CLEVELAND — Ted Cruz, in a highly anticipated speech at the Republican National Convention, offered no direct support for presidential nominee Donald Trump, setting off a furious reaction as he told delegates to vote their conscience in November.
As it became apparent Cruz would not endorse Trump, the crowd inside the Quicken Loans Arena reacted with increasing anger. Recognizing the negative reaction from Trump’s home state, Cruz deviated from his prepared remarks to acidly comment, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation.”
Cruz’s remarks amounted to a decisive non-endorsement of his party’s party’s standard-bearer, with whom the Texas senator bitterly clashed during the primaries. By the time Cruz was done speaking, delegates appeared to be in uniform revolt, providing thundering boos as Cruz left the stage.
His remarks, delivered in a primetime address nonetheless laced with themes of unity, are almost guaranteed to extend the long-running rift between Cruz and Trump, whom vanquished the Texas senator more than two months ago in a victory that paved his path to the nomination.
“To those listening, please don’t stay home in November,” Cruz told delegates Wednesday night. “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.”
Cruz only mentioned Trump’s name once — toward the beginning of his speech, when he congratulated the billionaire on formally clinching the nomination Tuesday night. Beyond that, Cruz only provided a general criteria for whom should lead the country: “Leaders who stand for principle. Unite us all behind shared values. Cast aside anger for love.”
“That is the standard we should expect,” Cruz said, “from everybody.”
While he came nowhere close to endorsing Trump, Cruz did talk up the party that chose him, saying there is a “profound difference in our parties’ visions for the future.” Cruz went on to drive familiar attacks against President Barack Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, saying she “believes government should make virtually every choice in your life.”
The most compelling parts of Cruz’s speech, however, touched on a sense of unity broader than politics.
He put the presidential election firmly in the context of social unrest across the United States, lamenting how “partisan rancor, anger, even hatred, are tearing America apart.” He specially devoted a section of his speech to those impacted by the shooting earlier this month in Dallas that left five police officers dead and seven others wounded.
“Citizens are furious — rightly furious — at a political establishment that cynically breaks its promises and ignores the will of the people,” Cruz said. “We have to do better. We owe our fallen heroes more than that.”
The intense reaction to Cruz’s speech rippled throughout the arena long after he left the stage. When it was Newt Gingrich’s turn to speak, the former U.S. House speaker sought to soothe the crowd with a positive spin on Cruz’s speech.
“I think you misunderstood one paragraph that Ted, who is a superb orator, said,” Gingrich told delegates. “Ted Cruz said you can vote your conscience who will uphold the Constitution. In this election, there is only one candidate who will uphold the Constitution. So to paraphrase Ted Cruz, if you want to protect the Constitution of the United States, the only possible candidate this fall is the Trump-Pence Republican ticket.”
Cruz placed second for the nomination in a formal roll call vote Tuesday night, with 475 delegates to Trump’s 1,725. But it was a bitter primary fight, and the degree to which Cruz would offer support to Trump in his speech was one of the most closely anticipated moments of the convention.
Cruz reorganized his political operation earlier this month, and many in GOP politics believe he already has his eye on the 2020 presidential race — regardless of Trump’s fortunes in November.
Earlier in the day, Cruz held a Cleveland rally to thank supporters. He is scheduled to address his fellow Texans at the state GOP’s breakfast Thursday morning.
Abby Livingston contributed to this report.