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Brokering a convention, Part II

Part I of this serialization can be found here.

Wednesday night, July 20, 2016. Cleveland Ohio. Dan Gilbert’s Owner’s Suite 1, Quicken Loans Arena

As the door closed behind Ohio’s governor, Sen. Ted Cruz kept his silence and could hear the Buckeye asking his Ohio State Troopers in their distinctive campaign hats, “Where the hell did you stick Weaver? Did you give him SI or something? Let’s go find him so he can tell me again all the things I shouldn’t do.”

Cruz smiled and turned to his dad, Pastor Rafael Cruz, whom John Kasich had asked to attend the meeting that had just finished as the convention’s fourth ballot drew close to beginning. Round three on Wednesday morning had left Donald Trump with 901 votes, his second consecutive drop in delegate totals. Cruz and Kasich had both ticked up with those defections, to stand at 844 and 728, respectively. The defections from Team Trump to Cruz after the first ballot hadn’t surprised anyone, nor had their splintering between Cruz and Kasich or the consolidation of various outliers to Kasich on ballot two.

What had surprised is when Cruz leaked some delegates to Kasich on ballot three — not many, just the northeasterners who never really got on the Cruz wagon except when his winning looked like a lock in late June — and now everyone waited to see where Florida’s 99 delegates would go now that state law unbound them from Donald after three ballots, to go wherever they wanted on ballot four. Many were hard-core Trump supporters. Some were Rubio folks waiting to see if either Cruz or Kasich would make a veep play early.

Neither had Donald’s announcement of a short list of VP’s possibles — Sens. Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst and Dan Sullivan, all combat veterans — and the promise to leave it to the delegates to pick, changed the basic dynamic of the convention. The typically highly produced 90-minute presser and speech had electrified Sunday afternoon and evening, but had left the surprised trio of warrior senators as stunned as the rest of the country, the delegates and the media.

And it hadn’t stopped the inevitable peeling away of 225 delegates from Donald after his first ballot’s high water mark of 1,130. The first ballot’s 107 member “delegate gap” between 1,237 and 1,130 had included 37 “pledged” delegates who had not shown up at all, infuriating Trump’s team and eliciting a threat to “sue them all” from Donald.

But since the gap between the number needed to nominate and the number “bound” to Trump would still have been 70 on the first ballot even if the no-shows had dutifully arrived and voted Tump, the outrage was fading fast as all the candidates and staffs, much of the world’s media and a significant portion of the world period searched the Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and Snapchat accounts of the 2,473 delegates for clues as to how they would vote, and even where they could be found.

A remarkable 95 percent of them had figured out how to disable the GPS inside their phones, but NBC’s delegate hunter app, which followed the social media feeds of all 2,473, had passed 20 million users yesterday. Someone was getting a bonus at the Peacock.

“So why do you think John asked me to bring you, dad, and why did you green light that monologue?” Cruz asked his father, who had in fact intervened minutes earlier to let the Ohio governor give what appeared to have been a very practiced speech.

The big man slowly got up from his chair next to his son and stretched and sighed.

“Teddy, Teddy, Teddy. That was magnificent. Magnificent. He has been thinking about that speech for months. Me? I was asked here to make sure there was an audience that would appreciate it. I’m a preacher. You are a lawyer. I admire other people’s sermons, and you are trained to resent the opposition’s eloquence.”

“And, far more importantly,” the old pastor continued, “Kasich and I have been in the pit. Different pits, of course. But the pit. You, not so much. He is counting on me to tell you that 16 years is both a long time, but not very long at all. Of course he wanted me here.” He paused, then continued. “Because of course much of what he said is true and he knew I would tell you that. Shrewd man, the governor. Scripture tells us to be shrewd.”

Pastor Cruz had been imprisoned and beaten, one of many millions of victims of Cuba’s tortured history. Kasich had lost both parents to a drunk driver.

“Well, since he asked you to be here,” Sen. Cruz interjected, “I should ask you what you think, but provided you know that I am not inclined to yield to a man who won one state and hundreds of fewer delegates than I did, who refused —”

“Teddy. It’s me. Your dad. No one else here. I don’t need to hear, again, the speech. Do you want me to give it instead? Good messaging. But I don’t think we need to hear it again.”

The elder Cruz then stopped suddenly and looked around the room, the old political prisoner suddenly alert for a threat. “Do you think?” he said, pointing to his ears and then around the room.

“No, no pops. I told them to meet us three suites down with Gilbert and then demanded we use the owner’s suite. We can’t be sure the Chinese aren’t listening, but Gilbert wouldn’t bug his own suite. Least wise not well enough if we turn on this,” as Cruz brought out his iPhone and turned on his music feed of Sinatra. “Spoken words well-syncopated and sung to a big band confuses the hell out cheap bugs, dad.”

Pastor Cruz nodded. “OK. OK. What do I think? What do I think?” He nodded and smiled.

