CLEVELAND, OH — Texas Senator Ted Cruz caused a huge stir at the Republican National Convention Wednesday evening by declining to endorse Donald Trump, whom the convention had nominated on Tuesday. This surprise knocked the convention off track, and enabled Cruz to overshadow the vice presidential nominee, Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
Cruz walked on stage to thunderous cheers and applause, gave a powerful and heartwarming speech, and left to deafening boos. It appears a majority of convention-goers expected the Texas senator to endorse The Donald, and they became increasingly irate as it became clear Cruz would not do so.
To be fair, Cruz congratulated Trump on winning the Republican nomination early in his speech, and he emphasized that Republicans cannot afford to stay home in November. But the telling moment came when the Texas senator declared those three fateful words, “vote your conscience!”
At that moment, the crowd burst into applause, angry yelling, and eventually chants for Trump. Many delegates rose to applaud Cruz, as the New York delegation (which I was right in front of) rose with angry fists.
The indiscernible noises eventually took shape as delegates yelled, “Trump! Trump!” then “We want Trump! We want Trump!” and finally “Endorse Trump! Endorse Trump!”
Cruz, remaining cool throughout, merely declared, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation.” Rather than addressing the elephant in the room, the Texas senator returned to the theme of his speech: freedom.
Here is the video of that fateful moment, taken from the floor of the convention.
— Tyler O’Neil (@Tyler2ONeil) July 21, 2016
At the beginning and end of the speech, Cruz told the story of Caroline, a 9-year-old girl in Dallas who embraced her father, Sergeant Michael Smith, before he was shot in the dreadful attack on police earlier this month. Cruz also mentioned the girl’s mother’s name — Heidi. As he opened the speech, the audience expected the senator was speaking about his own family. Cruz’s oldest daughter’s name is also Caroline, and his wife’s name is Heidi. It was clear the shooting had a personal effect on the senator, and he urged the audience to defend freedom for their children’s sake. The speech also had some fantastic lines: “Gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience.” “Our party was founded to defeat slavery.” “President Obama is a man who does everything backwards – he wants to close Guantanamo Bay and open up our borders, he exports jobs and imports terrorists.”
But the key part of the speech — and the reason it will be remembered for a long time — had nothing to do with the great lines or the moving reference to Caroline Smith’s tragic loss. Cruz’s decision not to endorse Trump led an audience which accepted him with thunderous applause to reject him with boos a few minutes afterward. Cruz could barely get a word in edgewise through all the cheers when he began.
At the end, however, he received boos after saying, “We will defend freedom and be faithful to the Constitution.”
— Tyler O’Neil (@Tyler2ONeil) July 21, 2016
Next Page: The convention may have booed, but conservatives online praised Cruz. Here’s what this means going forward. But online, Cruz received enthusiastic support.
Ted Cruz has used the word freedom more in the last five minutes then Donald Trump has in this entire campaign.
— Charlie Sykes (@SykesCharlie) July 21, 2016
People who support Trump because he “tells it like it is” are mad that Ted Cruz didn’t lie and say he is in favor of what Trump stands for. — Leon Wolf (@LeonHWolf) July 21, 2016
And my personal favorite.
Let’s dispel with the notion Cruz didn’t know what he was doing by saying vote your conscience. He knew exactly what he was doing.
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) July 21, 2016
Some even speculated that Cruz set himself up well for a possible presidential run in 2020.
Of note, Ted Cruz is getting praised from both the left and right of the GOP, but not from the establishment. Perfect set up for 2020. — Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) July 21, 2016
But that sentiment was not universal. PJ Media’s own Roger Simon argued that “it was Pence, not Cruz, who put himself on the map for the presidency Wednesday night.”
If so, Twitter has been late to respond. “Ted Cruz” remained the top trend nationally well into Thursday morning. “Mike Pence” was nowhere to be found.
Pence did give a fantastic speech, and he did not mention Cruz once in it. (Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich attempted to redefine Cruz’s remarks, only giving them more notoriety, while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attacked them as “selfish.”)
The Indiana governor deserves credit for legitimizing Trump in the eyes of many conservatives, and for dubbing Clinton “secretary of the status quo.” But at the end of the night, and into the end of this week, the talk will be about Cruz. It isn’t just because Cruz has a huge Twitter following, but also because it feeds the media the story they want — a divided Republican convention.
Trump supporters will declare this moment of Ted Cruz’s downfall, while conservatives who struggle with supporting Trump will continue to see it as a moment of political heroism. Either way, they will keep talking about it, as Pence’s speech fades into the first of many as Donald Trump’s running mate.