Everybody’s been there. You say something, and five minutes later, the perfect response comes to mind. We’re talking about the presidential conventions. Last week’s GOP convention will be remembered, more than anything else, for Ted Cruz’ refusal to endorse GOP nominee, Donald Trump. The result was a lot of boos, leaving him at the podium with egg on his face. He even tried to convince people that it was just the New York delegation. And then, the final blow—Donald Trump entered the arena, smiling and waving, and Cruz was left to slink away with his wife, needing security guard protection.
Monday night at the Democratic convention, Bernie Sanders faired much better. The weird thing is that he received some boos, too—but they were from his own supporters. Neither of these embarrassments were necessary. Both of the speakers could have become the heroes of their respective conventions—if they had said just a few things.
Here’s the end of Ted Cruz speech from last Thursday:
We deserve leaders who stand for principle. Unite us all behind shared values. Cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect, from everybody.
And to those listening, please, don’t stay home in November. Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.
It’s love of freedom that has allowed millions to achieve their dreams. Like my Mom, the first in her family to go to college, and my Dad, who fled prison and torture in Cuba, coming to Texas with just $100 sewn into his underwear.
And it is love that I hope will bring comfort to a grieving 9-year-old girl in Dallas – and, God willing, propel her to move forward, and dream, and soar . . . and make her daddy proud.
We must make the most of our moment – to fight for freedom, to protect our God-given rights, even of those with whom we don’t agree, so that when we are old and gray . . . and our work is done . . . and we give those we love one final kiss goodbye . . . we will be able to say, “Freedom matters, and I was part of something beautiful.”
Thank you. And may God bless the United States of America.
After the second paragraph of this excerpt, the crowd noise grew steadily. As soon as he said, “vote your conscience,” people in the hall recognized that as the code-phrase of the NeverCruz movement. In Donald Trump’s nominating convention, he was, in effect, saying, don’t vote for Donald Trump.
By the time he was saying, “we must make the most of our moment,” his moment was already gone, and you could hardly hear him after that. The cameras went to Trump’s entrance, and Rafael (“Ted”) Cruz had to just slink away, as a footnote in history.
The irony is that just ONE word would have saved him. If he had adlibbed one word, the crowd would have been surprised, and would have given him a standing ovation—making him the frontrunner for 2020. All he would have had to say is, “vote for REPUBLICAN candidates up and down the ticket,” and he would have been a hero. It would have been a “non-endorsement endorsement,” but it would have been enough.
And now, Bernie Sanders had his own missed opportunity. No, he didn’t smirk and thumb his nose at the nominee. But he, too, claimed to be ahead of a “movement,” and failed to give that movement direction. Here are excerpts of his speech, which was intended to bring harmony in the City of Brotherly Love:
Let me begin by thanking the hundreds of thousands of Americans who actively participated in our campaign as volunteers. Let me thank the 2 1/2 million Americans who helped fund our campaign with an unprecedented 8 million individual campaign contributions – averaging $27 a piece. Let me thank the 13 million Americans who voted for the political revolution, giving us the 1,846 pledged delegates here tonight – 46 percent of the total. And delegates: Thank you for being here, and for all the work you’ve done. I look forward to your votes during the roll call on Tuesday night.
It sounded like any campaign speech that he’d made all spring. From there, he described his continuing “revolution,” criticized Trump, praised Obama, and finally:
By these measures, any objective observer will conclude that – based on her ideas and her leadership – Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States. The choice is not even close.
Bernie went on to discuss specific issues, including the minimum wage, Citizens United, LGBT rights, college costs, climate change, universal health care, prescription drug costs, immigration reform, breaking up the big banks—all legitimate issues that differentiate the parties.
What he should have done is reassured his supporters, “this is only the beginning—this is only the first step.” While he did say, “Our revolution continues,” it would have been more powerful to say that this is a positive beginning, and that Hillary Clinton will be sure that they hold their ground, and not fall backward with Donald Trump.
More importantly, the ending could have been stronger. It was—
Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight.
But those were the words of just one man, and many of his supporters considered him a “sellout” by saying them. He should have taken it a step further, to ask his supporters to “take ownership” of this phase of his revolution—of consolidation before the next wave.
Bernie should have said, “I am proud to stand with her here,” and then pointed out into the audience and said, “and now, it’s your responsibility to stand with her, too, to make sure that our gains are not lost.”
Instead, it was just Bernie speaking for Bernie, not his movement. And that gave his supporters the right to support Jill Stein, or at least to continue complaining. It’s not likely that they will heed Bernie supporter Sarah Silverman’s advice to come together, who said, while standing next to Al Franken, “Can I just say to the Bernie or bust people, you’re being ridiculous.”