CLEVELAND — When Ted Cruz took the stage, Ivanka Trump took a phone call.
As he started talking, she cupped her cellphone to her face, hiding whatever she was saying. She hung up and sat there, listlessly running her forefinger and thumb through strands of her hair. She didn’t clap when the senator from Texas hailed various American achievements like putting a man on the moon or dismantling Jim Crow. As it became clear that her father’s former opponent hadn’t come here to endorse, she stared icily at the stage while the rest of the crowd in the convention hall rained boos upon the Lone Star heretic.
And when the crowd started roaring and chanting her father’s name, she cast a curled-lip smirk at Cruz before whipping her head around to watch the nominee descend into the frenzied arena.
This was the scene Wednesday night in the convention hall’s VIP seats — three rows of plush velvet chairs for the Trumps and a rotating cast of spouses, friends, politicians and other rich people. All this week, it has been a quietly fascinating space to watch.
As the evening began, it was a glittering crowd, literally, from the glint off the diamond ring of casino magnate Phil Ruffin’s wife to the glare reflected off Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s immaculate bald pate.
Others were harder to place: A crew of lesser-known congressmen, chuckling like children just to be there. The woman twirling around in the blue-and-white hoop dress? That was Omarosa Manigault, veteran villain from “The Apprentice,” who flitted from seat to seat, high-fiving guests as they came and went. From the stage, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made a weak joke, but Omarosa rewarded it with a drawn-out laugh, rolling it out slowly enough for the clutch of cameramen gathered beneath the box to scramble for her reaction.
A quiet murmur went through the crowd. Tiffany — the least-known Trump, Marla’s daughter, the recent college graduate — had arrived. She floated to her seat in a black dress and for a brief moment just sat there alone, pursing her lips and fixing her gaze to avoid eye contact with the gawkers below. She was soon joined by her brother Eric, wearing a pink tie that could be seen from the nosebleed seats, and his wife, Lara, in a form-fitting, textured red dress that made her look like an elegant Twizzler.
“You did great the other night,” an apparent stranger called up to Tiffany, referring to her prime-time speech the night before.
“Thaaaaanks,” she mouthed quietly, with a stiff smile.
“Didn’t she do amazing?” Eric said. “She’s the best.” He smiled. He kissed his wife’s hand. He gazed around the stadium with an air of little-boy wonder. He was biting his lips a lot, too, and seemed in need of some ChapStick.
“Good luck,” Monica Langley, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, called out to Eric, ahead of his convention speech.
“Monica, we love you,” Eric called back, and this exchange was quickly tweeted by the handful of political journalists in the near vicinity. Donald Jr. and his blond wife, Vanessa, showed up, and then Omarosa took a selfie with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
And then Ivanka appeared.
Omarosa jumped out of her seat to embrace Ivanka, then flew up the stairs like the clock was about to strike midnight.
Suddenly, all the nooks and crannies in front of the VIP section swelled with cameras. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, once again on the front lines, elbowed her way to the front. What they all wanted of the moment was unclear. It grew so crowded that a man in a neon yellow hat came forward to disperse the crowd.
Cruz took the stage. “We don’t have a king or a queen,” he said at one point. The Trump family emitted a quiet, regal burst of applause.
Later, after Cruz had been booed off the stage, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews approached the box and asked a security guard if the senator were there. “I’m trying to get him on TV,” Matthews explained, before ambling away.
“I’m pretty sure the VIP section is the last place Cruz would be right now, but what do I know?” the guard said after he had left.
The crowd settled down, and Donald Trump took his seat. He didn’t seem entirely sure whether to glower or smile, to wave at reporters or give a thumbs-up to his fans.
But then Eric took the stage.
“Today, my father stands before you with the most primary votes of any Republican candidate in the history of our nation,” he said.
And in that moment, Trump looked truly proud.