CLEVELAND — Ted Cruz vigorously defended his decision not to stand by a pledge to endorse the Republican presidential nominee in a remarkable 25-minute back-and-forth with his own constituents, withstanding an all-out beg from Texas Republicans to put the party above his inhibitions and back Donald Trump.
“That pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I’m going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father,” Cruz told members of the Texas delegation Thursday morning.
Heidi is the senator’s wife.
The political firestorm that Cruz ignited on Wednesday evening grew even hotter here in the downtown Marriott, as speaker after speaker pleaded for Cruz to honor his word and back the Republican nominee.
Yet Cruz, who veered from defiant to reassuring, repeatedly offered new explanations for why he was not yet prepared to do so, hoping to turn down the temperature on a quarrel that devolved into a shouting match.
“This isn’t a team sport,” Cruz said at one point. “You don’t just put on red jerseys and blue jerseys and say ‘yay!’ This is about principles.”
Cruz reaffirmed that he would not vote for Hillary Clinton, and it was unclear whether the Texans confronted him were more than a vocal minority. About half of the crowd stood up and gave him ovations whenever he defended his decision as principled and not personal to Trump.
Cruz took about a dozen questions here at what was originally scheduled to be a fairly traditional delegation breakfast. And nearly every speaker who yelled at their senator implored him to endorse Trump, with Cruz repeatedly declining to give an inch.
Many Republicans brought up the pledge that he and the entire Republican field signed to support the nominee, but Cruz described that agreement as “abrogated’ when Trump attacked his family during the hottest days of the Republican primary.
Cruz immediately tackled the question upon taking the stage, acknowledging a man holding a “Clinton-Cruz 2020” sign.
“I recognize there are some folks here who are not my friends. That’s alright,” Cruz said. “It would’ve been the easiest thing in the world to turn tail and run, but that ain’t going to happen.”
The Texas senator stressed that he did not utter a single negative word about Trump directly, even though he did encourage Republicans to vote their “conscience,” language that originated in the anti-Trump movement.
Cruz argued he did not intend for those words to be a snub of Trump, though they did encourage many delegates to actively boo him as he spoke on Wednesday night.
“Are you going to vote for Trump?” the first questioner asked Cruz.
“The party has spoken. You signed a pledge,” shouted another.
“Hear, hear,” a man from the back said.
At one point, a delegate emotionally told Cruz that he could unify the party, and encouraged Cruz to recognize the consequences of his decision. At another, a woman told Cruz that they had met years ago and that she was merely holding him accountable — as he had told her then that she must.
“I’m not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father,” Cruz said as applause built. “That pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi that I’m going to nonetheless come as a servile puppy dog and say, ‘Thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father.'”