Images and caption by Joeff Davis
Things finally seemed to be clicking on night three of the Republican convention in Cleveland. Laura Ingraham threw out some red meat and the crowd ate it up. Scott Walker did his best Ronald Reagan with a rousing, optimistic-sounding speech, leading the crowd in a call-and-response, “America Deserves Better!”
The hall was full and the energy was high.
But as soon as Marco Rubio finished delivering a brief, tepid address by video link, Ted Cruz took the stage, and things started to go seriously awry.
First there were the technical failures. The giant screens flickered and went out, then came on again with glitchy black patches appearing and disappearing as Cruz spoke.
The speech started on a somber note, with a story about the nine-year-old daughter of a slain police officer in Dallas, then transitioned into what sounded like the build-up to an endorsement for Trump. “We need to build that wall,” Cruz said, to massive cheers from the floor.
Then Cruz began to wind down, and, instead of mentioning Trump by name, he told the delegates and people watching at home not to sit out the election, but to go to the polls and “vote your conscience.”
Out on the floor there were boos and screams. Trump delegates stood up and turned their backs on the podium.
Nick Lalota, a New York delegate, called Cruz's failure to endorse Trump a major disappointment. "He broke the pledge that all candidates took to endorse the nominee, he lied and went back on his word in front of a crowd of 25,000 party Republicans." Image by Joeff Davis.
An outraged Cruz supporter, Tennessee delegate Julie West, stomped out in disgust.
“What just happened was that the Trump whips, those guys in yellow hats, got all the Trump delegates to turn their backs on Ted Cruz, disrespecting his speech,” West declared.
“Because of the conduct of the party leadership, I’m not sure I can call myself a Republican anymore.”
But former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson blamed Cruz, calling his speech “a sad display of selfishness.”
“Everybody was looking forward to the speakers getting up and saying we’ve had difficulties, you know, during the primary, but now we’ve got to come together and be unified,” Thompson said. “Ted Cruz was the exception . . . he’s gonna leave being considered the goat of this convention.”
“The party is not going to support him, ever,” Thompson added.
“The Republican Party is the party of elephants—long memories. That is going to stay with this party for a long time.”
Down on the floor, things were a mess. Manu Raju of CNN tweeted that Heidi Cruz was escorted out by security, as a Trump delegate shouted “Goldman Sachs!” at her.
Trump himself made an ill-timed entry into the VIP stands, just as the chaos was erupting, adding to the confusion.
Vice presidential nominee Mike Pence finally appeared on stage to deliver the keynote address of the night. With his awe-shucks delivery and his warm introductions of his family, he succeeded in lowering the temperature in the arena, particularly since he is a favorite of the Christian conservative base that supported Cruz.
It was a graphic display of Trump’s shrewdness in picking Pence. But even a master politician may not be able to bring this party back together again.
At a breakfast meeting with the Texas delegation on the last day of the convention, Cruz doubled down, repeatedly refusing to say he would vote for Donald Trump. The room was divided between Cruz hardcores and Trump supporters.
"Are you going to vote for Trump?" one delegate shouted.
"His vote is private!" another delegate shouted back.
“I am going to be listening to Donald’s speech and I am going to be listening to how he and his campaign conduct themselves,” Cruz said.
Later, he added, “I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father . . . . I’m not gonna come crawling back like a servile puppy dog.”
“If we don’t defend freedom and the Constitution and if we don’t make the case to the American people that we have a candidate . . . who can be trusted . . . we will lose, and we will deserve to lose,” Cruz declared.
It sounded like a prediction.
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-Chief of The Progressive.