Unity finally broke out on the third day of the Republican convention, but it wasn’t anywhere near the convention hall.
It was on the city’s waterfront at a county-and-western-themed restaurant where GOP presidential also-ran Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, held a thank-you rally for about 1,000 of his supporters.
“What an incredible privilege,” Cruz said, as he and his wife, Heidi, stood before the throng on an outdoor stage beneath a broiling sun, a big “Thank You” banner behind them.
Cruz, who was scheduled to address the convention Wednesday night, never uttered the name of Donald Trump, the New York billionaire who outlasted him in the primaries and who will accept the party’s nomination Thursday night. He has not endorsed him, either.
When Cruz did allude to the presumptive GOP standard-bearer – “our party now has a nominee” – raucous booing erupted for about 20 seconds. And in another bizarre twist in a campaign that has had more than its share, Trump’s plane with his name painted across its fuselage zoomed overhead at that very moment.
“That was pretty well orchestrated,” Cruz said, not missing a beat.
He turned to Jeff Roe, a Kansas City-based political consultant who ran his presidential campaign: “Jeff, did you email them to fly the plane right when I said that?”
There were 17 candidates. It got winnowed down to one person. So put on your big boy pants and get over it.
Texas delegate Beckly Vajdak
The mood Wednesday was festive, with a touch of melancholy.
“Everybody feels like I do,” said David Duncan of Austin, a Cruz supporter and attorney for the state of Texas. “I’m disappointed Ted didn’t make it. But I think Donald Trump will represent the party well and has a good chance of winning.”
Other expressed similar emotions: We’re sad about Cruz, but time to move on.
“There were 17 candidates,” said Beckly Vajdak, 58, a delegate from Temple, Texas, referring to the Republican primary field. “It got winnowed down to one person. So put on your big boy pants and get over it.”
A lengthy line of delegates and others waiting to get into the event chanted “Cruz! Cruz! Cruz!”
“Colorado loves Cruz!”
“Utah loves him more!”
Indeed, Cruz in his first term as a senator in Washington, has shocked Senate traditionalists and alienated colleagues. But his rebellious actions have thrilled tea party activists, social conservatives and others upset with political business-as-usual in the capital.
The crowd at the Cleveland rally wasn’t all Texans, either. His presidential campaign became a refuge for religious and social conservatives across the country who distrusted Trump. Cruz supporters from states like Colorado and Utah were also behind the unsuccessful effort to derail the Trump nomination through changes in party rules.
James Kammer, a 72-year-old retired physician and Republican delegate from Monticello, Ill., who opposes Trump, said he is advising people that “it’s not necessary to vote for everybody on the (Republican) ballot,” but be sure to vote for the down-ballot candidates.
Does he see any circumstances under which he would vote for Trump?
“Only if I cut my right arm off,” Kammer said.
Cruz plans to run for re-election to his Senate seat in 2018, but has offered no hints about another presidential race. That was clearly on his fans’ minds.
Cruz teased them a bit.
“I don’t know what the future is going to hold. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “But what I do know what remains unshakable is my faith in the men and women here.”
Joe Fauth, a management consultant and delegate from Plantersville, Texas, said of the Cruz rally: “I look at this as a ‘thank-you,’ to be continued in four years.”