Ted Cruz’s career-defining heel turn on last night’s Republic National Convention broadcast was a perfectly timed twist befitting prestige television drama. Twitter users collectively dubbed the speech the Ted Wedding, a reference to Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding, a notorious moment of political and literal violence in which one family misguidedly enters the house of would-be allies only to be stabbed and sliced and bludgeoned to death. But what Cruz enacted was an inversion of that scene; while not remotely gory, the maneuver was no less conniving and far more courageous. Cruz entered the castle of his allies, and he went for the head of the king.
What he did was so galling and shrewd that I can’t even think of a proper character comparison in a series constructed almost entirely of political sociopaths. For similarities, I look elsewhere. In wrestling, he’s the smirky bad guy Chris Jericho. In film, he’s Fredo. I’m thumbing through the CliffsNotes of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and this synopsis of Antony’s soliloquy at Caesar’s funeral is so comically pertinent that I need to share it in its entirety.
Antony, in reality, wants two things: to avenge Caesar's murder and to rule Rome. In order to do both, he must first undermine public confidence in the republicans, and second, he must drive them from power by creating a chaotic situation that will allow him to seize power in their place. The method he chooses is to gain permission to speak at Caesar's funeral, and that is the sole reason he plays the role he does in the Capitol.
Replace "Caesar" with the "the GOP" and "Rome" with "the USA" and you have a Vox.com explainer of last night’s events. (That already exists. It is great.)
Of course, as someone who earns his bread on the internet, I believe the most apt comparison is the internet troll. For a man with such poor social media skills, Ted Cruz is a worthy contender for Master of the Trolls. To understand why, let’s breakdown the unprecedented amount of effort and craft required for Cruz’s magnum opus.
Maintaining a germ of hate and nurturing a lust for revenge
Everybody has responded to an insult with an immediate lunge of anger, but what Ted Cruz accomplished is less common. When Trump ridiculed Cruz's father and wife, the politician grinned externally, while internally he bottled that surge of rage. He then carried it with him on a shelf built inside his heart. He coddled the jar. He grew the hate. He refined it for a pure fuel that ultimately powered his intricate strategy for revenge.
Twisting the fabric of truth into a Penrose knot
To get a prime speaking spot at the RNC, Cruz needed Trump's trust, and to gain said trust, the Master of Trolls had to manipulate the truth so that its real intent was at best invisible, and at worst incomprehensible. He took advantage of Trump’s pride and ego. It’s been said that Trump read the speech beforehand, and I believe it. I can see how Trump and company claimed they grasped its meaning in the same way a teenage boy claims to get Siddhartha.
Turning weaknesses into weapons
Ted Cruz was mocked through his campaign for being a slow speaker. TV news commentators expected his speech to last at most 15 minutes, and yet Cruz extended his time on stage past the 20-minute mark. What may have been seen as Cruz succumbing to his weak oration skills, intentionally or not, was in effect the Master of Trolls taking a substantial bite from the evening’s schedule, possibly bumping Newt Gingrich’s speech, making Cruz the de facto lead-in for Trump’s VP, Mike Pence.
Penning a Keyser Söze twist
I know The Usual Suspects is a trite comparison, but it’s the best one available in this case. Try to remember the first time you watched the climactic reveal that Kevin Spacey’s humble narrator was actually the villain behind everything — and that almost all of the film's story could have been fabricated simply for his getaway from a police interrogator. A few seconds upend the preceding hour and 40-some minutes. This is arguably Cruz’s most impressive trollish trick. He had the audience on his side until the final moment. Everything about the speech felt as if it was building to an endorsement of Donald Trump. But it wasn’t an endorsement of Trump. It was self-promotion. Cruz’s call for Republican’s to vote with their conscience reframed the entire speech as day one in Ted Cruz’s 2020 bid for president.
I struggle to find a more elaborate, gutsy, self-centered, and inspired troll. I can’t imagine what Cruz felt as he landed the dismount that would secure him the gold medal of trolling. All I can do is live vicariously through his smile at the moment everything finally came together.