Sen. Ted Cruz finally pulled the media’s attention away from Melania Trump’s speech on Wednesday night when he showed up in Cleveland still carrying a grudge. While the Texas conservative had scores of admirers at the Republican National Convention, most of the gathered delegates and officials were expecting – or at least hoping – that Cruz would live up to his pledge and endorse nominee Donald Trump. But while Cruz congratulated his rival on securing victory, he did not offer Trump any explicit support.
“Vote your conscience,” Cruz advised in his speech. “Vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”
When attendees realized that Cruz was deliberately tapdancing around the words they wanted to hear, they began booing. Cruz tried to finish his speech with a flurry of patriotism, but the angry crowd was more interested in the sudden arrival of the nominee himself. While Cruz stumbled his way to a conclusion, Trump stood at one of the floor entrances and enjoyed the accolades of the delegates.
Later on Twitter, Trump wrote: “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!”
Cruz and his aides concur with Trump on that point; both sides knew beforehand that Cruz was not going to make an endorsement. According to the New York Times, Trump called Cruz on Monday to ask him to endorse. Cruz said he wouldn’t, but Trump reportedly thought he might change his mind by the time Wednesday evening came around. Of course, the other possibility is that Trump sensed that by withholding his endorsement, Cruz would come across as a sore loser, not a principled conservative.
Cruz’s move, in the moment, appeared to backfire. His speech was roundly booed at the convention, but a significant wave of rejection is also coming from his fellow Republicans.
“What good are you if your word is not your bond?” asked one Nevada delegate. “I was a big Cruz fan. No more.”
“I have a lot of respect for Ted Cruz,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. “But I’ve made the choice that I’m all in to defeat Hillary Clinton, and everyone should be all in to defeat Hillary Clinton.”
Some, like NY Rep. Peter King, were more pointed in their remarks. “Tonight,” he said, “America saw the real Ted Cruz. He’s a fraud, he’s a self-centered liar, and should be disqualified from ever being considered as a nominee for President of the United States.”
To see Ted Cruz attacked by Republicans is not particularly novel. But by choosing to oppose Trump – tacitly, if not explicitly – Cruz may turn off the grassroots conservatives who have always looked up to him. In the ultimate anti-establishment year, Mr. Anti-Establishment himself isn’t quite sure what to do with himself. While he’s sitting on the sidelines, the game might just pass him by.