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DALLAS — A funny thing happens when you pack a political convention with one personality’s supporters: That personality gets more attention.
Ted Cruz, for perfectly sound reasons, packed the Republican Party of Texas convention with his own supporters. As of last week, he’s no longer a candidate for president of the United States, but he’s still the favorite here.
One measure: Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick opened the convention with speeches, each hitting on some of their favorite issues and also trying to get conventioneers thinking about the general election fight ahead.
Ted Cruz was the biggest applause line either speaker got. You’d think he had been nominated or something.
Abbott talked first. He timed the release of his book — "Broken But Unbowed: The Fight to Fix a Broken America" — in sync with the convention. And he spoke of his proposal to call the states together to amend the U.S. Constitution, shifting power from the federal to the state governments. He also — without actually saying the word “Trump” — argued the Republican case against four more years of Democrats in the White House.
He talked about conservatives’ “Game of Thrones” — the culture-war skirmishes against rules and regulations that would allow transgender people to use the restrooms of their choice.
That has been the subject of Patrick’s travels this week; the lieutenant governor called for the head of the Fort Worth ISD superintendent this week, objecting to that school district’s rules for transgender students. Patrick has bodacious persuasive skills, but no actual authority over who runs those schools. That said, he picked up a popular issue in the GOP right before the state convention and got a lot of attention.
It wasn’t the most popular part of his speech here, though. Patrick put the crowd on its feet with a line he has used before, saying Donald Trump should appoint Cruz to the U.S. Supreme Court if he’s elected.
Then he addressed that “if,” repeating his endorsement of Trump, telling the delegates that they should stick with the party’s nominee, and allowing a little room for raw feelings from Cruz and his supporters, saying “some people take longer to heal than others.”
This all could have been so different. Cruz packed the convention, as best he could, to bolster his own chances against Trump.
The state conventions are where the delegates to national conventions are chosen. Cruz’s campaign worked hard to make sure that the people serving as national delegates were in his camp. They have to represent the state’s primary voters on initial ballots, but eventually are freed to vote as they wish.
Cruz wanted to be sure that even the Trump and Rubio delegates from Texas would be at his side on those later ballots, the better to overtake Trump in a contested national convention.
That’s a complicated organizational trick, but Cruz’s campaign did a pretty good job. The state GOP convention in Dallas seems packed with his supporters. An anecdote from the first day of the convention: A line for Cruz-for-President T-shirts formed in the exhibit hall; the Trump tees were moving at a much slower clip.
The enthusiasm in the hall was more telling. Cruz is not scheduled to speak until Saturday. Despite persistent and apparently unfounded rumors that Trump would drop in to speak to the Texas delegates, the buzz belongs to the state’s junior senator.
Cruz is taking his time coming around to the nominee, if in fact that’s where he’s going. He hinted at one point that he could come back into the presidential race if the opportunity arises, then announced that he will run for re-election to the U.S. Senate when his term ends in two years.
In the Dallas convention center named for his immediate predecessor, Kay Bailey Hutchison, that’s a popular idea. Then again, so was the notion of President Cruz.