with ferocious negativity. Some of that bad blood spilled onto my Twitter feed. “I’m done with him.” “I can’t believe he would take that stage and fail to support who the voters wanted.” “This was political suicide.”
Well, let’s tap the brakes on that. It is a long bridge to a 2018 re-election bid filled with voters willing to punish Cruz by firing him for this abandonment of the only human being that can beat Hillary. If Trump wins, all will be forgiven and he will ultimately still be Ted Cruz, with a long list of strengths that will still outshine any challenger.
But if Trump loses, as we prepare for the Hillary inauguration, we will remember every word from every soul who ever attempted to tell us they were acting on “principle” in helping her win. We will remember every voice referring to helping Hilary as an act of “conscience.” We will remember.
Cruz has a window here to make this right. No one is looking for a chest-bump and clasped hands at Trump Tower. But those of us who love Ted Cruz as we gear up to defeat Hillary Clinton are praying that America’s foremost conservative legislative hero can find it in his heart to join us as we try to save our nation.
For the millionth time, I wanted Ted Cruz to be President.
Once it was clear that was not going to happen, it took me about two seconds to pivot to the only remaining option: Donald Trump. Ted can be forgiven for taking longer. Trump did not call me a liar. He did not post unflattering pictures of my wife on Twitter.
But I am not in a position to bring waves of conservatives onto the battlefield to achieve what we must: the defeat of Hillary Clinton. Ted is, and that’s what he must do tonight. I am confident that he will.
For the millions who wanted Ted’s address to be the Thursday night nomination acceptance, there can be a seeming choice: cleave to Cruz-style consistent, rock-solid conservatism, or sign onto the white-knuckle ride that is the Trump phenomenon, with elements that speak of conservatism and some that may not.
With the primary battles over, this is a false choice.
Now there is only one choice. Support the Trump campaign, or allow a Hillary victory that will be ruinous to the nation and a knife through the heart of every conservative policy we wish to pursue. The Gary Johnson fans and the stay-at-homers will say their actions are not a sign of support for Hillary, but words are meaningless. Every voter choosing to do something other than support Trump will undeniably engage in action that makes it easier for her to win. Those okay with that may knock themselves out. But anyone flinching in the least at a third Obama term in the pantsuited form of Hillary Clinton has a duty to ditch every remaining self-created obstacle and get behind Donald Trump. Period.
This does not mean silencing criticism. Are you kidding? Look what I do for a living. I’ll be all over things that I think the campaign could do better, because I want it to succeed. Getting a grip on the speechwriting team might be a good start. But conservatives who have spent the last few months spewing vile and hateful things at our nominee need to get some clarity and self-control, or just go get that Hillary sign and put it in the yard so that everyone will know where they stand. The bitter irony is that many on the right who have savaged Trump have justified their venom because of his rough-edged communication style.
Now that Trump is the nominee, there is no more room for the twisted logic of “principle” as a reason to oppose him. What conservative principle is forwarded by the facilitation of a Hillary presidency?
Here’s another favorite of mine: the assertion that the party is somehow harmed by the Trump phenomenon. Don’t we need to see how his presidency goes? I know there are uncertainties about that, but even if it achieves only a mid-range batting average on conservative goals, that will be miles better than the .000 we are guaranteed under Hillary. Republican messaging and voting in the off-year 2018 and the next presidential sweepstakes of 2020 will be determined by facts on the ground, not the nervous hand-wringing of elites and comfort-zoners scared by a new direction today. If the Trump years suck, we will see the Cruz I-told-you-so tour, and I will print the silk jackets for it. If they are actually pretty great, we can all thank God that we saved the country. If they are a mixed bag, we can be assured of a wide variety of reactions and a wide array of suggested solutions, which is familiar GOP territory every election season.
So enough whining about the party. It will be fine. Or if it deserves to be remade, rethought and re-ignited, so be it. But if it happens, real voters will have done it. And most importantly, no more anguish over the fate of conservatism in the era of Trump. I ask any conservative: Has his ascendancy mitigated your commitment to smaller government, lower taxes, constitutional fidelity, protecting the unborn or standing up for religious freedom? If anything, this year has sharpened the passions of conservatives I know. The problem is it has turned some into petulant scolders unable to handle that things did not go exactly their way.
There is only one coherent path forward for conservatives: take heart in the signals emitted by Trump that he is open to what we seek on issues from the Supreme Court to job creation to fighting jihad to defending gun rights to replacing Obamacare with private-sector alternatives to supporting our police and our veterans. If he does half of these things with the pedal-to-the-metal directness that is his habit, we will be better off than if we were cursed to a sleepwalk through a Jeb Bush presidency, which I guarantee you would not have sparked as much pissing and moaning in the ranks of people calling themselves conservative.
