For Ted Cruz, Wednesday night was not the night he wanted to be speaking at the Republican National Convention. Not by a long shot.
Cruz wanted to be speaking at the end of the convention on Thursday, accepting the presidential nomination of his party. But he could not overcome Donald Trump, and his Wednesday address could go one of a few ways.
The Texas Senator is not expected to endorse Trump from the stage. Given the long and heated nature of the rivalry between the two, it would come off as disingenuous at best. Instead, Cruz will likely focus on the state of conservatism and will certainly throw a few barbs for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Based on the first two days of the convention, that is more likely to get a big response inside the Quicken Loans Arena than anything he could say about Trump.
But there is another element to Cruz’s address that is impossible to ignore — how might the Texas senator use his speech to set up a comeback in 2020? Donald Trump’s chances of winning the general election are still fairly slim. Cruz knows this. While he can’t outright say it, his speech is surely being written with that in mind.
And there is precedent for such a move. Ronald Reagan lost the 1976 Republican primary to Gerald Ford, but gave a powerful speech at that year’s GOP Convention. Ford lost to Jimmy Carter. Four years later, Reagan was the nominee and crushed Carter, paving the way for eight years in the White House.
Cruz is not Ronald Reagan 2.0. But he and his supporters are surely hoping that Wednesday evening will be his Reagan moment.