Cleveland—All successful politicians have superpowers.
George W. Bush, a third-generation aristocrat with a family compound in Maine, had the ability to seem like a regular Joe Sixpack. Barack Obama has intelligence—and the capacity to make some people forget his race. Bill Clinton had irresistible charm—though at some point he must have stepped in a big pile of Kryptonite. Ronald Reagan could make anything sound plausible (including, for a brief period 30 years ago, the abolition of nuclear weapons). Hillary Clinton has inhuman persistence.
Donald Trump’s superpower is to be consistently underestimated. “When Trump got into the race, I just laughed,” Matt Throckmorton, a Ted Cruz delegate from Utah, told me. “I figured he’d be out by October. Then I thought he’d be out by November.”
He isn’t laughing any more. Last night I stood on the convention floor here in the middle of the Utah delegation—a state where, as Throckmorton pointed out, Cruz had won 70 percent of the vote—as their hero got booed off the stage. Cruz had just delivered one of the best speeches of the convention, positioning Republicans as the party of freedom and inclusion: “Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist, gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience.” He’d attacked Clinton and Obama as devotees of Big Government, told the faithful, “Please, don’t stay home in November.” He’d even endorsed Trump’s fantasy of “a wall to keep us safe.” But it wasn’t good enough for Trump, who, irked by the chants of “Ted! Ted! Ted!” chose just that moment to enter the arena, pulling the delegates’ attention away from the podium just as Cruz was urging them to “vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom.”
The conventional wisdom says this whole convention has been a disaster for Trump—a succession of self-inflicted message fails, from Melania Trump’s plagiarism on Day 1 (a story given extra legs by the campaign’s initial denials), to the heavy-handed manipulation of the rules on Day 2 to inflate Trump’s margin, to last night’s car-crash on the road to party unity. And Nate Silver agrees.