Ted Cruz’s words to his supporters should go beyond the tepid remarks of Paul Ryan, who spoke of ideas and goals but could not bring himself to effectively rally the troops behind our nominee. Ted needs to say without equivocation: “I call on everyone who has ever backed my fight for conservative solutions, to follow me in joining Donald Trump to rediscover the many basic values we share. We may differ in some areas, but let those be conversations we can have on the way to a better America. Let’s not allow any differences to distract us from the moral and patriotic necessity of keeping Hillary Clinton and her forces out of power. I look forward to working with President Trump and Republicans in Congress to achieve the conservative goals I have always sought. Now let’s all get out there as a unified party with a unified goal and win on November 8.”
In fact, anyone is welcome to lift those words directly and use them often.
It was supposed to be like easy batting practice for the Trump-haters, the ones in both parties.
You heard the run-up. Oooh, it wasn’t ateoing to be a stellar A-list of huge names from the usual gilded halls of political fame. One speaker was even going to be Chachi, for crying out loud. I guess Joanie was unavailable.
But by the time Scott Baio finished his brief and earnestly delivered early evening remarks, something became apparent. In this year that is not to be judged on a normal scale, this was not going to be a night to be judged on a normal scale. This was not going to be the usual snoozer featuring past failed nominees and elites from what passes as Republican royalty these days. This was going to be a night of real people saying real things and making a real connection in the hall and through the TV s
One of those real people saying real things was Melania Trump, a woman who has enjoyed a life of rarefied wealth, magnified by the wealth of the man she married. But the Trumps have one thing in common in that regard– they worked for what they made, and it gives them an appreciation for the country that made it possible.
Melania’s remarks were as potent as they were disarming. It appears some passages were a direct lift from Michelle Obama’s address at the DNC in Denver in 2008. Fine. Fire a speechwriter. The media preoccupation with Speechgate is indicative of their desperation to find something to condemn amid a great night. She was knock-down fantastic as she connected with her devotion to her husband and to the nation that now calls her a citizen. As she spoke from the heart about her marriage and her family, the words of Trump’s snottiest detractors crumpled like dried leaves under the weight of reality. No one is forced to support Trump for President– shoot, an appreciable number of delegates is only now smelling the coffee– but the narratives that Trump is some kind of execrable scoundrel are the product of small people projecting their own issues onto a phenomenon they cannot grasp.
The left can be expected to stoop that low. For some of the abuse to come from Republicans is a matter of shame. Or it should be.
Twitter crackled to life with snarky comments that the night felt “minor league.” Why, because Mitt Romney wasn’t there? I spent not one moment missing him. Because the Bushes didn’t have a VIP box? I confess I would have enjoyed a George W. Bush appearance and its uniting value this week, especially after his magnificent remarks at the Dallas police memorial. It reminded us of the grace and Godliness he brought to the Oval Office every day. He may well have been willing to show that to Donald Trump. But that would have meant annoying the rest of his family, which has lowered itself– even Barbara– by flaunting their hatred of him.
So among the less-than-regal speakers were a Mom whose son died at Benghazi, two heroes who responded there, their fellow war hero Marcus Luttrell and a collection of Americans who have lost loved ones due to the failure of policies like Fast and Furious, and our bipartisan failure to erect borders that work.
What a bunch of dead weight. Or so said all the smart kids having a grand old time on social media.
But as they scoffed, I’m thinking millions of Americans loved it as I did. Sheriff David Clarke’s cry of “Blue Lives Matter,” a call for support of police very unlike President Obama’s embrace of the hate tactics of Black Lives Matter. The brilliant Congressman (and Army Ranger) Tom Cotton, whom a lot of people (like me) thought would be a fine running mate; Former Governor Rick Perry, who selflessly appeared only to intro Luttrell (and share with CNN’s Dana Bash the necessity of backing Trump).
And there was Rudy Giuliani, all 72 years of him, delivering a cannon shot of a speech that resonated to the caves of the God-forsaken moonscapes of the Middle East. “You know who you are!” America’s mayor shouted at jihadists. “And we’re coming to get you!”
In a hundred alternate universes, there is not a Hillary Clinton convention that can yield such a moment.
And to introduce Melania, there was the husband who will accept the nomination in three days. Donald Trump came out in a floodlit silhouette as Freddie Mercury sang “No time for losers, ’cause we are the champions…”
But he was onstage for mere seconds, just enough to bring out his bride for her tour de force. Any thought that the Eastern European accident and supermodel legacy would be disconnects for the imagery of first lady dissolved as she resonated with themes and delivery that the actual Democrat nominee cannot dream of achieving. I confess that the Melania speech gave me a particularly pointed urge to invite Mrs. Clinton to take that “War on Women” and blow it out her ear.
Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame was the first speaker, claiming that the stunning media wrongness of this season is based on the fact that ivory-tower reporters and pundits do not “hang with people who hunt, and fish, and pray.” I am guessing the Trumps are not exactly decked out in camo for deer season either, but the values on display Monday night spoke to a real America united by affection for the suffering values of respect for law enforcement and our military, restoring American global prominence and lifting ourselves up not with the politics of division but with the uniting force of our own self-reliance in a free society.
