Donald Trump's dreadful night

Story highlights

  • The Republican Party's convention is taking place this week in Cleveland
  • Tim Stanley: Ted Cruz's convention speech stripped away the veneer of unity

Timothy Stanley, a conservative, is a historian and columnist for Britain's Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Wednesday night was dreadful for Donald Trump. Simply awful. The whole message of this convention is "unity." The reason he has invited his former opponents to speak is to stress that he, too, is a conservative. Well, Ted Cruz stripped away the veneer of unity. And his beautiful speech about the true meaning of conservatism left us in no doubt that Trump ain't a conservative.

There was a funny prophecy of things to come earlier in the day. Cruz was trying to address his followers down by the waterside -- and Trump flew past in his giant plane. Cruz laughed in that slightly wicked way of his, and suggested it might have been timed. Later, when Cruz was delivering his speech to the convention, Trump walked in, in an obvious attempt to once again disrupt him. On this occasion, his timing was off.
Timothy Stanley
What a speech. Technically, Cruz did say that Republicans were free to vote their conscience. Technically, he did endorse the wall. Technically, he did make a plea for philosophical unity. But what he never said was: "I endorse Trump." The convention heard what he wasn't saying. The New York delegates got to their feet and demanded that he back Trump. Again, he gave that evil grin. "I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation," he said -- and then plowed on.
    It was reminiscent of Nelson Rockefeller's turn at the 1964 Republican convention, when he denounced the extremists backing the candidacy of Barry Goldwater and was drowned out with boos. The irony is that this year, it's the conservatives -- not the Rockefeller moderates -- who are the outsiders challenging the newfound authority of the Trumpites. It's something they have to do just to survive.
    A liberal might have listened to Cruz's speech and struggled to understand what all the fuss was about. Didn't he also talk about Obama "importing terrorists" (which he most definitely is not doing, by the way) and wax lyrical about the wall? Yes. But Cruz also talked about the importance of the Constitution. About each state being free to have different policies from the other. About the importance of civil liberties. Even about gay rights. This was an intelligent, step-by-step articulation of the conservative philosophy of government by a legal scholar. Trump would not only not talk in such language himself but, one suspects, he doesn't even understand it. In fact, it's antithetical to the entire Trump pitch.
    Later came Mike Pence, whose speech was supposed to be the centerpiece of the Wednesday session, to tell us that Trump deserves to win because America needs "strong leaders." Actually no, it does not. America needs a leader who understands the limits of his position and who does not try to operate beyond the legal bounds of his office. It does not need a leader who is theatrical or charismatic. It just needs someone of moral quality.
    Maybe a future convention will elevate Cruz as that person. It probably won't do the same for Marco Rubio, whose sad infomercial-type video endorsement made him look small. Newt Gingrich -- introduced, inexplicably, by his wife as though he'd won the nomination himself -- looked old and pretty out of touch. Pence is there to obey. And Chris Christie, who denounced Cruz's speech as soon as he heard it, is a hit man. The only man who looked like he might have a real career after this convention is Ted Cruz.
    Millions of conservatives who were thinking about casting aside their doubts and backing Trump just to beat Hillary Clinton will now be thinking again. Cruz has given their consciences a second life.