Sen. Ted Cruz’s controversial speech to the Republican National Convention Wednesday night was vintage Cruz – a calculated, high-risk gamble that could either wound his political career or give him a platform for a 2020 or 2024 White House run.
The junior senator from Texas stood by his speech and decision not to endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, a move that produced boos and alienated many conventioneers, including some members of the Texas delegation, who both cheered him and challenged him at a breakfast Thursday. Cruz responded: “I’m going to defend your right even to insult me.”
Even Cruz’s most ardent supporters seemed perplexed by his remarks. At the very least, he appears to have splintered his own base. Most delegates either professed their outrage for his refusal to support Trump or pivoted to party devotion.
“If anyone thinks I was eager to come to this convention and give a speech…supporting a great many of the policies, positions laid out by Donald Trump…despite the fact that neither he nor his campaign has ever taken back a word they said about my family, I promise you I was not eager to do this,” Cruz said Thursday morning. He also continued to refused to say he would vote for Trump.
“What does it say when you stand up and say ‘Vote your conscience’ and rabid supporters of our nominee begin screaming ‘What a horrible thing to say?’ If we can’t make the case to the American people that voting for our party’s nominee is consistent with voting your conscience; is consistent with defending freedom and being faithful to the Constitution, then we are not going to win and we do not deserve to win.”
Cruz supporters and foes agree that his speech was a risky move that could either make him look prescient about Trump or make him more of a political outsider in Washington than he already is.
What does it say when you stand up and say ‘Vote your conscience’ and rabid supporters of our nominee begin screaming ‘What a horrible thing to say?’ If we can’t make the case to the American people that voting for our party’s nominee is consistent with voting your conscience; is consistent with defending freedom and being faithful to the Constitution, then we are not going to win and we do not deserve to win. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz
If Trump loses the general election in November, or proves to be a failure as president, Cruz’s speech and second-place finish in the 2016 GOP primaries, sets him up as the leading Republican candidate in 2020 among conservative and evangelical voters, according to several political observers.
“If Donald Trump loses, he (Cruz) will be a visionary who held his ground,” said Roger Beckett, executive director of the Ashbrook Center at Ohio’s Ashland University, which offers American history and politics educational programs to teachers and others. “If Donald Trump wins, he’ll be a bigger outsider in Washington, D.C.”
But Cruz wasn’t speaking to Washington Wednesday night. Looking directly into the camera and the national television audience, Cruz was appealing to conservative and evangelical voters, many of whom supported his presidential run.
“The speech left the conventioneers disappointed,” Beckett said. “I’m not sure it left the same impression outside the convention. The target was the TV audience.”
Cruz still takes umbrage for Trump’s campaign retweeting an unflattering photo of his wife, Heidi, on Twitter. Trump compared Heidi Cruz to his wife, ex-model Melania Trump, and wrote “The images are worth a thousand words.”
Later, Trump said Cruz’s Cuban-born father, Rafael Cruz, was with Lee Harvey Oswald, President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, prior to the slaying in November 1963.
Cruz said Thursday morning: “I’m not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father,” and said the pledge that he and other Republican presidential candidates made to back the party’s eventual nominee is meaningless.
“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 said.
Trump expressed his displeasure via social media, tweeting "Ted Cruz talks about the Constitution but doesn’t say that if Dems win the Presidency, the new JUSTICES appointed will destroy us all!"
Donald Trump, Jr., in an interview for Thursday’s NBC "Nightly News with Lester Holt," said his father’s campaign knew what Cruz was going to do and say but, "We let him do it. We were the bigger men."
"We gave him a prime-time spot to do what he needed to do," he said. "In the end, it actually worked out great for us, because what little – if there was any – dissension really galvanized behind us after that moment."
Still, Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, blasted Cruz for backing out of the pledge.
“Everybody knew about the pledges. They knew what they meant,” Manafort told reporters at a news conference Thursday. “(They knew) what obligation it put on them and how they interpreted their obligation.”
