The atmosphere is electric in the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio at the 2016 Republican National Convention. The campaign for the Republican nomination has been hard fought, with twists and turns that have kept both the electorate and the pundits fascinated for many months. But, in the end, the Grand Old Party has decided to nominate the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz.
The media have ascribed Cruz’s unexpected victory to a number of factors. Unlike in previous nomination fights, not one but three representatives of the Republican, moderate establishment threw their hats in the ring to do combat for the greatest political prize of all. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie all divided the establishment vote and diluted the influence of establishment money.
A number of pundits concluded that something was up when Ted Cruz “unexpectedly” won the Iowa Caucus. He went on to place a strong second in New Hampshire after Romney, win in South Carolina, and place another strong second in Florida after Bush. By Super Tuesday, Cruz had put it away.
A few pundits noted that former Alaska Governor, 2008 vice presidential candidate, and some suggest the most powerful female politician on the planet Sarah Palin had, as in 2012, declined to run in 2016. She had become most comfortable exerting her considerable political power and influence as a kingmaker, a role she had performed with alacrity in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
In 2016, Palin threw her full support behind the presidential candidacy of Ted Cruz, her political soul mate. Cruz has ascribed his come from behind win in his Texas Senate race in 2012 to Palin’s support. Throughout the latter part of 2015 and the first few months of 2016, Palin had crisscrossed the country, headlining rallies for Cruz. Campaign ads featuring the former governor. The media, ever eager to underestimate the enthusiasm of the Tea Party movement, were surprised at the effect. But she had only replicated on a national scale what she had done in Texas four years before.
Cruz, having won the nomination, was playing coy about who he would choose as his running mate. The conventional wisdom was that he would choose one of the moderates, Bush or Romney by preference. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, was already hammering Cruz as being “too extreme” to be president. Cruz was polling between six and nine points behind Clinton and some in the media was already proclaiming the 2016 election to be “over.”
Wednesday night, after the pro forma nomination vote, Cruz assumed the podium to make his acceptance speech. As typical of a Cruz speech, it was a stem-winder, in which he paced back and forth across the podium, microphone in hand, touching on issues foreign and domestic, laying in with a will at the records of both Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. The conventioneers interrupted the speech numerous times with delirious standing ovations.
The end of the speech, though, would be the subject of discussions for days on all of the political talk shows. Cruz said, “The very first decision of a presidential candidate is the selection of his or her running mate. President Obama chose Joe Biden, who has entertained and embarrassed his fellow Americans for the past eight years. Secretary Clinton has already announced that she will choose Senator Bernie Sanders, a man who is not even a real Democrat, but is a self-described socialist. Well, I have made my decision of who I want to run with, to be one of my team when I am sworn in as president this January. I can safely say that person needs no introduction. However, I give you my choice, and I hope yours, for vice president of the United States, Sarah Palin.”
On cue, Palin, tastefully clad in a blue skirt, white blouse, and red jacket, walked out onto the podium to join Cruz. The crowd went nuts, standing on their seats, shouting, cheering, and screaming their approval. The band struck up a rendition of “Sarah’s Reel,” a newly composed country and western song that had become Palin’s official campaign theme.
Twenty minutes later, when the noise had died down just a little, Palin said, “I’d like to thank Senator Cruz for giving me this singular honor. May the second time be the charm.” The crowd went wild again. “See you all tomorrow!” Then, arm and arm, she and Cruz departed the podium.
The reaction of the media, with some exceptions, was that Cruz had gone mad in choosing what many considered an ideologically narrow ticket. He would have been better advised to have reached out to the moderate wing, as Reagan did in 1980 by choosing George H. W. Bush. Palin’s barn-burning acceptance speech the next night hardly mollified official opinion. Cruz, the conventional wisdom went, had just thrown the election, never mind that the Democratic ticket was going to be hard left.
So the shock of Palin’s nomination was compounded with another shock when the post-convention poll showed that the Cruz/Palin ticket had pulled even with the Clinton/Sanders ticket. The race for the presidency in 2016 was going to be a fight after all.
Venerable commentator George Will put it best on “Fox News Sunday.” “Lightning seems to have struck twice for Governor Palin. It is undeniable that she provided the sole impetus to the ultimately doomed campaign of John McCain eight years ago. It is also undeniable that she has provided a similar shot in the arm for the Cruz campaign. This election will be the starkest choice that Americans have been faced with in decades, between the far left on the Democratic side and the solid conservative, undiluted by compromise or moderation, on the Republican side. It will be interesting to see who will win.”
And Charles Krauthammer added, “And if Cruz does win and gets reelected in 2020, his vice president will only be a healthy 60 years old in 2024.”
Silence descended over the panel for just a moment on that thought.
As we don’t draft people to run for president, this article is not an endorsement of anyone specific for president in 2016 by C4P. As many of you know, the field is still open and the two people highlighted in this article have not made their intentions clear for 2016.