CLEVELAND – As Republicans prepare for their nominee, Donald Trump, to take the stage here Thursday night under the theme “Make America One Again,” the previous evening’s eruption of bitterness from the brutal primary campaign season threatened efforts to end the convention on a substantive and unified note.
The capstone of Wednesday night was supposed to be a speech by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the newly named vice-presidential nominee. But the more riveting moment came earlier, when Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, pointedly refused to endorse Trump, who had bested him in the race for the presidential nomination. He instead urged Republicans to “vote your conscience” and was roundly booed off the stage.
Cruz delivered a lengthy defense of his speech during a breakfast with the Texas delegation Thursday morning, saying that the party needs to “stand for shared principles” if Republicans want to win in November.
“In that speech last night I did not say a single negative word about Donald Trump,” Cruz said. “And I’ll tell you this morning, and going forward, I don’t intend to say negative things about Donald Trump.”
Cruz said that he began the speech by congratulating Trump on securing the nomination. He also assured attendees that he will not be voting for Clinton in the fall. But he repeated that, although he would listen to Trump’s speech Thursday, he would not be endorsing the real estate mogul.
“I’m going to be listening to how he and the campaign conduct themselves every day from now until November,” Cruz said.
But Cruz was far from conciliatory. He stood by his decision not to honor a pledge he made last year to support the eventual GOP nominee, saying that the pledge was rendered moot because Trump attacked his family.
“The day that was abrogated was the day this became personal. 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 supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father.”
Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said early Thursday morning that he and the campaign were disappointed with Cruz’s speech.
“Cruz used very bad judgment. I think he made a mistake,” Manafort said on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday. “I think he was not respectful to the invitation by the convention to come and speak. He understood what the responsibilities are of somebody in his position, and he didn’t meet them.”
Asked about Cruz’s remarks, Pence said on Fox News Thursday morning that he was grateful Cruz delivered a speech but added that he did not hear it in its entirety .
“This was a tough and challenging primary. These were tough competitors. And I’ve been through a few tough elections myself, and I know that those feelings can be strong,” Pence said.
But Pence said he believes the party is “coming together” ahead of the tough general election against presumptive Democractic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“There’s always going to be differences and nuances in the way people express that. But what I sensed in that hall the last several days, and especially last night, is a Republican Party that is coming together around the stakes of this election,” Pence said.
As Cruz was speaking the night before, delegates chanted, “Endorse Trump!” – to which the senator replied dismissively, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation.”
In response, delegates from Utah, Washington and Arizona, some with the word “troublemaker” attached to their floor passes, began shouting, “Ted! Ted! Ted!”
Cruz was jeered off the stage as Trump, with his characteristic showman’s instincts, entered the hall and gave a thumbs-up.