Cruz torpedoes Trump's convention

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CLEVELAND — Before it began, Republicans said the four-day Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena needed to be a home run for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKoch-backed group launches six-figure ad buy against Heitkamp Anti-abortion Dem wins primary fight Lipinski holds slim lead in tough Illinois primary fight MORE.

So far, it is falling well short of that goal.

The latest bad news for Trump came Wednesday, when his toughest primary rival, Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz says Cambridge Analytica assured him its practices were legal Dem battling Cruz in Texas: ‘I can understand how people think this is crazy’ Overnight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian MORE, failed to deliver an endorsement.

The pro-Trump crowd reacted with boos and jeers, creating a fracas not seen at a national political convention in decades and overshadowing the main address of the night by Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceJohn Oliver says his parody Pence rabbit book has sold out Charlotte Pence responds to John Oliver's rabbit book spoof: ‘I’m all for it’ No constitutional authority for the feds to confiscate guns without due process MORE, Trump’s freshly minted vice presidential nominee.

Trump still has a chance to score big with his address on Thursday night, which will close the convention.

But hopes that his convention would be a major success and that the GOP presidential nominee would leave the city with maximum momentum look unlikely to be realized.

Some Republicans complained the proceedings have not been as organized as at past conventions.

Speakers have run late, schedules have been worked and reworked until the last minute, delegates have had difficulty entering the arena, and some speeches have failed to spark much interest.

The second day of the convention was dominated by charges that Melania Trump’s Monday night speech had included phrases taken from a 2008 address by first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaSmithsonian moves Michelle Obama portrait to larger space over high demand Trump celebrates St. Patrick's day on Twitter Michelle Obama’s advice to girls: 'Do not be afraid to fail' MORE.

That story didn’t die down until Wednesday, when an in-house Trump speechwriter acknowledged the error and offered to resign. Donald Trump refused to accept it, saying she had made an honest mistake.

The problems have fueled GOP concerns of whether Trump, who has a talent for generating buzz, can master the dizzying array of mundane details crucial to running a nationwide campaign.

Trump’s response to the controversy surrounding his wife’s speech earned low marks from GOP operatives who said the campaign should have fired the speechwriter on Tuesday, instead of waiting until Wednesday to release a statement.

“They should have fired her Tuesday morning instead of wasting a day and a half. The convention is more important for Trump than it is for [Hillary] Clinton. Those 36 hours should have been spent introducing Trump to the country,” said a GOP strategist who has worked as a surrogate for Trump and the Republican National Committee (RNC) this week.

A Republican senator who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the Trump campaign said, “What happened Monday was an unforced, unfortunate error, one that really stings.”

The stage was set for a mistake by the decision to reassign Melania Trump’s speech relatively late in the process, a lack of decisiveness that has emerged from time to time.

CNN reported last week that Trump had second thoughts last week about picking Pence as his running mate. He was discussing with aides the possibility of changing his mind as late as Friday morning, according to CNN.

On a smaller scale, the campaign has agonized over the floor schedule, leaving speakers unsure about when they would take the dais at the arena.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senator blocking Trump's Intel nominee Spending bill delay raises risk of partial government shutdown support GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-Ky.), one of the party’s highest-ranking leaders, wasn’t sure when he was going to speak as of late Tuesday morning — hours before his scheduled moment in the spotlight.

There have been other behind-the-scenes snafus.

“People are ready to kill the Trump campaign,” said the surrogate who is working with the RNC staff that organized the convention.

“They’re so disorganized; things are falling through the cracks that aren’t supposed to,” he said.

Jeffrey Lord, a Trump supporter and CNN commentator who worked in the Reagan administration, acknowledged there have been rocky moments, but he argued the convention is an overall success.

“They’ve had a little hiccup here with the whole Melania thing, but I’ve been to my fair share of these things. There’s always hiccups of some kind along the way,” he said.

Mike Duncan, who served as RNC chairman from 2007 to 2009, said Trump’s campaign has coordinated less closely with the party than past nominees.

“He’s a nontraditional candidate. He has weighed in on the convention less than most candidates do. He probably came in with a shorter period of time to make his mark,” he said.

Duncan said he ceded control of the convention to then-Republican presidential nominee John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump congratulated Putin after his national security team told him not to: report Trump faces backlash after congratulating Putin on election win McCain rips Trump's congratulatory call to Putin as an insult to Russian people MORE in 2008 and began working with him “much earlier.”

Establishment-allied Republican strategists worry that procrastination is becoming a theme of the campaign. 

Trump reported only $1.3 million in his campaign account at the end of May, and some operatives are worried that he hasn’t paid enough attention to the party’s get-out-the-vote operation. He has outsourced voter mobilization efforts to the RNC, which has contacted about a million voters so far, well behind the pace set by Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone Misinformation campaign is at the center of opposition to common sense sex trafficking legislation This week: Congress races to prevent third shutdown MORE (R), who is running for reelection in Ohio.

Other nitpicking complaints: It was difficult to enter the arena Monday because of heavy security and speakers that evening did not appear to be held to strict time limits, causing the program to run late and seem unfocused at times.

Enthusiasm flagged at times Tuesday evening, when McConnell and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone Overnight Regulation: FTC to probe Facebook over user data | FDA takes step to regulating flavors in tobacco products | Congress may include background check measure in funding bill Judge rules FEC wrongly dismissed complaint against conservative group MORE (R-Wis.) addressed the convention. Many seats in the upper levels were empty.

Former Rep. Virgil Goode, an independent from Virginia who is attending the convention as a pro-Trump delegate, said some Cruz supporters in his delegation are still holding out. 

“In the Virginia delegation, some Cruz backers aren’t enthusiastic for Trump,” he said. “Overall, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for Trump,” he added.

He said Trump has “overwhelming support” in rural communities.

Other delegates say the environment seems very excited about Trump.

"There’s such a high level of enthusiasm for a clear, decisive victory in the fall," said Al Massey, a member of the Florida delegation, who is attending his first national convention.

Outside the arena, the lavish lobbyist-funded parties that were packed at past conventions have seen smaller crowds.

The more subdued feel of this year’s convention is in part due to worries over recent terrorist attacks in Nice, France, and Orlando, Fla., as well as the shooting of police officers in Texas and Louisiana.

“Look at what’s going on in the world. Look at what’s happening. This is going to be an election unlike any we’ve had in recent cycles and more like what we had in the '60s, where international events and some national events are going to have an impact on the outcome of the election,” Duncan said.