Ted Cruz booed at RNC after declining to endorse Donald Trump
Ted Cruz booed at RNC after declining to endorse Donald Trump
The official theme of the penultimate night of the Republican National Convention was supposed to be “Make America First Again.”
And Ted Cruz didn’t disagree.
He just disagreed that putting Donald Trump first was the best way to do it. THE FACES OF TRUMPS SAYS IT ALL
In an emotional, precedent-shattering address Wednesday, Trump’s vanquished primary rival followed his own conscience — and pursued his own agenda — by refusing to endorse his party’s newly minted nominee, while implicitly putting himself forward as an alternative party leader should Trump crash and burn in November.
In response, thousands of delegates booed and turned their backs on the Texas senator, choosing instead to face Trump, who had materialized on the other side of the Quicken Loans Arena in silent, seething protest.
“Endorse Trump! Endorse Trump!” they shouted. “Go home, Ted!”
It was perhaps the most clamorous and divisive convention moment since 1976, when Cruz’s hero Ronald Reagan challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination.
For weeks, the media was abuzz about whether Cruz would show support for Trump. But after a primary in which the tycoon mocked the senator as “Lyin’ Ted” and linked his father — erroneously — to Lee Harvey Oswald, Cruz couldn’t bring himself to do it.
The most Cruz could muster was a curt congratulations.
“I congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination last night,” Cruz said 20 seconds into his speech. He went on to add — in a line that wasn’t part of his prepared remarks — that, “like each of you, I want to see the principles that our party believes in prevail in November.”
Not the nominee. The principles. Cruz didn’t mention Trump again.
There was a reason that Cruz started his speech with an allusion to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ “incredible comeback victory” in the 2016 NBA finals. Since suspending his campaign in early May, he has been busily plotting his own return.
Three weeks after the decisive Indiana primary, Cruz traveled to Mexico with his wife, Heidi, his campaign chairman, his campaign manager and his national finance chairman. He soon demanded “a massive, top-to-bottom review of the decisions made in the presidential primary.” And in late June, he invited more than 100 of his top bundlers and donors to a retreat in La Jolla, Calif.
They seem to have concluded that the convention was the proper place to launch Cruz’s 2020 campaign — and that the proper way to do it, strategically, was by taking a stand against Trump and his takeover of the Republican Party.
“What if this, right now, is our last time?” Cruz said, speaking as much to himself as to the delegates. “Our last moment to do something for our families and our country?
“Did we live up to our values?” he continued. “Did we do all we could?”
And with that, Cruz was off.
Much of what the senator said was unsurprising. He made common cause with “citizens [who] are furious — rightly furious — at a political establishment that cynically breaks its promises and ignores the will of the people.” He criticized President Obama as “a man who does everything backwards.” He spoke about children, Abraham Lincoln and the United States’ quest to put a man on the moon.
But under the rubric of “a return to freedom,” Cruz embraced a “vision for our future” — one he implied was “better” than both Clinton’s and Trump’s — that emphasized his more libertarian leanings.
Gone were the hard-edged appeals to the religious right. In their place were lines like “gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience” and “The Internet? Keep it free from taxes, free from regulation.” Cruz even reminded the audience, implicitly, that he supports letting each state decide whether to legalize marijuana, which puts him well outside the mainstream of the party.
“We deserve leaders who stand for principle,” Cruz said, again contrasting himself with Trump. “Unite us all behind shared values. Cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect, from everybody.”
When the delegates in the Quicken Loans Arena realized that Cruz was reaching the end of his remarks with no endorsement in sight, many began to boo. Some threatened Heidi Cruz, who had to be escorted backstage.
The senator didn’t back down. In an apparent allusion to the failed, months-long campaign by some of his supporters to free the GOP delegates to “vote their consciences” in Cleveland, Cruz urged “those listening” not to “stay home in November.”
“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,” Cruz said.
The message was unmistakable: It’s OK if you can’t stomach the thought of voting for Trump. Vote for true conservatives instead.
Right beneath Cruz’s podium, the delegation from New York — Trump’s home state — howled in disgust.
“I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation,” Cruz said, as the jeers grew louder.
Then, in a twist out of reality TV, Trump himself emerged from the wings, joining his family in the VIP box across the hall. He stood erect, glaring at Cruz.
All at once, on the floor, thousands of delegates pivoted toward their nominee, as if pulled by some sort of gravitational force.
“Thank you,” Cruz said. “And may God bless the United States of America.”
The delegates booed. Cruz’s speech was over. Their backs were turned to him.
The program continued as planned in the aftermath of Cruz’s mutiny. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attempted to soothe the delegates; Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence delivered a rousing address that would have dominated coverage on any other day.
But just when the GOP’s troubled convention seemed to be getting back on track, all anyone in Cleveland could talk about was Cruz. Word began to spread of Republicans accosting the senator backstage; GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson reportedly refused to admit Cruz to his suite.
Predictably, Trump weighed in on Twitter.
“Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn’t honor the pledge!” Trump wrote in reference to the vow Cruz made last September to support the eventual nominee. “I saw his speech two hours early, but let him speak anyway. No big deal!”
Others were less sanguine. “I think it was awful,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN. “I think it was selfish. To say cute things like: ‘You should vote for the candidate you believe in from the top of the ticket to bottom’ — this is the kind of Washington talk that people in this country are repelled by. I sat there shaking my head.”
The bet Cruz is making is that by 2020, many of his fellow Republicans will see things differently.