In the most dramatic, off-script moment in a Republican Convention that’s been full of them, the second-place finisher in the party’s contest didn’t endorse the man who bested him—effectively launching his own 2020 presidential bid in the midst of Donald Trump’s effort this year.
He refused to endorse the Republican Party’s nominee, merely congratulating him on winning the nomination and not so much as mentioning Trump’s name thereafter. “We’re fighting,” Cruz told the crowd, “not for one particular candidate or one campaign.”
In November, the Tea Party senator said, “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.”
He did not say that Trump was this man—and the crowd noticed, loudly booing him at various points during the speech. “I appreciate the passion of the New York delegation,” Cruz responded at one point.
Trump himself seemed to notice as well, as he entered the convention hall and took a seat with his family a few minutes before Cruz finished his speech.
The entrance drew raucous applause, as many delegates turned their backs on Cruz to face Trump and cheer him. Trump sat there, stone-faced, as Cruz continued his remarks. Not once during the address did Trump or his family clap.
Given the animus between Trump and Cruz during the campaign, the Texas senator had grounds to withhold his support, even after pledging to support the party’s nominee during the primary contest.
During the primaries, Trump disparaged Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted” throughout, retweeted someone else’s post crudely insulting the looks of Cruz’s wife, Heidi, and even insinuated at one point that Cruz’s father—who was in the arena Wednesday—was involved in the JFK assassination.
With most of Cruz’s rivals this year now lined up behind Trump, Cruz delivered a speech that made repeated, not-so-subtle jabs at his own party’s nominee.
Painting himself as the anti-Trump, this was Cruz, peace and love edition—a striking contrast from the moral indignation he telegraphed throughout the 2016 primaries.
“We stand here tonight a nation divided. Partisan rancor, anger, even hatred are tearing America apart,” he told the crowd. And he took a dig at Trump’s proposed Muslim ban: “Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian or Jew, Muslim, or atheist.”
Cruz opened the speech by talking about the daughter of a police officer killed in the recent Dallas shootings. The crowd was completely silent, and many seemed visibly moved. But by the end of his address, when he returned to Dallas, the floor was raucous and chaotic, and Cruz left the stage to a cacophony of cheers, boos, and chants.
The gamble Cruz made in alienating his own party’s faithful is that if Trump’s bid crashes and burns, Cruz will be remembered as one of a tiny number of prescient national Republicans still in office who withheld support for the loser. For the time being, though, the anger is palpable.
CNN reported that Heidi Cruz got escorted out of the arena as, according to top Cruz ally Ken Cuccinelli, attendees were “physically approaching her, berating her.”
Radio host Laura Ingraham’s speech earlier in the evening seemed to anticipate Cruz’s rejection.
“Even all you boys with wounded feelings and bruised egos… and we love you, but you must honor your pledge to support Donald Trump,” she told the convention, to raucous applause, in a very well-received speech earlier in the night.
Trump himself tweeted a response just before midnight, calling Cruz’s remarks “No big deal!”
For Cruz’s biggest fans, at least, it was a very big deal—a hard shot in a campaign that never really ended.
Though his last rally was months ago, there was a familiar feeling in the air Wednesday afternoon at a riverside Cleveland restaurant as the senator held a thank you event for his supporters. There were familiar faces and familiar, campaign-trail-rhetoric.
Cruz fired up his crowd—and seemed to revel when the restaurant crowd erupted into boos at the mention of Trump. The timing was perfect. “Our party now has a nominee...” the senator began.
Just as Cruz brought up Trump for the first time, the mogul’s private jet—with “TRUMP” emblazoned on its side, clearly visible from the ground—flew into view over the nearby Cuyahoga River.
At the sight of the plane, the crowd started booing so loudly that Cruz nearly had to shout as he cracked a joke about the outburst of disdain toward his party’s presidential nominee.
“That was pretty well orchestrated,” Cruz quipped. He called out to his former campaign manager, Jeff Roe: “Jeff, did you email them to fly the plane right when I said that?”
Cruz then offered a litany of sunny statistics about his failed presidential bid: 326,000 volunteers across the nation, 12 state primary victories, and 559 delegates pledged to the Texas senator at the Republican convention.
“In an amazing campaign field of 17 talented, dynamic candidates, we beat 15,” the vanquished candidate said. “We just didn’t beat 16.”
One audience member waved a copy of Green Eggs and Ham—a book Cruz read from during his 2013 fauxlibuster that tried, unsuccessfully, to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The afternoon gathering brought the old Cruz crew back together; a number of long-time Cruz staffers were there, including John Drogin, Tyler Norris, Catherine Frazier, and Roe. Other Cruz boosters attended as well, including Wisconsin state Senator Duey Stroebel, Virginia state Senator Dick Black, Rep. Louie Gohmert, and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Yet while Cruz’s fans urged him to run for president next cycle, they were also reconciling themselves with the fact that Trump is now their party’s standard bearer.
Cuccinelli, a top Cruz ally who this week lambasted the RNC for rules viewed as having helped Trump win primaries, told The Daily Beast that he will vote for the mogul after all. Yet Cuccinelli still allowed himself to enjoy the sight of Cruz supporters booing the Republican nominee’s private jet.
“I did like the plane coming in,” Cuccinelli quipped to The Daily Beast as he posed for pictures with Cruz fans. “That was pretty good.”
The chairman for Cruz’s Alabama delegates, Arnold Mooney, said that he was “disappointed” at the senator’s defeat in the primaries. Mooney said that Republicans should unite behind their nominee, but he acknowledged the lingering discord.
“There are many people who are disturbed and upset,” Mooney told The Daily Beast. “I hope and pray that God will put in their heart to vote for, among those two or three people on the ballot in November, for that person who will do the best job for our nation.”
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Cruz began at one point, lingering for a moment on the thought.
His supporters filled the silence.
“2020! 2020!” they shouted.