Donald Trump had shrewdly set up headquarters for his team in the Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland’s Tower City, smack in the heart of downtown. Reciprocity among casino owners was as advertised — legendary until it turned lethal — and Trump’s excellent relationships throughout the gaming industry had opened all the doors in the four year old citadel of gaming on “The Lake,” as it was known in the land of Ohio State University. Rock Ohio Caesar owns the Horseshoe, and though it did not operate a hotel there, the top floor was ideal for the massive delegate tracking operation underway. The set of interconnected suites in the casino’s aerie also allowed all of Trump’s large and very loyal inner circle to operate much as they did on the home turf of Trump Tower in New York.
Donald Trump was not in control of the convention, but you couldn’t tell it by his welcome to Ted Cruz, the Texas senator’s wife, Heidi, and his campaign manager, Jeff Roe, when the three were ushered into the inner conference room with a beautiful view of Lake Erie.
“Ted, come in, come in. Good to see you. Quite a show, isn’t it?” Trump said, waving at the white-capped lake visible at night from beach lighting by First Energy Stadium, the Great Lakes Science Center and, of course, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But it was uncertain as to whether Trump meant the waves or the bank of television monitors airing wall-to-wall coverage of the proceedings.
“Hello, Heidi, you look wonderful,” Trump continued. “Melania complains the lake breeze destroys her hair every day but you look fantastic. And you must be Jeff Roe. Your reputation precedes you,” Trump continued in a stream of unbroken greetings.
“I think you and Corey here” — Trump gestured from Roe to the stone-faced Corey Lewandowski — “should just sit down in a corner and stare at each other while Ted and Heidi and Ivanka and I talk things through,” continued Trump as he smoothly guided the Cruz couple with a hand on both shoulders to a conference table, at which his daughter Ivanka Trump was already seated. A glance at Lewandowski set Trump’s major domo to maneuvering Roe from the table and putting the two of them in armchairs a few feet away. Observers. Not participants.
“So Ted,” continued Trump as he held a seat for the senator’s wife then walked around the table to take his own seat opposite Cruz with Ivanka Trump on his right side. “Let me guess. You and John have a deal and you want me to bless it? Isn’t going to happen. You know I can collapse this right now. We have a word for this. I have used it. I can schlong the whole convention and I will. Now you and I, on the other hand, can do a deal, and you can be my vice president or you can go on the court, but I’m leaving Cleveland the nominee of the Republican Party, or the Republican Party isn’t leaving Cleveland. Ok? Simple, right? Very simple. Sad that so many people don’t see simple things, but you’re a smart guy, Ted. You see this, right?”
For the second time in 30 minutes, men he was beating had told Ted Cruz they were in fact beating him and had offered him consolation prizes. Cruz smiled inwardly, but kept his poker face on.
“Donald, you are amazing. Hello Ivanka. How is Theo? Heidi always says he is the best thing to happen to this campaign.” Heidi had in fact said that often, a mother’s delight in another mother’s newest babe. The women were remarkably alike — incredibly smart, savvy and successful businesswomen, supporting strong successful would-be presidents without a misstep through nearly a year of grueling debates and verbal duels. Each smiled at the other, knowing smiles, the smiles of loyalists who know and respect worthy opponents.
“Wonderful, thank you, senator, for asking. And your girls? Are they having any fun with this at all, Heidi?” asked Ivanka.
“Some days are more fun than others. I think they are going to hate airplanes their entire lives. We had a bumpy landing Sunday in the thunderstorm,” Heidi replied.
“That was something,” Donald Trump immediately interjected. “Trump One almost never feels a bump but that was a hell of a storm. Best plane out there. Biggest as well, except for military. Still got tossed around. Landed perfectly. Stuck the landing though. Perfect landing. Sort of an omen, eh, Ted? That was something. But hey, we have a deal to conclude. Time is a-wasting. In my business, you get it done quick or it doesn’t get done. What do you say, Ted? I assume that is why you came to me.”
Ted Cruz took a deep breath. This is how he did it, he thought. This is how Trump built the Trump Organization. Always assume success. Always assume the other side needs you more than you need them. Always assume winning. It had been a marvel to watch for a year, and now the end game was upon them all.
“Donald, I can spend a long time or a short time, but you are the smartest guy I’ve met in this campaign so I will bottom line it,” began Cruz.
“John offered me the vice presidency as well, and frankly — let’s just be completely frank every step of the way, ok — his offer is a lot better than yours. I can make him the nominee tonight, in an hour in fact, and be on my way to the nomination in 2020 if we lose or as a sitting VP in 2024 if we win. You, on the other hand, can’t win the general …”
“Wait a minute Ted, wait a minute. I can’t win the general?” Trump’s smile had vanished and a thundercloud as big as Sunday’s lake-driven boomer had instantly gathered on Trump’s face. “I crushed you in New York. I will kill her in New York. Pennsylvania as well. Lots of places you won’t even campaign in —”
“Donald, hear me out. Hear me out. We just disagree. My analytics guys, and they are the best, they are like your architects, your interior designers, they are just the best, my analytics guys tell me you will win exactly two states. Two. Alabama and Mississippi. You won’t even carry Utah or South Carolina. This is deep polling, Donald. I have no interest in shining you on here. I have an interest in winning the presidency, so I am just going to be blunt. You can wound the party. I could kill your campaign if I needed to, if you somehow get out of here as the nominee, but it is already dead. You need an exit strategy Donald, one that saves the Trump brand. One that gets you out of this mess.”
