It was supposed to be Mike Pence’s big night at the convention on Wednesday, but Ted Cruz stole it from him with a stunning speech urging Republicans to vote with their “conscience”.
The senator from Texas refused to endorse Donald Trump, the nominee, and was widely seen as making a case for himself for another run for the presidential nomination in 2020.
“Vote your conscience,” Cruz said, winding up his speech. “Vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”
He did congratulate Trump for “winning the nomination last night”earlier in the speech, but did not endorse him or offer words of support that Trump supporters were expecting him to.
Cruz left the stage amid catcalls and booing and his wife Heidi Cruz, who was in the audience, was escorted away by security from angry Trump supporters heckling her.
“Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn't honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!’ Trump said in a tweet shortly.
But Cruz had made his point, wrecking the night for Trump and his running mate, Indiana governor Pence, who would have expected to dominate headlines with his acceptance speech.
Cruz later defended his decision, saying he was not Trump’s “servile puppy dog”. Trump had, during the primary battles, insulted Heidi for her physical appearance and suggested his father was linked to late president John F Kennedy’s assassin.
“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father,” Cruz told a meeting in Cleveland on Thursday.
The Trump campaign had indeed previewed Cruz’s prepared speech, which was released under embargoed-until-delivered conditions shortly before the senator took the stage.
But there were expectations Cruz could go beyond the speech and “suggest”or indicate, according to multiple reports, his support for Trump, if not endorse him.
Cruz did neither. He said, “We deserve leaders who stand for principle. Unite us all behind shared values. Cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect, from everybody.” The first-time Texas senator was the last serious challenger to drop out of the race for the Republican nomination after a bitterly contested battle with the front-runner, Trump.
The real estate magnate had alleged, without any evidence, that Cruz’s father, a Cuban immigrant, was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy.
And he had re-tweeted a post from a supporter that used an unflattering picture of Heidi alongside that of a glamorous Melania Trump to make an obvious, but uncharitable, point.
After exiting the race, Cruz joined other erstwhile rivals who refused to endorse Trump such as Jeb Bush and John Kasich, both of whom are still holding out.
Many prominent Republicans have continued to refuse to back Trump, who will accept the nomination on Thursday, exposing persisting fissures in the party even at the convention.
At a roll-call of delegates to elect the nominee on Tuesday, more than 700 votes went to candidates other than Trump in a manifestation of dissent considered unparalleled in the party’s recent history.
But some Trump supporters expect the nominee to rally the party around his candidacy between now and the elections, a few weeks from now in November.
Subba Polla, an Indian American from Virginia who is here with his state’s delegation, said, “Trump has begun getting support from all sections of the party and will continue to do so.”
Craig Dunn, a delegate from Pence’s home state Indiana, said, “Don’t let empty stands (at the convention venue) fool you — Trump’s support is deep and wide, as you will see.”
Trump skeptics have cited empty stands at the venue, a sporting arena in Cleveland, as proof of the nominee’s continued lack of support among sections of the party.