Ted Cruz's Non-endorsement of Trump Steals the Show in Cleveland

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Former Republican U.S. presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz speaks during the third night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 20, 2016.
Former Republican U.S. presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz speaks during the third night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 20, 2016. Credit: Mike Segar, Reuters

AP - Media followers got the excitement they craved from the convention, and they had everything to do with antagonism — not excitement for presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Ted Cruz's non-endorsement speech for Trump, and the spreading realization through the Cleveland arena at what he was not doing, instantly overshadowed everything else that took place Wednesday. It may, as MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace suggested, stand as the takeaway memory of the Republicans' entire week.

"Ted Cruz walked in here and body-slammed Donald Trump," said ABC News' Tom Llamas.

"This is now the signature moment of Ted Cruz's career — good or bad," said NBC's Chuck Todd.

"How does this happen? How could he make a speech not vetted by the candidate?" said Fox News Channel's Tucker Carlson.

The story dominated the Thursday-morning news shows, completely overshadowing the well-received speech by vice presidential nominee Mike Pence. "Texas-sized snub" blared the "Today" show. The programs recycled the history of bad blood between Cruz and Trump. They showed footage of Trump's plane buzzing by Cruz's Wednesday afternoon rally, and Trump attempting to upstage his rival by entering the arena before Cruz had finished his convention speech.

"Civil War!" read the front-page headline in the New York Daily News.

Fox's Carlson was refuted by a Trump tweet, claiming he had seen Cruz's speech in advance. NBC's Matt Lauer voiced a "crazy like a fox" theory — that the Trump team let Cruz go, knowing it would provoke anger and become a unifying event in favor of the nominee.

The "lock her up" chants directed at Democrat Hillary Clinton from the convention floor in previous nights compelled MSNBC to produce a lengthy segment on whether nastiness will backfire on Republicans. Rachel Maddow displayed a collection of anti-Clinton buttons available for sale, and said there were some with messages that couldn't be shown on TV. Even Fox News' Bill O'Reilly had a debate on his show about whether it was too much. The conclusion on Fox: There's no such thing as too much. "You've got to define your opponent before they can define you," said Monica Crowley.

Is the Trump magic with television viewers wearing off? Either that or a Republican convention isn't their preferred venue. The Nielsen Company estimated that 19.8 million people watched the convention Tuesday during the 10 p.m. hour, down from the 22.3 million who watched the second night of the 2012 convention that nominated Mitt Romney. Fox News Channel was the most-watched network with 5.26 million, but that was down more than 1 million from just Monday night. NBC finished second, followed by CNN, CBS, ABC and MSNBC. The Nielsen numbers don't include the 1.3 million who watched on the non-commercial PBS.

Popular conservative radio host Laura Ingraham was a featured speaker near the beginning of Wednesday's program, but you had to know where to look. Only Fox News Channel carried her speech. CNN and MSNBC essentially ignored her. Ingraham later became a target as a picture circulated online of her raising her arm in what looked like a Nazi salute.

Reporters stationed in the streets of Cleveland due to fears of violent demonstrations have had little to do, and are getting little airtime. "This was supposed to be the epicenter of the clash of civilizations," Fox News' Geraldo Rivera said in one park, where a peaceful crowd seemed mostly interested in what he was doing. Rivera praised police work done by officers from throughout the country who had come to the city.

On PBS, Mark Shields said he hoped some Democratic speechwriters were writing some jokes for next week. "This has been a convention without humor," he said. "There have been no laughs at this convention that were intended."

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