Modern national political conventions are usually public relations promotions where a cavalcade of politicians sing the praises of the party’s nominee. Losing candidates thank their supporters and tell them to fight for the nominee just as hard as they fought for them. The July 20 address given by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination, was certainly uncharacteristic. Cruz was booed by supporters of the party’s nominee, Donald Trump, for urging voters to “vote their conscience” rather than endorsing Trump. The contest between the two had resulted in a bloodletting, with Trump giving Cruz the moniker “lying Ted.”
This is a moment which will go down in the annals of American political history along with other instances of tension and disunity at a party’s convention.
In 1948, the young Minneapolis Mayor, Hubert Humphrey, proposed a plank in the party’s platform committing the Democratic Party to support desegregation. Humphrey inflamed Southern delegates by averring: “the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”The Party supported the plank, precipitating the exit of the Alabama and Mississippi delegations from the Convention. Discontented States’ Rights Democrats formed the State’s Rights Democrat Party, a.k.a., the Dixiecrat Party. Despite the chasm, Democratic President Harry S. Truman was elected to a full term.
In 1952, the Republican Party had been locked out of the White House for almost 20 years. New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey had been the nominee of the party in the last two elections. He represented the party’s moderate bloodline. U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL), who supported his conservative opponent, U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft (R-IL), pointed directly at Dewey, who supported the moderate candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower, exclaiming: “we followed you before and you took us down the path to defeat!” The reception in the hall was mixed, with Eisenhower supporters booing and Taft supporters cheering. Eisenhower won the nomination and the Presidency.
In 1964, the Republican Party was set to nominate U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ). His main primary opponent was liberal Nelson Rockefeller of New York. Goldwater represented the ultra conservative wing of the party. Rockefeller used the occasion to excoriate the far right elements that supported Goldwater, telling conventioneers: “These extremists feed on fear, hate and terror, [they have] no program for America and the Republican Party. . . [they] operate from dark shadows of secrecy.” The Goldwaterites hissed at Rockefeller. Rockefeller did not endorse Goldwater in the General Election. The divide in the GOP, coupled with the fear among voters that Goldwater was too extreme, contributed to a 44-state defeat at the hands of Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.
In 1972, the Democratic Party establishment was disconsolate that they were about to nominate the insurrectionist liberal U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD). Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter spearheaded a “Stop McGovern” movement. Carter nominated one of McGovern’s vanquished rivals for the nomination, U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). Jackson, a traditional Democrat, had performed poorly in his bid for the nomination, only winning his home state caucuses. However, Jackson did not officially drop out of the race. Carter’s effort to promote Jackson failed and McGovern pocketed the nomination. Many Democrats did not attend the Convention for fear of being associated with the nationally unpopular McGovern.
In 1992, Democratic former California Governor Jerry Brown refused to endorse his party’s nominee, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. During a bitter primary, Brown had accused Clinton of “funneling money” to his wife’s law firm for state business. Clinton had replied: “Your not worth being on the same platform as my wife.” However, to the chagrin of the Democratic Party’s high command, party rules afforded the opportunity for any candidate whose name was placed in nomination to address the delegates. A flustered Democratic Party Chairman, Ron Brown, begrudgingly opined: “I have had a number of conversations with Jerry Brown and Jerry is being Jerry . . . . We expect everybody who speaks at the Convention to be supportive of the ticket.“ However, rather than endorsing Clinton, Jerry Brown used the time to lambaste the political system.
Also that year, at the Republican National Convention, Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld challenged the party’s views on reproductive rights, stating: “I happen to think that individual freedom should extend to a woman’s right to choose. I want the government out of your pocketbook and your bedroom.” Many in the predominately socially conservative crowd disagreed and booed.
Ted Cruz did not bring himself to offer even a tepid endorsement of the man who gave him the moniker “lying Ted.” Any moment like this, where a convention speaker does not parrot talking points about why the party’s nominee should be elected, has a deleterious effect on the party as a whole, exposing party divisions before a national audience. Convention organizers yearn for consistency, not drama and division. Cruz is clearly singing from a different hymnbook.
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