The insults from the left, and the right, give off the smell of fear. They know this first night of the Republican convention hit home runs a dozen Jeb Bush conventions could not touch. They know a ton of undecided voters tuned in, maybe to see if it would be a wheels-off mess.
It wasn’t. It was inspired, and focused, and a sledgehammer to the Clinton brand. This is what it feels like to have a fighter emerge from the convention crucible. I am so uplifted by the success of this night that the annoying prattles of NeverTrump did not dispirit me as their efforts hit the deserved ash heap of history. God bless those folks, many are my friends, and I pray for them to achieve clarity moving forward, to join the effort to prevent the ruinous Hillary presidency.
I could sense the tingly anticipation during the day of haters who thought the night would give them a chance to come off oh, so superior and wittily condescending. It didn’t happen, and the smart ones know it. Others tried anyway, and they are welcome to stew in their petty discontents, no matter what party they come from.
The rest of us have an election to win.
It is safe to say we have wondered since the night Romney lost who would be the next ticket to attempt to oust the Democrat party from the White House. The normal broad speculation of 2013 and 2014 gave way to last year’s honing of a field that numbered 17 as the starting gun sounded.
And now it’s Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence.
Oh, there will be self-absorbed obstructionists positioning to derail the will of the primary voters. Things will get ugly, because they are a wounded lot in the last throes of their moment in a narrowing spotlight. They will call themselves “NeverTrump” or the “Free the Delegates” movement, as if the delegates need to be “freed” from the results of the primaries, and “freed” from a candidate who is wholly competitive versus Hillary in several vital swing states. Keep talking, guys.
Soon we will be freed from them. They will be silenced by history. Then it will be up to those they have tormented to determine a proper consequence. Will the know-it-alls who have denied and insulted the voice of the people be instantly welcomed back to the table of shared concerns? That will be up to them. We have given these people months to get their acts together and get a whiff of what the Republican choice this year was going to be. These are not children; they are adults who have chosen to cast their fate with a Hillary Clinton presidency, revealing a perceptual disorder that could have her the presidency if they do not get clarity.
This is why, despite the venom they have heaped on our nominee and anyone actually interested in helping him beat her, I recommend forgiveness and unity after the balloon drop Thursday night. Emotions ran high this year; some people simply were not able to handle the tectonic shift in the way this campaign is going to be run. This caused some people to focus more on their own comfort zones than on the nation’s best interests. In the heat of the primary battles, sharp elbows are to be expected. But that fight has been over for a long time.
No more tantrums. No more diversions. No more games. It is time for everyone to ditch their expired gripes and get with the program.
The media long knives are out. Lesley Stahl spent her “60 Minutes” segment with Trump and Pence seeking to create discomfort between them based on some issue differences and stylistic contrasts. It did not work. Pence may not be as riveting a pick as some wanted, but he smoothly batted away her snarky attempts to foment ticket discord.
Trump and Pence are quite different, and there will be differences that can be found between them over the years. So what? Find me a dozen Trump voters and I’ll find plenty of issue differences in that crowd. That’s the point. He attracts a wide spectrum of people, and that’s his path to beating Hillary.
So on the first night of the convention, we will get to hear from Melania and imagine her as First Lady. If that is a departure from the norm, so is this entire political season. And anyone struggling with her in that role is welcome to weigh the effects of the other presidential spouse possibility– Bill Clinton, doing God knows what as his wife continues the current dismantling of the pillars of American greatness.
We will also hear from two names from the VP short list: Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who headed the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama until his commitment to actually fight the war cast him from White House favor, and freshman U.S. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, the first female veteran elected to the Senate.
On a night themed “Make America Safe Again,” another highlight will be former Navy SEAL Commander Ryan Zinke, currently the lone member of the House of Representatives from Montana.
As the Republicans convene, our nation looks out at a world that is screwed up in countless ways, and looks inward at a nation riven by bad government, racial strife and economic malaise. This is not going to be an election for ticking off conservative scorecards on our side while whining about how liberal Hillary is. Ideology matters, but the path to victory for Donald Trump will be fueled by pointing out that she is a stunningly unfit candidate, guilty of jeopardizing national security and lying about it– and that’s before we even touch the concentric rings of her other scandals, from the Clinton Foundation backward through her sordid history.
For its part, the Trump/Pence ticket will indeed have to comfort conservatives that it has the bases covered on constitutional fidelity, protecting religious freedom and rebuilding the economy and the military. But beyond that, there is an imagery of strength and directness that their partnership must exude. Part of that will require a focused and disciplined Trump, which has been on display on many occasions but sometimes not. The public forgiveness window for unforced errors is closing.
If there are hooligans willing to make trouble outside the convention hall this week, they will only accentuate the need for a return to law and order in our national leadership, which Hillary Clinton cannot provide.
So let the curtain rise. It’s going to be a riveting week, filled with internecine squabbling, media derision and establishment hissy fits. But four days from now, a Republican party shaken to its core by the Trump phenomenon will reveal whether it is invigorated and determined to protect our nation from Hillary Clinton, or doomed to collapse in a heap of competing lesser interests.