CLEVELAND — Ted Cruz became the most unpopular Republican in Cleveland Thursday, a familiar role for the Texas senator known for his thumb-in-your-eye style, as he defended his convention snub of Donald Trump and refused to get in line like some “servile puppy dog.’’
The cascade of boos that began Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention when Cruz avoided endorsing Trump by name continued throughout the city Thursday as delegates huddling at their state breakfast meetings were furious that Cruz defiantly refused to back down.
They accused him of hijacking the convention to boost his own political fortunes instead of joining Republican politicans who have united to defeat Hillary Clinton in November. As Cruz’s continued refusal to endorse dominated the media coverage, and brought Trump’s unusual convention even further off script, the Texas senator even took fire from his own Lone Star state delegation.
One Texas delegate shouted at him Thursday to “Get over it. This is politics!”
Cruz, though, said Trump went too far during the primary campaign when he maligned the appearance of Cruz’s wife, Heidi, and appeared to accuse Cruz’s father of involvement in President Kennedy’s assassination.
“That pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I’m going to nonetheless come, like a servile puppy dog, and say, ‘Thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father,’ ’’ Cruz said.
Cruz’s rancor appeared to be fueled by a blend of political and personal grievance after he lost a bitter primary battle against Trump, as well as by a desire to distance himself from Trump in preparation for another possible presidential campaign in 2020. Instead of endorsing Trump, as some other vanquished primary candidates have, including Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich, Cruz told delegates and a national TV audience Wednesday night to “vote your conscience.’’
At Thursday morning’s meeting with the Texas GOP, Soraya Zamora stood and urged Cruz to back Trump.
“I know that many things were said during the campaign, ugly things,” Zamora said. “However, I have to say it’s not about Donald Trump. It’s not even about Hillary Clinton. It’s about the United States of America.”
Blocks away at a New York delegation breakfast, Cruz’s critics alluded to Trump’s nickname for the Texas senator during the primary: Lyin’ Ted.
If Cruz didn’t have “the common decency and goodness to endorse a man who has given you the opportunity to speak on national television in prime time, then that shows he’s a fraud, he’s a liar,” said Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican.
King’s words were drowned out by a raucous standing ovation.
“Your word is your bond,” former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani told reporters. “There’s no question he broke his word. We know why: for his own selfish purposes.”
Asked why Trump had allowed Cruz to speak, Giuliani raised one mischievous possibility: “Maybe he wanted to give Cruz the rope to hang himself.”
Trump himself on Thursday further fueled that theory during a lunch with GOP donors. Two Republicans who attended the closed-door meeting told The Washington Post that Trump indicated the campaign knew what it was doing. Trump tweeted that he saw the speech beforehand and knew Cruz would not back him.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, said Thursday that Cruz “used very bad judgment.” Asked why Trump invited Cruz to speak even though Cruz had not said he would endorse, Manafort said Trump wanted to open the convention to all of his former opponents in the primary.
But the strategy certainly backfired. News of Cruz’s snub dominated convention news for close to 24 hours and eclipsed any discussion of Mike Pence, the vice presidential nominee, who introduced himself to Americans Wednesday night.
Immigration? Jobs? Trade? National defense? Clinton’s e-mail server? All of those subjects fell into a news black hole.
The sharp focus on party divisions followed a wave of negative coverage earlier in the week over Melania Trump’s speech Monday, which contained passages lifted from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. The Trump campaign denied accusations of plagiarism, fueling the controversy for a full day Tuesday, before finally admitting the speech had been cribbed on Wednesday, triggering another distracting flurry of attention.
For his part, Cruz sent out a fund-raising appeal hours after his speech.
“Americans are furious — rightly so — at a political establishment that cynically breaks its promises and ignores the will of the people,” he wrote.
Rick Tyler, former Cruz campaign spokesman, accused the Trump campaign of “political malpractice” by handing Cruz a prime-time speaking slot without extracting an endorsement promise.
“Cruz outfoxed the foxes,” said Tyler, at an after-party across the street from the Quicken Loans Arena. “In the end, this will be remembered as a very smart move that Ted Cruz stood on principle as opposed to just believing in winning.
“Donald Trump can’t seem to manage the message coming out of his own campaign. It’s been four days of communications disasters,’’ he said.
Cruz, who used his reputation as the most hated politician in Washington by Democrats and Republicans alike to his advantage in the primaries, is widely seen as readying another presidential bid for 2020, should Trump lose to Clinton in November.
It was not clear at all that Cruz would influence many Republicans to shun Trump. Evangelical Christians were key supporters of Cruz’s primary campaign — a coalition Trump must win over, especially in the swing states of Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, if he’s to defeat Clinton. A June poll by the Pew Research Center shows that 94 percent of white evangelical Republicans now back the New York billionaire, compared with just 44 percent in April.
Ralph Reed, a Georgia Republican who is founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, said that while he’s disappointed in Cruz’s lack of endorsement at the convention, his guidance to voters to choose a leader who shares their values is ultimately “going to lead them to Donald Trump.”
David Lane, a Christian activist from California whose group, American Renewal Project, mobilizes pastors to run for political office and who considers Cruz a friend, said he was nevertheless stunned by Cruz’s speech.
“It was disastrous,” Lane said. “Cruz would have been better putting on his game face and backing Donald Trump.”
Some Republicans predicted Cruz’s speech would come to haunt him down the road.
“It looked like Ted Cruz was wearing an adult diaper, because all I saw was a crybaby,” said Deanna Frankowski, an Alabama alternate delegate, from the convention floor as Cruz left the stage.
Reached on Thursday, she was succinct about any future support for Cruz should he make a second play for the White House.
“I will never vote for Ted Cruz,” she said.