Trump, Cruz Wage War at Republican Convention Aimed at Unity

The Texas senator withholds his support in a speech that sends a shock through Republican politics.

Cruz Hears Boos as He Fails to Endorse Trump at RNC

Donald Trump said he chose his running mate to inspire party unity. The goal of his presidential convention was party unity. But Texas Senator Ted Cruz remained defiant Thursday with his decision to withhold his support from his party's nominee.

"I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father," Cruz told the Texas delegation in a sometimes-heated meeting in Cleveland the morning after his nationally televised convention speech sent a shock through Republican politics.

Donald Trump and family members listen to Ted Cruz speak on July 20, 2016, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Donald Trump and family members listen to Ted Cruz speak on July 20, 2016, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

His pledge during the primary to support the eventual Republican nominee "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.

The upshot is that Trump isn't any closer to uniting the party because of the man who got the second most votes in the primary. 

Cruz told Texas delegates Thursday -- to a mix of applause and chants of Trump's name that was carried on cable news -- he was "watching and listening" to decide how to vote. He said he won't vote for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and that he's not encouraging anyone to write in his name on ballots in November. 

"This isn't a social club," Cruz said. "We either stand for shared principles or we're not worth anything."

Republicans spent much of the past year scheming behind closed doors, searching for ways to shut down Trump's campaign. On Wednesday, that conflict spilled out into the Quicken Loans Arena courtesy of the Texas senator -- and Trump knew it was coming. 

Anthony Scaramucci, a New York fund manager who is a major fundraiser for Trump, said Trump was in his suite at the convention hall just before Cruz's speech when Trump told Scaramucci and the other assembled guests, "He's gonna let us down tonight, boys. He's going to let us down."

On the third night of Trump's four-day convention -- headlined by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the party's vice-presidential nominee -- Cruz stole the show by refusing to endorse his one-time rival. After Trump's campaign chairman dominated headlines on Monday for railing against Ohio Governor John Kasich, and after the campaign had to quell an uproar over plagiarism in Trump's wife Melania's speech, Cruz's move assured a pitched battle carrying through Thursday and into the climactic night and the biggest speech of Trump's political career.

"We're writing his political obituary -- he's dead," Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News, the influential right-wing website that was an early fan of Cruz, said about the senator. 

'Classless,' Disrespectful

Pence on Thursday showed an instinct to try to bridge the divide, saying on Fox News, “What you’re seeing is a party that’s coming together. There’s always going to be differences and nuances in the way people express that.” He was "glad" Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio spoke, he said.

"I’ve been through a few tough elections myself and I know that those feelings can be strong," Pence said.

The message from longer-time Trump associates was far angrier.

"I thought it was classless, to tell you the truth," Trump's son Eric said about Cruz's speech on CBS News. "I think he was not respectful of the invitation by the convention to come and speak," campaign chairman Paul Manafort said on NBC News.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who supports Trump, said Cruz made "a bad call." 

"I don't want to have to go back to Texas and explain to people why I was part of the problem and not part of the solution, and a very left-leaning Ginsburg clone is put on the Supreme Court next spring because I couldn't bring myself to support Donald Trump," Perry said on CNN, referring to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the likelihood that the next president will get to nominate at least one person to the nation's top court. "That's a pretty hard argument, I think, to make.''

Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said on CNN he would "probably use the same verbiage" as Representative Peter King of New York, who, according to the network, called Cruz an "a--hole."

Go It Alone

One of the most emotional moments of the convention so far began with 20,000 loyalists greeting Cruz, 45, with thunderous applause and ended with thunderous boos as it became clear a succinct endorsement wasn't coming.

"A big middle finger to this entire convention," said Shaun Ireland, a Texas delegate, just minutes later on the convention floor. "This is the worst possible thing he could have done."

Cruz, infamous in the Senate for a reputation of looking out only for himself, proved again that he was willing to go it alone as the party rallied around Trump, 70, during an evening of speeches from Republican heavyweights and some of its most ambitious politicians. 

"Wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage, didn't honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!" Trump said late Wednesday on Twitter. He rejected the emerging sense of political chaos, tweeting Thursday, "Other than a small group of people who have suffered massive and embarrassing losses, the party is VERY united. Great love in the arena!"

