Wednesday night, Sen. Ted Cruz was booed off the Republican National Convention stage when attending delegates realized the good Senator had zero plans to endorse Donald Trump. Instead, he encouraged people to, “vote their conscience.”
There’s a lot to unpack here: RNC reaction, Trump reaction, Cruz’s reasons, and does any of this really matter?
We’ll start with…
Cruz Explains Why He Won’t Endorse Trump
At a breakfast with the Texas delegation Thursday morning, Senator Cruz was peppered with questions from angry delegates demanding to know why Cruz chose not to endorse Trump
Full remarks are here, but we’ll explore two of the most important points Cruz made.
First, why he didn’t fall in line with an endorsement, despite party politics.
Cruz was asked why, when he had the opportunity to unite the party, he chose not to.
“I have to confess, what you said would be easy to do. How many people here are frustrated with politicians who just say anything? There are a lot of options that I could’ve taken that politically, would’ve been a heckuva lot easier.
There’s option number one which a whole bunch of people took, which is turn tale and run and don’t come to the convention. There are a bunch of people who did that. I ain’t one of them.
There’s another option. Let me tell you the politically easy option is to stand up and pledge your allegiance to whoever the party nominee might be no matter what. If you’re an elected official, that’s the right political outcome. Let me tell you something sir, I’m not going to lie to you. Whether you want me to or not, I’m not going to lie to you and what I said last night is what I believe. So, yes.”
The delegate continued and clarified that he meant to question Cruz’s lack of support for the party, not Donald Trump.
“So your point was support the party — the Republican Party — and I will…”
“The party has spoken!” interrupted the delegate.
“Sir, I’m happy to answer questions but I’m not going to engage in a screaming match. I actually believe in treating people with civility and respect. When it comes to supporting the party, number one, the four years I’ve been in office, there are a lot of elected officials in this room, across the party, and across the country, that I’ve traveled the country, I’ve travelled the state of Texas campaigning for, raising money for, fighting to help elect Republicans. But let me be very clear, this isn’t a a social club.”
Secondly, Cruz adamantly defended his right to withdraw support from individuals who personally attack his family.
A delegate pointed out that Cruz signed a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee. She wanted to know why anyone should trust him after he reneged on that pledge. “I supported you and I expected you to keep your word,” she said.
“Thank you for speaking and speaking from your heart. I will tell you that when I stood on that debate stage and they asked every candidate there, if you don’t win, will you support the nominee, I raised my hand and I raised my hand enthusiastically with full intention of doing exactly that. And I’ll tell you the day that pledge was abrogated.
The day that was abrogated was the day this became personal, and as I said at the time, and I’m not going to get into criticizing or attacking Donald Trump, but I’ll just give you this response: I am not in the habit of of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father. And that pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I’m gonna nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say, thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father.”
Cruz then directed his comments to a gentleman in the back making “crying signs”.
“I will note sir, you might have a similar view if someone were attacking your wife, in fact I hope you would.”
“This is politics, you gotta get over it!” said Mr. Crying Signs.
“No, this is not politics. I will tell the truth. I will not malign, I will not insult, I will not attack, I will tell the truth. This is not a game. It is not politics. Right and wrong matters. We have not abandoned who we are in this country. No sir, I do not believe that is correct.”
Where I come from, trash talk someone’s wife and you’ll be served a knuckle sandwich. Guarantee my husband wouldn’t tolerate any such guff. But I digress.
If we must tit for tat on the pledge, Trump was the first to rescind his unconditional support of the eventual nominee. “I’ll see who it is,” Trump told Anderson Cooper after signing the pledge. “I could see [Ted Cruz] was having a hard time with a very simple question. I don’t want him to be tormented. I want him to be comfortable. I don’t need his support. I don’t want his support.”
This one is a bit tricky because it’s all over the place.
The Donald’s response:
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 21, 2016
Cruz’s remarks were approved by the RNC before he gave them. He changed nothing in the delivery of his speech. No endorsement was included in his pre-prepared remarks and everyone knew that. There are also reports that two days prior to his convention speech, Cruz discussed the matter with Trump directly. So any shock in the aftermath by the aforementioned parties was or is political theatre at its finest.
Two sources tell me Trump team actively whipped the “boos” at the end of Cruz speech
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) July 21, 2016
It’s worth asking why Trump’s campaign would choose to stir up a negative response rather than let the speech go on uncontested.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?!?!
Popular reaction is completely divided. To one camp, Cruz is a selfishly motivated traitor who blew any chance of party unity from now until forever. To the other, hope is renewed because Cruz stood for principle over party.
Interestingly, many who champion Trump do so because they see in him a departure from the status quo, the old guard, and The Establishment™ way of doing things…yet those same supporters are incensed Cruz didn’t follow suit.
More importantly, Cruz’s reluctance to go with the flow is not at all uncharacteristic. It’s his claim to fame. For better or worse, he’s always planted himself where he sees fit and is unmoved by criticism, backlash, and in this case, thunderous boos. Were his non-endorsement actions calculated? You bet. Virtuous though he may be (or self-promoting, depending on how you view the man), he’s a politician and is certainly no dummy. Will his actions help or hurt him? Is Cruz a hero or a villain in this story? In this political climate, hell if I know.
What Cruz did accomplish — he highlighted the very real striation dividing right-leaning voters; those compelled to support Trump in order to beat Hillary, and those distraught between the choices available (hence the appeal to conscience). Much of the convention (thus far) has glossed over the undercurrent of tumult in the hopes that unilateral hatred of “Crooked Hillary” will be enough of a band aid to get Trump across the November finish line. If the delegate reaction to Cruz’s speech is an indicator, it’s not going to be that simple.
I leave you with a question I posed last night, one that Cruz also asked during the the Texas delegation breakfast this morning:
What does it say about the current state of political discourse when “vote your conscience” is provocatively controversial? #RNCinCLE
— Kemberlee Kaye (@KemberleeKaye) July 21, 2016
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