U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz took the stage at the Quicken Loans Arena to thunderous applause and a hero’s welcome at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night. He left the podium to jeers and boos and chants of “Trump.”
For most of Cruz’s typically well-crafted and well-delivered speech, the 45-year-old Texan, who had made a strong run for president in his first term in the Senate, seemed to have finessed his dilemma, congratulating Donald Trump on his nomination the night before, and stressing the importance that Republican values prevail in November, without explicitly endorsing his bitter rival.
But then, as his 22-minute speech was drawing to a close, he managed to take a sentence that began with what seemed a plea for a Trump vote into what sounded like the opposite.
“And to those listening, please, don’t stay home in November,” Cruz said. “Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”
“Conscience” had been the rallying cry of a fierce minority of delegates – mostly die hard Cruz supporters – who were thrashed by the Trump campaign and the national Republican Party in their effort to thwart Trump’s nomination by passing a rule that would have given delegates pledged to Trump a “conscience” escape clause.
Cruz’s delivery of the word “conscience” set the Trump majority into a frenzy.
Suddenly the hall was enveloped in roaring mix of cheers overwhelmed with hoots and boos that left an indelible image of Cruz — brave or foolish, martyr or ingrate — under siege. As Cruz was being bombarded with vitriol, Trump himself emerged in the arena, cameras and attention swiveling in his direction, attended by a burst of cheers.
Cruz finished his speech amid a sea of commotion.
Stark and riveting
“Give Ted Cruz this much credit. He doesn’t mind get booed on principle,” said Kirby Goidel a professor of political communication at Texas A&M University.
“The non-endorsement wasn’t as big a problem for Cruz as the way he did it,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. “Ted Cruz didn’t dispel the myth that he’s out to serve Ted Cruz and not the party.”
“Bucking the party has been a hallmark of Ted Cruz’s rise and this has served him well with a wing of the party,” Rottinghaus said. “This honest disunity washes in a primary but makes him look like a faithless dissenter in a general election.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who spoke later in the night, sought to square the circle, defending Cruz and seeking to reconcile the Texan’s remarks with his own strong backing of Trump.
Cruz had been misunderstood, Gingrich said. He had called on voters to let their conscience guide them to support the candidate who will defend the Constitution and, he said, in this election, that could only mean Trump.
Cruz’s speech will undoubtedly stand for all time as a stark and riveting convention moment, remarkable for how quickly and brutally the mood turned.
“He had them cheering for freedom and other platitudes throughout the speech and then they turned on him when it was clear that he wouldn’t endorse Trump,” said Jennifer Mercieca, associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University. “I suppose it was wise in the long-term to not endorse if Cruz has calculated that Trump will lose. It seems short sighted in the near term. Perhaps it would have been wiser to decline to speak rather than put yourself in the awkward position of having to endorse a candidate who you despise?”
News reports indicated that Cruz’s wife, Heidi Cruz, was escorted from the arena amid angry shouts and chants.
For Cruz, it was a tumultuous plunge back into the limelight he had surrendered when he quit the campaign after a stunning defeat in the May 3 Indiana primary.
Eight hours earlier he had been reunited in Cleveland with a few hundred of his most dedicated supporters for the first time since he bowed out of the presidential race after his loss in Indiana.
The Texas senator apologized for leaving the Hoosier State without offering his volunteers their hugs and thanks. He couldn’t have done that without breaking down in front of the media mob, he said, and “I wasn’t going to let those SOB’s turn Lyin’ Ted into Cryin’ Ted.”
Cruz’s appearance at Shooters on the Water, a bar and restaurant where the Cuyahoga River meets Lake Erie, came before a worshipful throng of delegates, alternates and others in Cleveland for the convention.
Cruz’s convention speech came at the invitation of Donald Trump, who, as Cruz noted wryly, was the only one of his 16 GOP rivals for the party nomination that he didn’t beat, and who was nominated in a roll call vote Tuesday night.
“Our party now has a nominee,” Cruz said to a crescendo of boos, even as a Trump plane flew by and Cruz, looking around to see it, joked, “that was pretty well orchestrated,” calling out to campaign manager Jeff Roe, to ask whether he had arranged it.
Earlier, Roe had said that the invitation from Trump to let Cruz speak was “a very nice gesture,” even as Cruz hadn’t endorsed Trump.
At Shooters, Cruz talked about values and conscience and his campaign as a moral crusade, recalling the opening of the movie “Patton,” in which the title character, standing in front of a giant American flag, tells his soldiers that when they are asked what they did in the great war, they can reply, “I wasn’t shoveling crap in Louisiana.”
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler, who had campaigned for Cruz, said another erstwhile Cruz rival, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, had told him that he knew of no other example of a vanquished candidate being given speaking time at a convention without having endorsed the nominee. Gohmert said that that said something good about Trump.
But Gohmert said that Cruz’s decision on whether or not to endorse Trump was entirely his own to make, and to live with.
Nothing to gain?
Rick Tyler, Cruz’s former press secretary who was on hand at Shooters in his role as political analyst for MSNBC, said there was nothing to gain for Cruz in endorsing Trump, who, Tyler said, was being nominated at a convention that seemed mostly focused on pointing out that Trump is not Hillary Clinton.
Cheryl Lankes, a devoted Cruz supporter from Brevard County, Florida, agreed that it would be inconsistent if Cruz asked supporters to vote for the man who had disparaged him as “Lyin’ Ted,” And, said Lankes, who campaigned for Cruz in the Midwest, “the people here wouldn’t listen to him if he did.”
Lankes described Trump, and the tactics used by the Trump campaign and the national Republican Party, to squash any effort to stop Trump at the convention, as “despicable.”
Trump’s choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate further rankled Lankes, who recalled Pence’s mealy-mouthed endorsement of Cruz — in which he went out of his way to also praise Trump. She saw Trump’s elevation of Pence as belated payment for planting that knife in Cruz’s back.
“I think Ted Cruz can do whatever he wants to do. It’s up to him,” said Jacob Rossi, a 19-year-old Cruz alternate from San Antonio, who is entering his sophomore year at Texas A&M University. Rossi said that Trump needs to “earn” the support of Cruz and his followers, by hewing to conservative principles.
At one point Cruz’s followers launched into a chant of “2020, 2020, 2020,” anticipating a future presidential race predicated on Trump losing this one.
‘We can’t look back.’
“His own self-interest should not be considered right now,” said Lubbock County GOP Chairman Carl Tepper, an at-large Trump delegate who spoke with the American-Statesman Tuesday. “It’s the interests of the country. You can’t be selfish. You can’t worry about your self interest.”
“I am very disappointed in the never-Trump movement,” Tepper said. “I feel that they are breaking the social contract. If Ted Cruz had become the nominee I would have happily walked the blocks, gone on a strike force to (campaign in) New Mexico or Ohio or wherever they wanted me to go. I am very disappointed that they have not reciprocated. I feel like it has been hypocritical, really feelings are hurt and I’m not sure I would reciprocate again, because I feel like I’m the only idiot who would have fallen in line like we’re expected to.”
Tom Parker, an associate justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and at-large Cruz delegate, said he became aware of Trump’s appeal when U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama endorsed Trump at a massive rally of some 35,000 people in Mobile last summer.
“At this point we need to get behind the nominee in order to defeat Hillary Clinton,” Parker said. “We can’t look back. We need to look forward.”
What will Lankes do?
Will she vote in November? “Yes.”
But for whom? “Anybody but Hillary,” she said.
But who? “Maybe Trump,” she said.