He mocked Cruz, saying he is a “strict constitutionalist (who) chose not to accept the strict terms of the pledge that he signed. As far as the contract was concerned, he was in violation, not anybody else.”
Cruz’s actions left a bitter aftertaste for many convention attendees and other Republicans. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called Cruz “a disloyal Republican.”
“... If we don’t beat Hillary Clinton, I don’t think Ted Cruz can play the game ‘I’m going to run four years from now’ after being a disloyal Republican,” Giuliani said on “Breitbart News Daily” and SiriusXM.
... If we don’t beat Hillary Clinton, I don’t think Ted Cruz can play the game ‘I’m going to run four years from now’ after being a disloyal Republican. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani
John Hancock, a Missouri delegate and chair of the Missouri GOP said Cruz’s speech “may leave a lasting bad impression for Ted.”
Susan Klein, a Missouri delegate, said Cruz was a good candidate, but added, “I think it’s time to get behind Donald Trump and move forward.”
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in a statement, diplomatically said: “There were some mixed feelings and some hurt feelings in the Texas delegation today.”
“I was Cruz’s Texas chair,” Patrick said. “But I have been very clear. I support Donald Trump because we must defeat Hillary Clinton in November.”
Said Robin Hayes, North Carolina’s GOP chairman, “It was one of the most selfish things politically I’ve ever seen.”
Cruz’s speech has split some convention delegations. When Hayes asked fellow delegate Ted Hicks what he thought of Cruz’s speech, Hicks replied, “I thought it was a fine speech.”
Hayes then told Hicks that he was no longer welcome aboard Hayes’ private Pilatus plane that they had flown in together to Cleveland. To Hicks and fellow Cruz supporter Rod Chaney, Hayes said, “I think you need to ride the bus home.”
So the two Republicans North Carolina’s Triangle-area Republicans, who’d expected to fly back with Hayes, scrambled to find a ride with a delegate who happened to be driving home Thursday.
“It’s not that they necessarily offended me, it’s when you do somebody a favor … and they turn around and support something that was unacceptable. …actions have consequences,” Hayes said.
I loved the speech. You’re never going to make everyone happy. If he had said he endorsed Trump, there would be detractors. Chris Yaudas, a delegate, worked for Cruz in Missouri.
Not many delegates seemed to empathize with Cruz’s break.
Chris Yaudas, a delegate, worked for Cruz in Missouri. “I loved the speech,” she said. “You’re never going to make everyone happy. If he had said he endorsed Trump, there would be detractors.”
Carl Bearden is a leader of the never-Trump effort in Missouri. “I think (Cruz) stuck to his principles,” he said. “Ted Cruz has been a consistent conservative and you saw that last night.”
The move is similar to how Cruz has done business in the Senate, where he has alienated fellow Republicans by often going his own way rather than following political decorum in Washington. Cruz took a shot at Republican leaders and former presidential candidates who avoided the convention.
“There are a lot of options I could have taken that politically would a been a heck of a lot easier,” he said Thursday morning. “... Turn tail and run and don't come to the convention. There are a bunch of people who did that. I ain't one of them.”
He’s often bucked party leadership. He questioned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s honesty on the chamber floor on Export-Import Bank legislation.
Cruz also earned the ire of former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, for venturing from the Senate over to the House of Representatives to meet with that chamber’s conservative Republicans to plot strategy that led to a partial federal government shutdown in 2013.
Boehner called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh,” adding, “I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has called Cruz self-serving.
He “stood up for Ted and threw the Republican Party under the bus,” Graham told Fox News Radio in February.
Cruz addressed his past breaks with the party on Thursday morning, saying he is about ideals, not being part of a “social club.”
“How many of ya’ll would like to see more leaders stand up to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell?” he said in addressing the Texas delegation. “ ... Any time you stand up... leadership screams: Support the team; you’re a Republican; we’re our leadership; sit down; shut up; just support the team. And dammit, if that’s the price, I ain’t going to do it.”
David Lightman, David Goldstein and Lesley Clark of the McClatchy Washington Bureau, Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer and Dave Helling of the Kansas City Star contributed.