Star Tribune staff writer

For three decades the national political conventions have become four day infomercials for the political parties, viewership declining as they become more scripted and boring.

Wednesday night, out of sheer genius or incompetence, the GOP convention delivered some excitement when Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican runner-up, declined to endorse Trump in a primetime address, instead telling Americans to “vote your conscience.” The jeering and boos rained down, while his own delegates shouted at the Trump forces. It was as good as any reality show or WWE match, only missing a Trump progeny whacking Cruz with a folding chair.

There were conflicting reports about whether Trump and the RNC knew this was coming. Trump said they had seen the speech and knew it was coming. The RNC said Cruz did not give the speech they had seen.

Here’s the moment on Youtube.

Trump referred to Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted” once Cruz became his chief rival. He ridiculed Cruz’s wife’s appearance and threatened to unleash negative attacks on her. He speculated about Cruz’s father being involved in the Kennedy assassination. For Cruz to have endorsed Trump would have been a shocking betrayal of his own family for the sake of his political fortunes. At the same time, Cruz is an opportunist. He’s betting that Trump will lose and the party will blame him and his supporters as they look to pick up the pieces.

Patrick Condon and Ricardo Lopez report that the Minnesota delegation is still unsure and troubled by Trump’s ideology, or lack thereof. “He’ll say something I don’t like, and I’ll say ‘Absolutely not.’ Then he’s pressured, and he’ll change it,” said Odegard, an alternate delegate. “So which one is it? How do I know what to trust if you’re going to speak out of both sides of your mouth? I don’t know his heart.”

Trump may have won some of the fence sitters this week with Mike Pence, his VP candidate who by all accounts gave a good speech that exceeded expectations, though overshadowed by Cruz.

To our men on the ground.

Patrick Condon: More than one Minnesota delegate has remarked to me on the surprising amount of downtime in Cleveland this week. Republican convention veterans recall previous cycles with long afternoon floor sessions full of speeches by up and coming state elected officials, candidates, issue advocates and the like. Not so this time: other than Monday's afternoon session to deal with rules and the platform, the program hasn't started up until prime time. One might guess it's because more than your average number of Republican rising stars didn't want to wrap their arms around Trump.

As a result, MN delegates have participated in other organized activities. A group went to an event on Tuesday featuring Phyllis Schlafly and Coach Lou Holtz. Some Cruz supporters in the crew hit a reception Wednesday featuring the Texas senators. Some out too late at post-convention parties even took naps. I took a short one on Wednesday afternoon, too. I haven't been out that late- I just like naps.

Favorite random sighting of the day: former New Mexico (Republican) governor Gary Johnson, now the Libertarian Party presidential candidate, outside the convention perimeter shaking hands and posing for selfies. His eyes didn't look too bloodshot.

Here’s a friendly profile of Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate and famous pothead. Worth noting: Right now Johnson seems to be pulling more votes from Clinton than Trump.

Ricardo Lopez: It's late at the Holiday Inn in Mentor, Ohio and at least one local is sad the Minnesota delegation will depart soon. The bartender here laments that the delegation, which parties hard, she said, is leaving. She said she's planning a big party for Thursday night for the Minnesota and Hawaii delegation that she said will be sorely missed. Something tells me this might be the most action this hotel in Mentor gets in... Ever?

Some Minnesota delegates I talked to said some of booing during Cruz's speech was manufactured by Trump whips on the convention floor. Some Trump whips, the ones in green hats, actively encouraged some of the delegations with higher Trump support to boo. Minnesota was not among those delegations. There was also some debate over whether Cruz's speech, on a close reading, was really a swipe at Trump.

Strong performance by Minnesota GOP on the booze front! Keep it up!

If not for Cruz, the big story of the day would be an interview Trump gave to the Times in which he said he would not automatically defend the Baltic NATO states from Russian invasion, which would break an obligation to NATO allies that’s been in place for 70 years. Incredible stuff, especially considering Trump’s warm regards for Putin. Total freakout happening in Washington foreign policy circles over this. Doubt it moves voters.

I get reader mail:

Subject line: “Hackery is alive and well.”
“You’re (sic) hackery continues I see. Hilarious that you can take yourself seriously as a journalist.”

Remember Steve Wenzel? He’s at his second national political convention, but first as a Republican. The former DFL legislator voted for Humphrey in 1976, but is in Cleveland this year after switching parties in frustration, Ricardo Lopez reports.

The DFL opened a coordinated campaign office. Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Betty McCollum were all there as well as other elected officials. I was talking to a legislator when a woman approached and asked what was going on at the Legislature. She wanted to know when they would do something about police reform. He politely told her they can’t do anything until they get back in session and probably not until next year.

I report this only to remind insiders that even people who show up at a DFL kickoff event, people who volunteer their time for a political cause, don’t necessarily know what’s happening in state government. Now think of the rest of the state. I don’t blame them: It’s hard to follow, and it’s often boring.

A useful reminder.

I also heard from a lawmaker and a labor lobbyist that they would rather Dayton step away from special session talks and let the House GOP own their record (no tax cut, no bonding) in November. It’s easier to run against. I’m sure Dayton is being lobbied hard on this very question.

In any case, the place was packed and sweaty. Doubt we’ll see any equivalent on the GOP side, given their ongoing resource problems, although I expect House GOP to be organized in key districts. Analysis of John Sides in his book on 2102 “The Gamble” has ground operation putting Obama over the top in Florida.

Gov. Mark Dayton has a cabinet meeting but nothing public.  

Middle Eastern born reporter for Foreign Policy Magazine notes that in her first coverage of the American presidential race she saw disturbing parallels to Middle Eastern politics: demagoguery; political dynasty; theocratic language; violent language; America blaming (that’s Bernie); hating on journos; and, “testosterone-filled brawls.”

Funny all the demonizing of the Middle East while our politics are sliding that way.

Tonight is the main event. It’s been an unconventional convention. Veteran scribe Maggie Haberman on last night: “I’ve never seen anything like that.” But the polls continue to tighten. Trump will make his case that he’s ready to be president, that change beats the status quo, that an outsider is needed to break up the establishment morass of Washington.

Should be fun.

Have a great day everyone.

Correspondence: or Twitter: @jpcoolican.

-- J. Patrick Coolican