CLEVELAND — A defiant Ted Cruz defended and expanded on his refusal to endorse Donald Trump in a contentious appearance before the Texas delegation to the convention on Thursday, saying his pledge to support Trump was “abrogated” after Trump started attacking his family.
Cruz entered the room to some applause and hat-waving, but trouble was apparent right away: One delegate stood up holding a sign that said “Clinton/Cruz 2020.” And it only got more combative from there. Cruz resisted repeated appeals from many of the delegates — his constituents — demanding that he back Trump.
“I work for you and you have every right and duty to hold me accountable,” Cruz said. “That's why I’m here this morning. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to turn tail and run but that ain't gonna happen.”
When one questioner pointed out that Cruz, like the other Republican primary contestants, had pledged to support the nominee, Cruz went further than he has before when asked about the topic.
“That pledge was abrogated,” Cruz said. “The day that was abrogated was the day this became personal.” Cruz was referring to Trump’s attacks on his family, particularly his attack on his wife Heidi’s appearance and his suggestion that Cruz’s father had something to do with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
"This is not a game. This is not politics. Right and wrong matters,” Cruz said. “Neither he nor his campaign has taken back a word of what he said about my family.”
Cruz said he was not going to just automatically endorse Trump like a “servile puppy dog” despite the attacks.
Cruz also addressed the negative reaction to his speech on Wednesday, saying it was “dismaying” and “troubling” that “some of Donald’s biggest partisans right in the front, when they heard that people who should vote for someone they can trust to defend our freedom and defend our conscience, defend the Constitution, immediately they began booing.”
In his speech, Cruz encouraged Republicans to vote for candidates up and down the ticket and to vote their conscience — a meaningful word choice in the context of the battle over whether delegates could vote their conscience instead of voting for Trump that was one of the biggest stories leading up to the convention.
Cruz said he was not going to vote for Hillary Clinton. But he did not commit to voting for Trump when asked directly if he would.
“The way to win, as I tried with all my might to lay out last night, is not to just scream and yell and attack as a traitor anyone who would dare question our candidate,” Cruz said. (He himself was confronted by the Washington state Republican Party chair last night and called a traitor.)
Cruz took several questions from the delegation, many of them hostile, and was onstage for about 30 minutes total. “Can anyone imagine our party's nominee standing before you and answering questions like this?" he said at one point.
Immediately following his exit, delegates spilled out into the hallway outside the Marriott ballroom and started yelling at each other.
“He will never be president. I will campaign against him,” said Shawn McAnelly, the man who had held up the Clinton-Cruz 2020 sign. “Because all he was doing is helping Hillary Clinton. And he’s a liar.”
“This is like it’s an engagement and the guy you’re going to marry goes out and does these things that are an abomination to the vows that you’re going to take, then you have a right to reject that person and not marry him,” said Maggie Wright of Burleson, Texas, in defense of Cruz.
“Then recuse yourself. He should recuse himself,” shot back Thomas Mathis, a self-described “West Texas roughneck.” “He admitted it was personal,” Mathis said.
“It’s personal to me because of what Donald Trump did to Ted’s family and his father,” Wright said.
Then an argument erupted between Mathis and Steve Toth, a former member of the Texas legislature, who kept pointing in Mathis’s face. “Put your fingers down!” Mathis said.
“If he said that about your wife or your dad, I hope you’d do the same thing,” Toth said.
“You know what my mama always told me? If you can’t say nothing nice, keep your mouth shut,” Mathis said. “You’re calling me a coward, sir, so who’s being nice?”
“You are a coward,” Toth said.
“You’re a coward,” Mathis said.
“Folks, it’s only July,” Toth told reporters. “I think what Ted’s trying to do is hold Donald’s feet to the fire and make sure that he becomes the kind of candidate we really need to lead this nation.”
Despite his defense of Cruz, Toth said he would be voting for Trump in November.
Mathis told BuzzFeed News later that Toth apologized to him afterwards and that they had prayed together.
Cruz's campaign manager, Jeff Roe, told reporters later that he had warned Cruz about what the reception would be like at the breakfast.
"Coming down the elevator with him, I’m telling him, ‘There’s likely to be boos on introduction,'" Roe said. "Any rational political person here would not go. Right? Like, you got a bad case of the flu last night. That’s the first measurement. The second measurement is, when he goes, don’t take questions. Like, give a speech, juice 'em up, and then get the heck out of the room. And he’s sitting there taking questions...a lot of questions."
"The political things are gonna take care of themselves," Roe said. "If this was all for politics, none of this would happen."
Asked if he was worried about potential for a primary challenge to Cruz in his Senate re-election, Roe said, "You either run scared or unopposed. We always run scared."