“Well, I think I was right when I told you not to fight him on Rule 40. He didn’t get his nomination speech and you made everyone in Ohio hate you and he is still piling up votes. It’s not even my first language and I could read the doggone thing. Rule 40 was never going to stop this.”

“I know. I know,” the younger Cruz nodded. “Bad advice early on. I said it and then kept saying it to shape the narrative. What I said was literally true but once the word got out it didn’t matter and delegates could vote for anyone they wanted regardless of whether a name was formally in nomination, it was silly in retrospect. Bad move. OK. You have reminded me you were right before and I was wrong before. What now?”

“What now indeed. How will Florida split?”

“Half will stay with Donald. John and I will split the rest.”

“So Thursday dawns with Donald at 850, you in the lead with 875 or so and Kasich at 750?”

“Roughly. If — big ‘if’ after those yankees bolted on us — we don’t lose any more of our pledgeds. My Senate colleagues have been out there working their states. Word is, they don’t like me much.”

Both Cruzes laughed. “You don’t mean Lindsey and Sen. McCain may be encouraging their Cruz delegates to head towards John Kasich?”

“Could be, dad. Could be,” the senator chuckled. ” But let’s assume I’ve got the lead, if only for tonight.”

“Well then it is obvious,” the pastor said and his son’s eyebrows went up.

“Call John and tell him you are going to talk to Donald, and then coming to see him. He will wait.”

“And what do I say to ‘Mr. Lying Ted’?” the senator almost snarled.

“Temper and forgiveness, son. Temper and forgiveness. And self-interest,” the father began.

“Well of course,” Pastor Cruz continued, “you challenge him and Kasich to a debate tomorrow at 8 p.m. before the fifth ballot begins, and tell him if he doesn’t accept, you will do a deal with Kasich. Tell him you aren’t sure of the outlines of the Cruz/Kasich deal yet, but firmly tell Donald Trump that he only stays in the game if he agrees to the debate and to your rules for the debate. He will, of course. It is his only chance and he knows he is very, very good on camera. And then you will walk down the hall and tell the governor you will agree to his proposal IF he agrees to the debate AND only if you don’t win more delegates on the fifth ballot. Not a majority. Just more than what you have tonight when you are going to be in the lead. He will understand.”

Sen. Cruz went silent, still seated, but with the concentration that used to precede his oral arguments before the Supreme Court, his finals at Harvard Law, his debates at Princeton. A ferocious furrowing of brows and rolling of intricate tumblers.

“So a debate with what, 50, 60 million people watching,” he mused out loud. “Quasi-Lincoln-Douglas, I think. Fifteen minute rounds, with a moderator to ask a question or two after each round. Two rounds of remarks. Two rounds of two questions each. Should take two hours. Voting at 10 p.m. Reince will agree.”

“Moderator?” Pastor Cruz asked.

“Hewitt, of course. Only one left standing who hasn’t declared and Kasich will like the Ohio connection. But Hewitt will leave it up to us. May bring up the Ohio-class submarines, but generally he will stay out of the way. He knows it isn’t about him,” Sen. Cruz said more to himself than his father, still not sure if Hewitt was really a Kasich agent of influence or hoping Mitt Romney would arrive in a chariot.

“Well, dad, brilliant. Simply brilliant. In the history books any way it turns out, gives us a chance to keep focus on us and not Ryan or Mitt or George Clooney or whomever they come up with. We can pound Hillary, turn the national narrative around. And, of course, I’ll win. Not sure what it will mean for the delegates, but you are right and Kasich is right about the gear grinding. We have to win this Thursday or Friday or lose it on the weekend. Mr. or Mrs. Fresh Face shows up. People have jobs. They have to go home. Speaking of which, I need to talk to Carly, Marco and Nikki tonight.”

“Dad,” Cruz said suddenly standing up as if all the tumblers just fell into place and the safe door had swig open. “Thank you. Brilliant. I’ll go tell the troopers that I am going to see Donald and then will find the governor in 45 minutes or so.” Cruz then pushed dial for Jeff Roe, his campaign manager.

“Jeff. Hey. Please bring Heidi around to Gilbert’s suite and call Lewandowski and tell him I am coming to see Donald. With Heidi.” He paused as Roe said something Pastor Cruz couldn’t hear. “Jeff, I love you, but how many times do I have to tell you? I’m playing this round solo. You’re like my old debate partners who always wanted to know what I was going to say and worried about it until I had said it and won. Same as my law partners. Just call Corey, get Heidi, and come over here. You don’t need to know what I’m doing. You need to keep an eye on our delegates. Oh, and set up calls tonight with Carly, Marco and Nikki. Say in about 90 minutes. Our short list is still our short list.”

He punched off and turned back to his dad, who was also still standing.

“You stay here dad, please. Have a chair. I’ll be back with somebody — who knows who — in less than an hour.”

“I’ll pray.”

Sen. Cruz paused with a hand on the door. “Excellent idea, pops. Excellent idea. May I suggest Psalm 23?” With a smile he headed into the hallway, looking for Jeff Roe.


This column was originally posted on

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