STEP OUT INTO THE NIGHT

1. It’s Thursday, July 21, 2016.

2. It’s the final day of the Republican convention, this summer’s entry for the most bizarre reality TV show.

And it’s the one that a large percentage of the American electorate will watch. Because at some point, the Republican presidential nominee will give a speech accepting that nomination.

What Trump will show up at about 10 p.m. ET in Cleveland?

Will he try to befuddle his critics and make a speech that makes him seem like a President of the United States? One in which he seeks to inspire the American people. When he tries to bring his party together and appeal to the few voters who haven’t made up their mind.

Will he use a Teleprompter? Or will he dare to deliver the single most important speech of his life, and one of the most important speeches of the early 21st century, ad lib?

Will he set out specific proposals? Other than the wall.

Or is this the grand finale of “I Hate Hillary”? Does Trump bring the hatespeak to a crescendo, give all the delegates pitchforks and torches, and set them upon the land to bring justice to the heathen woman?

There are things Trump could say tonight that, believe it or not, could make us forget the Melania plagiarism flap, the Christie lynch mob rousing and even the Cruz perfidy of last night. It’s possible.

Some of those things would actually be smart politics – he could be restrained and say that this election is about ideas and not personalities. He could share a vision of peace in the world and justice at home. It would absolutely leave his opponents as bewildered as they’ve been since he started this unlikely journey a year ago.

Or he could spend the time being what he’s been all along. About himself. He could divide the nation further and add to the sense of crisis he seems to think will advance the Trump brand.

A lot is riding on what Trump says tonight. Whether you’re for him or, like me, think this is the saddest excuse of a human being ever to seek the nation’s highest office, it’s must-see TV.

3. A former boss of mine loved the phrase “too smart by a half” to describe someone who might have outsmarted him or herself.

Ted Cruz’s speech reminds of that phrase.

Cruz battled Trump to Indiana in May before seeing the handwriting on the wall. But after standing on a debate stage earlier in the process and promising to support the party’s nominee whoever he or she was, Cruz played coy for months about what he’d do at the convention.

So unlike John Kasich and Jeb Bush who just didn’t show up, Cruz decided he wanted the chance to speak in prime time and spread his regressive message. And he thought he would position himself for the aftermath of a Trump defeat by telling people to vote their conscience – instead of delivering the promised endorsement.

Cruz might think he’s put himself in a position to pick up the pieces. The party will see the error of its ways in 2020 and turn to him, its savior.

But I think the Trump supporters in the GOP and even some of the party faithful think what he really did was try to push Trump over a cliff and claim it was for their good.

If Trump wins, they’ll say he did despite Cruz’s attempt to sabotage. If Trump loses, he’ll be one of the reasons why. They might even start mumbling that he made a deal with President Obama when he traveled on Air Force One to the Dallas police memorial service.

Frankly, I think Ted Cruz positioned himself for a presidential run. In 2032. By that time, the current GOP will have forgotten what it sees as his deceit. He will have had a career as a TV pundit or Internet scowl, something akin to Ronald Reagan. And maybe, maybe, he’ll have been forgiven by then.

But he’d better not wait until 2036. By then, Malia Obama will be eligible to run.

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