Columnist: Ted Cruz pulls a Ted Kennedy from the 1980 Democratic Convention

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2016

When Ted Cruz refused to endorse Donald Trump in his Republican National Convention speech, he channeled his ideological opponent, Ted Kennedy, whose bitter primary fight with Jimmy Carter made him dodge the opportunity to raise hands with his opponent. It cost Carter the 1980 election, and might do similar damage to Trump.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz waged a bitter battle for the 2016 GOP nomination with Donald Trump, being one of the last candidates standing. He and his wife were attacked by Trump over her looks, Goldman Sachs loans, accusations that his father had ties to Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. Cruz also gave as good as he got.

While many other prominent Republicans stayed home from the RNC in Cleveland, Ohio, Cruz showed up. But if Trump felt that the conservative firebrand would kiss his ring, he was badly mistaken. Cruz delivered a very lengthy speech where he encouraged people to vote their conscience, rather than vote for the GOP nominee.

Earlier that day, Trump twice used aerial vehicles — his personal plane and his helicopter — to buzz Cruz’s rally. In the aftermath of the speech, Heidi Cruz had to be escorted by Virginia delegate Ken Cuccinelli from the convention hall, ostensibly for her own safety. Ted Cruz was booed.

It’s not too different from the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York City. Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy waged a bitter primary fight against incumbent President Jimmy Carter. Kennedy struggled from the gate, and Carter built a powerful lead. Then Kennedy mounted a furious comeback, narrowing Carter’s lead going into the convention.

Carter desperately needed a show of unity at the DNC that year to take on popular GOP challenger Ronald Reagan. Kennedy received a prime time speaking role at the convention. But if Carter wanted a warm embrace to unify the party, he didn’t get it.

Kennedy’s speech barely mentioned Carter. And the Massachusetts Senator deliberately ducked Carter, who followed him around the stage but failed to get hands raised together. Carter’s re-election chances, and the rest, were history. Carter is still bitter about that snub, blaming Kennedy for his loss.

Trump claims that it was “no big deal” at a post-speech tweet, but that same tweet also blasted Cruz for not “honoring the pledge.” Trump came out to try and pry media cameras away from the Texas senator. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went on CNN to slam Cruz, calling it “political suicide.”

Trump tweeted that he saw the speech, while his campaign manager insisted there would be an endorsement. It’s the Melania Trump plagiarism all over again, where mistakes are made, lies are told afterwards about who is responsible, and the story hangs around and incredible excuses are made — like the “My Little Pony” — wasting an effectively partisan Mike Pence speech.

We’ll find out later in November whether Cruz did the same damage that Kennedy was able to do 36 years ago.

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at