Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday seemed to be following the adage: “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all,” because he literally said nothing nice about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during his prime-time convention speech.
In fact, he told the GOP to show up to the polls in November and vote their conscience. He never once mentioned Trump, except when he congratulated him before formally beginning the speech.
“Please, don’t stay home in November,” Cruz said. “If you love our country and love our children, as much as I know that you do, 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 added.
Thunderous applause and standing ovations were a constant throughout Cruz’s speech until the end. But boos erupted when he didn’t endorse Trump, and some delegates said later they were deeply disappointed.
After several attendees in the upper tiers began to yell at Cruz, two Republican officials walked quickly up the aisle floor to the back, and waved at them to quiet down. Security officials escorted Cruz’s wife Heidi out of the arena as the crowd grew angry, according to media reports.
Before that spirited conclusion, Cruz delivered a lengthy speech about freedom that sounded like many speeches he gave throughout his own presidential campaign (and perhaps will give again in future campaigns). But his message of freedom quickly became more about his freedom not to endorse Trump.
“Freedom means free speech, not politically correct safe spaces,” he said.
And then latter added: “When our work is done, and when we give those we love one final kiss goodbye, we will be able to say freedom matters and I was part of something beautiful.”
Cruz told reporters July 7 that he accepted Trump’s invitation to speak at the convention without any discussion of an endorsement. And it became clear soon after he started speaking that he would not be endorsing Trump.
“I want to see the principles that our party believes prevail in November,” Cruz said in the opening of his speech with no reference to Trump or whether the nominee even shares those principles.
Trump, who officially received the nomination Tuesday, arrived in the arena toward the end of the speech. He sat with his family in their VIP box. Supporters gestured to him from the floor. He was waving but not really engaging, glancing over the crowd with a serious look on his face.
As he left the arena later that night, NBC News reporter Hallie Jackson asked Trump what he thought of Cruz’s speech and he said, “I loved it.” She asked why and he didn’t answer.
Speaking later in the evening, Newt Gingrich tried to spin Cruz’s speech as evidence of “extra effort” Trump has made to bring party unity, inviting former opponents to speak without requiring an endorsement. Gingrich pointed out that Ted Cruz said delegates should vote their consicence for anyone who will uphold the constitution. “There is only one candidate in this election who will uphold the constitution,” Gingrich said.
Earlier in the day, Cruz had spoken about party unity during a thank you party for his campaign staff. “I want to see unity, and the way for us to see unity is for us to unite on shared principles, us to unite in defense of liberty,” he said.
He said something similar at the end of his speech. “We will unite the party; we will unite the country by standing together for shared values by standing for liberty.”
But uniting with Trump is especially difficult for Cruz after a rancorous primary campaign. Although they started their presidential bids as friends and allies, Trump and Cruz quickly evolved into mortal enemies. The personal insults they lobbed at one another in the last few months of the primary season were frequent and numerous.
Trump went as far as to insult Cruz’s wife and insinuate that the senator’s father was involved in President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Before dropping out of the race, Cruz shared his true feelings about Trump, calling him a “pathological liar,” “amoral,” a “serial philanderer” and a “narcissist.”
So in many ways it’s not surprising that Cruz could not muster up any support for Trump. And it’s certainly not surprising that Cruz, always a free spirit in the Senate, decided to buck the wishes of the party establishment. But it still shocked many in the crowd.
“I couldn’t be more disappointed,” said Dino Rossi, a delegate from Washington and former gubernatorial nominee from that state.
“He signed a pledge,” he added, referring to Cruz pledging to support whoever wins the nomination. “He didn’t have to do that. Just say ‘I follow through on the pledge I signed.”
Rossi, who raised money for Cruz and maxed out on personal contributions to his campaign, suggested this move could hurt Cruz.
“If he had risen above it, he really could have been president some day,” he said.
Trump supporter and Texas delegate Josh Sanders called Cruz’s refusal to support Trump “disgraceful.”
“I almost wish Cruz wouldn’t have shown up,” he said, noting a number of Texas delegates were yelling at Cruz to support Trump.
Ronnie Risinger was one of the Texas delegates who supported Cruz but wanted to see him “rally the troops” for Trump.
“I came down right before he spoke and I walked all the way to the crowd to get to center stage and I was kneeling 15 feet in front of him while he was speaking right next to the New York Delegation. It was that important to me,” she said.
“And I waited and I heard the New York delegation say, ‘Just say it, Ted. Just say it.’ And we waited for those words ‘Support Donald Trump.” And it never came,” Risinger added. “It was just a gut punch.”
Members of the New York delegation actually shouted at Cruz to endorse Trump, which prompted Cruz to say, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation.”
Other Cruz supporters were impressed.
“It was a great speech,” said Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah delegate and ally of Cruz’s. “He did a really good job. It was from the heart. It was vintage Ted Cruz. It was thought through really well.”
The Utah delegation stood throughout Cruz’s speech, with Lee watching, smiling proudly and cheering as his friend and colleague spoke. At one point the delegation started chanting “Ted! Ted! Ted!” as neighboring delegations chanted “Trump!” As the crowd booed Cruz when he left the stage, the delegation cheered.
Jeff Lominac, a Cruz delegate from Conover, NC, started his day wearing a Cruz t-shirt ahead of a Cruz rally Wednesday. By Wednesday evening he’d shed the t-shirt in favor of the delegation’s mandatory seersucker. But he hadn’t shed his disgust for Trump.
Lominac’s seat on the floor is almost directly in front of where Trump joined his family tonight. Lominac remained seated with his eyes down as much of the rest of his delegation stood and cheered the nominee for crashing the end of Cruz’s speech.
“What if Cruz was going to endorse him at the end of the speech? You couldn’t hear. What a bunch of idiots,” he said.
Nathan Gonzales, Alex Gangitano, Simone Pathé, and Phyllis Jordan contributed to this report.