Ted Cruz Just Stabbed Donald Trump in the Back on Live Television
One GOP senator said Cruz’s non-endorsement showed that his arrogance “outweighs his ability to become president.”
CLEVELAND — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the runner-up to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, was expected to bury the hatchet with his onetime foe and give the mogul an unabashed, vocal, and primetime endorsement Wednesday night.
He didn’t. Instead, in one of the most remarkable moments in recent presidential convention history, Cruz gave a long speech that only mentioned Trump once and ended with an exhortation for Republicans to “vote your conscience.”
“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 remarks, as clear a non-endorsement as could have been given, were greeted with resounding boos and chants of “We want Trump.” Cruz’s wife Heidi left the stage surrounded by security as at least one convention-goer screamed “Goldman Sachs” at her, a reference to her lucrative career in finance.
Cruz’s speech came two days after anti-Trump delegates, with many Cruz supporters among them, disrupted the first day of the convention by launching a floor fight to free state representatives from a requirement to vote for Trump on the first ballot.
The attempt was defeated, and Trump was formally named his party’s nominee on Tuesday night.
The Texas senator’s remarks could endear him to more traditional conservatives alarmed by Trump’s rise and already thinking about who could best carry the mantle for their beliefs in 2020 if Trump goes down to defeat this November. The mogul has broken with decades of Republican orthodoxy on taxes (he’s willing to raise some), foreign policy (he’s neo-isolationist), and social issues (Trump doesn’t have deeply-held opposition to either abortion or gay rights). Cruz is in more in line with party consensus, particularly on taxes and gun rights.
But the remarks were also startlingly risky. In one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 convention so far, the Republican party’s presidential runner-up departed the stage to boos.
One senior GOP senator, echoing remarks from some television pundits, told Foreign Policy Cruz may have instead damaged his chances at garnering his party’s nomination in 2020.
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, formerly the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, didn’t mince words when he described Cruz’s remarks.
“It was very very poor taste for him not to do it,” Inhofe said. “I kind of thought that everybody believed he would, and that would be a part of the thing, and it’s a level of arrogance that disappoints me to no end.”
The Oklahoma senator served with Cruz on the armed services panel, and said Cruz’s remarks didn’t come as a total shock.
“I’m not surprised, and that’s because I know the senator,” he deadpanned. “He just enjoys a level of arrogance that outweighs his ability to become president.”
Wednesday night speeches from Trump’s former rivals in the Republican primary, such as Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio — tellingly, via videoconference — were intended to show unity and solidify the anti-establishment’s victory over the power center of the GOP. But Cruz had other plans.
He left former presidential candidate and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, following a few rungs later in the lineup, with the cleanup.
“Ted Cruz said you can vote your conscience for anyone who will uphold the Constitution,” he quipped. ”So to paraphrase Ted Cruz … the only possible candidate this fall is the Trump-Pence Republican ticket.”
Cruz also stole the thunder from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, making his debut as Trump’s running mate after being formally nominated for vice president as well on Tuesday night.
Pence tried to make light of the dramatic moment.
“He can be a little rough with politicians on the stage,” Pence said of Trump, “and I bet we see that again.”
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla / Staff
Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole