CLEVELAND, Ohio — David Axelrod, former political strategist for President Barack Obama, spoke to Breitbart News Thursday at the Republican National Convention, reflecting on the speech Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gave the night before.
Axelrod echoed a theory floated by Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire, which is that Trump, having seen Cruz’s speech, allowed him to give it and deliberately “orchestrated” boos from the delegates on the floor, which most regarded as spontaneous.
Here is the video (transcript follows):
Pollak: I’m here with Mr. Axelrod. What do you think about the speech that Ted Cruz gave last night?
Axelrod: Well, obviously, it wasn’t well received by the Trump forces. Look, I think he went there to give a, to make a full-throated statement for his conservative principles, and he did that. I assume, you know, he did that with eyes wide open — that all the words that some of those people wanted to hear was, “Vote for Donald Trump.” But, you know, I think he’s making a larger calculation about where this all is going, and had some personal reasons not to do that.
Pollak: You know, in politics, a lot of things get said personally. Do you think he let that get to him too much?
Axelrod: Well, I mean, I don’t want to put myself in his shoes. Those were some harsh words that were exchanged. I think that’s part of the equation. I think the other part is that there are a lot of people who think about what happens if Trump doesn’t win, how do you position yourself relative to 2020 if he doesn’t. And I suspect that was part of equation as well. But look, those were some harsh blows that he took. So…
Pollak: What if that backfires and people blame Cruz if Trump loses?
Axelrod: You know, there’s risk in everything, right? There were three guys who made different calculations last night. Scott Walker gave a full-throated endorsement. Marco Rubio gave a video endorsement, so he had one foot in the door and one foot out the door, and Cruz did what Cruz did. And, you know, all of those will be tested by time as to their wisdom and risk.
Pollak: But wasn’t there another option, to do what Reagan did in 1976, and say, we have a choice in this election, and winning is better than losing, and he didn’t have to say the words, “I endorse,” but could have made it clear that he supported the party?
Axelrod: Yes, there’s no doubt there are other approaches he could have taken.
Pollak: What would you have advised him to do?
Axelrod: I don’t know that he’d want my advice…
Pollak: But if you have to, and if he wanted your advice — if he had called you and said, “What would you advise me to do — I’m not prepared to endorse Donald Trump, how do I respond to this invitation to speak?”
Axelrod: Well, I think he thought he had it covered at the end, when he said, “Vote your conscience.” I mean, and the real question isn’t Ted Cruz, the real question is: Donald Trump’s the guy whose name is on the ballot. And would it have been better to take Cruz’s “vote your conscience,” as, you know, do what Gingrich did and spin it, and let the story be Mike Pence –who gave a very good speech last night — rather than the story be about, you know, this raucous display in the hall, which I think was, you know, orchestrated to some degree by the floor whips from the Trump campaign.
Pollak: Let me ask a question, then, looking towards tonight’s speech — now we’re looking forward, not backward — what would you say that Trump needs to do to address Ted Cruz’s speech?
Axelrod: Well, I don’t think he has to do anything to address Ted Cruz’s speech. I think Trump needs to focus on what Trump needs to focus on, you know, and this would not be keeping necessarily with the perspective of the Breitbart constituency, but he needs to figure out how he counts to the number of voters he needs to win an election. And he needs to reassure people that he is prepared to be President of the United States, that he has the depth and humanity that people want in a president. And this speech is an opportunity for him to display some of that.
Pollak: What if Bernie Sanders were to come to the [Democratic] convention next week, and say, “I can’t support Hillary Clinton” — what effect would you think that might have?
Axelrod: I think it would be supremely odd, since he stood with her and endorsed her a couple weeks ado–
Pollak: OK, theoretically, what would the impact have been of a similar response on the other side?
Axelrod: Well, if I were advising her, and he did that, I would have advised her to do the same thing I’d advise Trump to do, which is to spin it as best you can and move on and not let it dominate the story.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, will be published by Regnery on July 25 and is available for pre-order through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.