Charisma Caucus

Did Ted Cruz Torpedo His Own Legacy?

Wednesday night in Cleveland likely didn't play out at all like it did when U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was playing it in his head while he and his staffers planned it out.

Refusing to endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, he found himself booed off the stage. While the move wasn't unexpected, the optics of the situation—which went down on prime time television—are going to be hard to forget.

Especially for a party whose mascot is the elephant.

For most of Cruz' 20-minute speech, he was warmly received by those in attendance at the Quicken Loans Arena. But, having only mentioned Trump once—to offer a brief statement of congratulations—the delegates were getting nervous when Cruz made a statement that set the whole arena on fire.

"And to those listening, please, 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."

While the statement was supposed to be seen as support for Trump that fell short of a full-throated endorsement, the use of the phrase "vote your conscience" reopened the still-fresh wounds from the earlier floor fight by anti-Trump delegates on Monday. Delegates on both sides clashed verbally, but the anger in the arena reached a level that resulted in Cruz' wife, Heidi, being escorted out by security.

Cruz, still on stage, was very clearly and visibly shaken by the reaction.

For his part, Trump was relatively cool. He took to the convention floor immediately following the speech, having arrived to watch his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, accept the party's vice presidential nomination.

He tweeted a relatively reserved reaction:

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!

Others were less diplomatic. Mike Huckabee reminded his social media audience that one year earlier in the exact same location, Cruz had pledged to support the eventual nominee.

"The question of the night was whether Ted Cruz would honor his word and support the nominee or earn the moniker 'Lyin' Ted' given to him by the man who won," he wrote on Facebook. "The question was whether Cruz would make his speech about HIS future or the future of the country. And that question was answered when Ted Cruz chose to not keep his word that he (along with me and every other GOP candidate) gave one year ago in that very arena where tonight he put his own ambitions above country.

"Donald Trump did something no previous nominee has done—he allowed Ted Cruz to speak without his promising to support the nominee. I've spoken at every convention since 1992, and I can attest to the fact that no one got near that stage without supporting the nominee. Trump trusted Ted and was rewarded with a betrayal, but the delegates in that arena booed Cruz off the stage and out of Cleveland.

"I'm certain that many of you will react harshly and angrily to my words. So be it. But when a person gives his word, he should keep it. When a person is treated with generosity to give a speech, he should either respond with respect or graciously decline. And when a person loses, he should accept the will of the voters and then offer support to the victor of the primary to defeat the anti-gun, pro-abortion, incompetent, dishonest, and dishonorable nominee of the Democrat party."

The Independent Journal Review reported Huckabee wasn't alone. After his speech, Cruz went to megadonor Sheldon Adelson's suite, but was turned away at the door by very angry Republican members of Congress.

If Cruz was expecting to ride out 2016 with the goal to go into 2020 as the front-runner, it seems Wednesday night did serious damage to those plans.

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