Advance Copy

Earlier in the day, Manafort said he would be personally viewing the Cruz speech in advance. "I'm comfortable that Senator Cruz is going to talk about his vision for America," Manafort said. "He'll give a sign of where he is on Donald Trump that will be pleasing to the Trump campaign and to Republicans."

Cruz told Trump two days ago he wouldn't be endorsing him Wednesday night, and that the Trump folks knew what to expect in his speech, according to Cruz strategist Jason Johnson. Cruz on Thursday said the Trump team saw his speech beforehand and knew exactly what he would say on stage.

In many ways, the speech. was a perfectly symbolic moment in an increasingly chaotic and disorderly convention. 

With just one day left in the convention and the biggest speech of all still remaining, the discord within the party and disagreement over why to back Trump has been a consistent theme.

'Vote Your Conscience' 

On Wednesday, leading Republicans filling out the prime-time lineup sent mixed messages to delegates and television viewers alike. 

Some, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, made an impassioned case to vote for Trump. Others, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, mostly urged America to vote against Clinton.

Cruz took a third path: voters should at least show up to support the Republicans farther down the ballot.

"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."

Goldman Taunt

Senator Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, stand on stage prior to the start on the third day of the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016, in Cleveland.
Senator Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, stand on stage prior to the start on the third day of the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016, in Cleveland.
Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

As the crowd quickly turned on him, the first-term lawmaker could only muster a pained smile as he left the stage. Security escorted his wife, Heidi, out of the arena after the speech, CNN reported. At least one Trump supporter shouted “Goldman Sachs” at Cruz's wife as she left the floor, the network said, a reference to her role as a managing director at the firm from which she took a leave of absence during her husband's campaign.

Cruz's speech seemed to amount to a political bet that Trump will lose the election, and that opting not to throw his lot in with the nominee will preserve his fortunes in 2020. Unclear is whether the gambit will backfire on Cruz by prompting Republicans to blame him for refusing to get in line and help unite the party when it mattered most.

Cruz fundraised off the speech, writing in a solicitation to supporters e-mailed Thursday that speaking at the convention was an "honor" and that "this fight has never been about a particular candidate or campaign, but because each of us wants to be able to tell our kids and grandkids, that we did our best for their future, and for our country."

Less than a year ago, Trump and Cruz -- then rivals for their party's presidential nomination -- campaigned together in Washington, jointly attacking President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran.

But as Cruz became Trump's last real threat in the primary, the political friendship turned bitter and caustic. Trump repeatedly and mercilessly called Cruz a liar. Cruz returned fire, saying Trump was "utterly amoral," "a serial philanderer," and "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country's ever seen." He predicted a "disaster" if Trump became the party's nominee.

Backstage Plot

The problem for Trump wasn't just the lack of an endorsement from Cruz. The speech raised questions about why Trump -- who has campaigned on his extraordinary negotiating skills -- allowed Cruz to take stage.

It fell to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whom Trump considered naming as his running mate, to try to disarm the tension in the crowd.

Gingrich followed Cruz on stage and argued to his audience that they "misunderstood" the senator.

"Ted Cruz said you can vote your conscience, for anyone who would uphold the Constitution," Gingrich said. "In this election, there is only one candidate who would uphold the Constitution.

"So, to paraphrase Ted Cruz, if you want to protect the Constitution of the United States," Gingrich continued, "the only possible candidate this fall is Trump."

In an interview, Gingrich said he plotted with Manafort backstage minutes after the arena filled with boos for Cruz. While Trump's son Eric spoke on stage, Manafort told Gingrich he wanted him to offer a comeback to Cruz’s snub, according to the former speaker.

“He told me, ‘We really need closure,’” Gingrich said. “I said, ‘Fine, I’ll open my speech with closure.’”

-- With assistance from Joshua Green, Sahil Kapur, John McCormick, Steven Dennis, Jennifer Jacobs, Kevin Cirilli, Chelsea Mes, Toluse Olorunnipa, Laura Curtis, Kasia Klimasinkska, Ben Brody, and Zachary Mider.

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