Cruz then raised both hands to pre-empt a gathering return volley of words. “Hear me out, Donald. Ivanka, help me out here,” said Cruz, recalling and appropriating the device John Kasich had used on him 30 minutes earlier, when the Ohio governor appealed not to the Texas senator for a chance to make his argument, but to the senator’s father. It had worked to quiet Cruz, and Ivanka gave her father the same nod Raphael Cruz had given his son, which gave Cruz the opening to press ahead.
“I just had a speech given to me by John Kasich. It was very good. He asked my father to listen in so that a trusted family member would hear and analyze after he left. That was smart. That’s why we asked for Ivanka to be here. So can I make my case and then hear you out?”
Trump smoldered a moment but shot a look at Ivanka, who gave an almost imperceptible nod.
“Sure. Go ahead. In ‘The Art of the Deal’ it says listen to every offer.”
“I know, Donald. I’ve read it. Twice,” replied Cruz causing a smile to dash across Trump’s face before the game face returned.
“So here it is. I’m not going to accept your offer. No way. Period. Even if you get to 1,237, I’m not going to accept. If you are the nominee you will crash and burn so badly, no one will walk away. The Trump brand will be ruined. You’ll be Perot 2.0, hated by history and basically everyone for giving us Hillary. You know this. You have great confidence, which you have earned over a lifetime of success, but you also have great objectivity. It is why you walked away from failing deals. ‘Get out at the top’ is what it says in ‘The Art of the Deal,’ right? Well, you peaked this morning, Donald. I’ll get some Florida delegates tonight and maybe pull ahead of you. But that doesn’t have to be the last chapter …”
“Don’t tell me you are here to offer me the vice presidency, I would never, ever be number two …”
“No Donald, I’m not. I’m here to offer a debate and an exit strategy. In a nutshell, the three of us debate tomorrow in prime time. Huge audience. Maybe bigger than the Super Bowl. It will go well for you, it always does. I’d prefer you not call me ‘Lyin’ Ted’ again, but do what you have to do. At the end of it, in the final statement, I’d like you to withdraw and throw your support to me citing an agreement we reached tonight but which was provisional right until that moment, which it will be.”
“What deal?” asked Trump.
“I know you know who Lord Beaverbrook was, Churchill’s right arm, his builder. Saved the country along with Winston by taking over the Spitfire production etc. You know all this, but you and I will have to explain it tomorrow night if you say yes. Anyway, I am offering to make you my Beaverbrook. You’ll be in charge of building the wall. You’ll be in charge of renegotiating TPP. And you will be simultaneously ambassador to China and Russia … never been done before, but you have the energy and the stamina. You are going to be the first-ever ‘first man in D.C.,’ the way the Romans had a ‘First Man in Rome,’ even though he wasn’t necessarily elected anything except the Senate. Just the go-to guy. The guy with the most, well, I guess we would call it celebrity status today, the Romans called it dignitas. That would be you, Donald, doing it for the good of the country. Being its first builder. Its first man.”
“But only if you do it tomorrow at the end of the debate, Donald. Tomorrow. Urge your people to support me on the fifth ballot and we walk out partners, with whomever my guys tell me brings us the most upside in the general as my VP. That’s it. A lot. A very great deal. Measure that not only against losing, and losing badly here or in November, but also against destroying a brand that could otherwise last a century or more. That’s the plan, Donald.” Cruz paused. Staring right into Trump’s impenetrable eyes.
Trump said nothing, looked at nothing, except right back at Cruz. The wheels were turning. An assessment of upside and downside. Something Trump has done, what, 10,000 times? A calculation.
Cruz held his silence, as did the other four in the room. Half a minute went by. Then another long, very quiet minute. Very long times in the world of constant noise. But the seasoned negotiator and the champion debater both knew that silence could be as strategic as the best repartee.
After two minutes, Trump turned to Ivanka. “We have to talk about this, Ivanka and I, and the team of course. We will need some time.”
“I’m going to see Gov. Kasich now, to propose the debate,” Cruz immediately responded. He’d hoped for an immediate yes but expected no less from a seasoned negotiator. “He will have no choice. I think you’ll take the debate even if you don’t take the deal as you have to change the momentum anyway, so shall I tell him that you are on board with the debate, say tomorrow at 8 p.m. EST with a fifth ballot at 11 p.m.? I understand you aren’t committing to anything else and it would be best if just we knew about the specifics of my suggestion until you have made your decision. I suspect I won’t know until tomorrow night in the closing remarks.”
Trump was nodding. The audience size for a debate had occurred to him even before Cruz had uttered it. It was be massive. The biggest ever. It was a genius move for them both.
“Yes, Ted, tell John the debate is on, with him or without him. You want Anderson to run it it? He is very good, very fair.”
“Whomever you want Donald, but a conservative is probably best. Maybe Hewitt. He is neutral. Really. Maybe someone else but we can’t have anyone sabotage it with Hillary’s planted questions.”
“Good point. Good point. Ok. I’ll huddle and Corey will call Jeff on details. Debate yes. But I don’t think we see eye to eye on the rest. But you think about my offer and I’ll think about yours.”
“Donald, I want to be clear. I will not run as your vice president. No disrespect intended. You are a one-of-a-kind man, but the reality is you are going to lose 48, maybe 50 states if you somehow get the nomination. I am 44 and can do this three more times. I won’t ride that plane down. I really, really hope you will get on board mine and accomplish things only you can accomplish. History is a big book, Donald. Many builders and buyers matter a lot more than presidents. Give it some thought.”
Cruz rose as did both Trumps, Lewandowski and Roe. The two candidates shook hands and Cruz moved briskly to the door, opening it for Heidi and waving a goodbye.
“Jeff looks forward to hearing from you, Corey,” the senator said, departing with a note of clarity as to whose court the ball had bounced.
To be continued
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.