Donald Trump was widely criticized for replaying old fights with Ted Cruz at a news conference the morning after Trump’s acceptance speech to the Republican convention. It’s true ??? there was no reason for Trump to rehash (again) and explain (again) his attacks on Cruz’s wife Heidi and father Rafael. Beyond that, Trump also stepped on news coverage of his speech.
But the biggest problem with what Trump did Friday was he showed that, even as he has entered the general election campaign, he cannot move beyond the Republican primaries. Yes, it was a big deal that Trump defeated 16 rivals for the GOP crown. But that’s over, and it’s time to move on, yet Trump can’t seem to.
Certainly the Republican delegates who came to Cleveland have moved on. The convention was the last possible moment Trump could bask in the glow of winning the nomination, but at the same time it was the moment in which the party’s attention turned 100 percent to winning the general election. Trump didn’t turn with it.
One reason Cruz was received so badly at the convention was that the delegates were ready to leave the fights of the primary season behind. When Cruz showed that he was still nursing resentments from months ago, they blamed him for not getting with the program.
There are 106 days left until the election. Trailing in the polls and out-organized by Democrats, Trump has very little time to put together a winning campaign. The fact that he would spend any time relitigating the past struck Republicans for and against Trump as nothing short of astonishing.
“He needs to focus on beating Hillary,” said Newt Gingrich, one of the finalists in Trump’s vice-presidential search. “It is the next campaign that will decide his role in history, not the last one.”
“I really can’t understand this,” said former GOP congressman and quintessential establishment figure Vin Weber. “Trump is probably right that he doesn’t need his former opponents’ endorsements. But he needs their supporters.”
“One needs to focus on the next battle and not prolong the celebratory exaltations of past conquests,” said veteran Republican strategist Dave Carney.
“The fact that Trump doesn’t shed grudges very quickly and is driven by personal grievances shouldn’t be a surprise by now,” said Kevin Madden, a former Romney campaign official. “One other reason is the Republican primary represents his most recent proof point of success. He used to talk about polls non-stop. He never does that anymore. Instead, he talks about beating this vaunted field of 16 other candidates and winning more votes than any other Republican primary candidate as a way to undermine his critics.”
“There is a finite amount of time between now and the election,” noted another former Romney aide, Ryan Williams. “Trump wasted his entire day, when his speech should have dominated the headlines.”
Some, like Gingrich, support Trump. Others, like Madden, have vowed not to vote for him. But all agree: Trump veered far off topic, wasting precious time and focus, on the morning after the biggest speech of the campaign.
So now the GOP faces a situation in which both the winner and the runner-up of its 2016 nominating contest are having a hard time moving on. Trump can’t get over his win, and Cruz can’t get over his loss.
And as last week showed, there are still deep feelings all around. When I asked former Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler about Trump’s news conference, he responded, “Trump may have oppositional disorder.” I sent back a link to a MayoClinic.org page on “Oppositional Defiant Disorder,” describing children who exhibit a “frequent and persistent pattern of anger, irritability, arguing, defiance or vindictiveness.” Is that what Tyler meant? “I’m not qualified to make a clinical diagnosis,” Tyler responded, “but someone should.”