Cleveland — Ted Cruz on Thursday morning poured gasoline on the fire he had set the night before, doubling down on his primetime non-endorsement of this party’s nominee and suggesting that he might never get to a point where he could support Donald Trump for president.
Facing his home state delegation over breakfast, Cruz was met with alternating choruses of cheers and shouts of disapproval from the crowd clad in Texas flag shirts and cowboy hats.
“I recognize there are some folks here and elsewhere at the convention who are not happy with me,” Cruz said, taking the stage.
“That’s right,” yelled a woman.
Cruz, like the other Republican candidates in the primary, signed a pledge promising to support the party’s nominee, a pledge he was reminded of by a number of disapproving people at the Texas delegation breakfast, where he spoke. “The day that was abrogated was the day this became personal,” he told the crowd.
“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father. And that pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi that I’m gonna nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say, ‘thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father,’” Cruz said.
“Get over it. This is politics!” said a man in the crowd.
“No, no this is not politics. I will tell the truth, I will not malign, I will not insult, I will not attack, I will tell the truth. This is not a game, it is not politics, right and wrong matter,” Cruz shot back, flashing anger and irritation.
In the 30 minutes Cruz addressed the delegation, first delivering a speech and then taking questions from the audience, he tried to have it both ways — at once claiming that what he’d said was not actually as explosive as it was being portrayed, while simultaneously taking overt jabs at Trump’s fitness to be the Republican presidential nominee.
“In that speech last night, I did not say a single negative word about Donald Trump,” Cruz said. “I don’t intend to say negative things about Donald Trump.” Cruz said Trump had not asked for his endorsement, and that he had told him over the phone three days earlier that he would not do so in his convention speech.
At a question from the crowd, he characterized his speech as the advice he would give to Trump, if asked. “I am hopeful,” he said of the prospect of eventually supporting Trump, saying he would be “listening” carefully to what Trump and his campaign said and did for the next several months.
But at the same time as he insisted it was not a big deal, Cruz pointedly leveled barbs at Trump and his supporters.
“I have to say it was somewhat dismaying that, apparently, some of Donald’s biggest partisans right down front, when they heard that people should vote for someone you can trust to defend our freedom and defend our conscience, defend the constitution, immediately they began booing. I’m gonna say that’s a little bit troubling what they’re saying,” Cruz said.
And Cruz unpacked the implicit meaning of his much-maligned phrase: “Vote your conscience.”
Cruz said he delivered this speech out of “obligation.” “Neither he nor his campaign has ever taken back a word they’ve said about my family. I promise you, I was not eager to do this,” Cruz said.
“What does it say when you stand up and say, ‘vote your conscience,’ and rabid supporters of our nominee begin screaming, ‘what a horrible thing to say!’ If we can’t make the case to the American people that voting for our party’s nominee is consistent with voting your conscience, is consistent with defending freedom and being faithful to the constitution, then we are not going to win, and we don’t deserve to win,” Cruz said.
It was as though the Republican primary had never ended. And it was clear the next one has already begun.