Ted Cruz played Donald Trump’s reality TV game — and won

His non-endorsement captured the drama of the most addictive reality shows.

When Ted Cruz slickly evaded endorsing Donald Trump for president — live from the stage of the Republican National Convention, no less! — he beat Trump at his own game.

Trump’s rise in the summer of 2015 was predicated largely on understanding the power of certain reality television tropes and playing them up for the right-leaning audience, which loves the genre. (Among others, Duck Dynasty and, yes, The Apprentice have generally played more strongly with Republicans than Democrats.)

In particular, Trump played the villain. The guy who would say anything to win, no matter how outrageous. The man who wasn’t there to make friends.

At times, he seemed to have modeled his candidacy on the famous Survivor season one victor, Richard Hatch, a man who seemed to exploit the rules of the game even as he was just figuring them out. Most famously, Hatch invented the reality show alliance, thus casually disposing of the vast majority of Survivor castaways before they knew what had hit them.

Trump, similarly, seemed to realize that a lot of the rules that guided polite politics could be subverted or even disobeyed entirely, to his benefit.

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