Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tried to link arms with Republicans at the party’s national convention but was booed lustily by delegates when he ended his speech without offering Donald Trump his endorsement — or even saying he would vote for the New York billionaire.
As he appeared on stage Wednesday night, Cruz basked in a minute-long standing ovation. Cruz finished second to Trump in the crowded Republican primary campaign and congratulated the GOP nominee on his victory.
But as close as Cruz came to saying he wanted Trump to win the White House was when he said: “I want to see the principles that our party believes in prevail in November.”
Cruz didn’t tell the convention crowd that he plans to vote for Trump. Nor did he ask his supporters, hundreds of whom encouraged him to run for president in four years at an event on Wednesday afternoon, to vote for the newly minted Republican nominee.
Interrupted by chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump,” Cruz paused and said with a smile, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation.”
But as Cruz closed his remarks, and as the crowd of more than 2,000 delegates at the Quicken Loans Arena waited for Cruz to say something — anything — kind about Trump, he demurred.
“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.”
The delegates responded with angry boos, and Cruz backer and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli escorted Heidi Cruz off the convention floor as she was heckled by Trump delegates.
But Trump said later on Twitter that Cruz’s lack of an endorsement was “no big deal!” But he said Cruz “didn’t honor” the pledge that Republican primary candidates had made to support the eventual GOP nominee.
A source familiar with the campaign inner circle’s thinking but not authorized to speak publicly said Trump, his relatives and closest advisers were angry at Cruz’s move and had expected, while not an endorsement, a warmer embrace of the nominee and less showmanship from the senator.
“He’s a chicken,” said Eugene Delgaudio, a delegate from Sterling, Virginia, who clucked like a chicken when asked about Cruz’s decision. “He needed to toughen up like every other Republican loser of any nomination battle in the last 100 years since Abraham Lincoln and just suck it up, be a man and back the nominee that he was beaten by, fair and square.”
The crowd’s boos quickly switched to cheers as Trump entered the arena at the moment Cruz finished. His daughter Ivanka and other members of the Trump party turned their backs on Cruz to stand and applaud Trump, who sat down in the front row of his VIP box to watch his son Eric deliver the next speech.
Cruz aide Jason Johnson said the Texas lawmaker told Trump in a phone conversation two days ago that he would not endorse him during his speech, a decision New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called “totally selfish.” The outspoken Trump backer, like Cruz bested by the real estate mogul in the GOP primaries, said the voters made clear that Trump is their choice.
“If we’re not going to do that, why do we have elections? Because Ted Cruz has decided that he knows better? Than all of the people who voted in the elections?” he said.
The booing was so intense the Trump campaign encouraged its many staffers on the convention floor to try to calm the delegates down, said a Trump aide speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal campaign discussions.
Cruz halted his campaign two months ago, having outlasted all but Trump in a field that once numbered 17 candidates. He finished a distant second in the delegate accumulation during the Republican nominating process.
He used his convention speech as the foundation for a fundraising email for his Senate campaign: “Will you stand with me by making an immediate donation $5, $10, $25, or whatever you can afford today?”